Restaurant review: Ullinish Country Lodge
The Howards had to completely renovate the 300-year-old farmhouse which once played host to Dr Samuel Johnson – the author of the original Dictionary of the English Language – and his Scottish travel companion James Boswell in 1773.
And the arrival from Aberdeenshire of Bruce Morrison, the highly rated head chef who was voted Rising Star of the Year at the 2008 Scottish Hotels Awards, has transformed the kitchen to match the overhaul of Ullinish itself.
This was highlighted as soon as our canaps arrived while we were sitting in front of a roaring fire after a hard day's walking. Morrison has developed a reputation for obsessive attention to detail and, on the evidence of this first taste of his cooking, it is matched by his ambition and ability to fuse diverse flavours. The shallot bhaji was the standout, but it was a close-run thing, with Vicky singling out the cucumber and soy foam cocktail and the black olive cakes for praise, while we both gobbled up the delicate helpings of celeriac remoulade with Serrano ham and sweetcorn sorbet, not to mention the puffed wild rice.
The high standard was maintained: I wouldn't usually rave about carrot and cumin soup, but its velvety texture delighted Vicky, although she wasn't quite as gushing about her terrine of herring and potato, which came with a salad of pickled apples and a gloriously tasty mealie pudding (white pudding) drizzled in hazelnut oil.
I'd had misgivings about three of the ingredients in my starter of crispy pig's ear, fried quail's eggs, sauted mushrooms, black pudding sauce and ketchup sorbet, yet the combination worked perfectly. It's true that I won't be ordering a ketchup sorbet 99 at Nardini's any time soon but it meshed perfectly with the black pudding sauce and helped tease out the subtle tones of the pork.
Morrison goes out of his way to source practically all of his ingredients on Skye, and judging by our main courses, the island must be remarkably abundant. But Vicky's grilled halibut with potato gnocchi, crispy pork belly, braised gem lettuce, sauted squid and peanut milk was a clash of flavours too far, with the combination of the pork and the fish particularly grating. In contrast, my slowly cooked loin of lamb with a goat's cheese porridge, vine tomatoes, basil jelly and vinaigrette of sardines was a bold fusion of strong tastes that worked perfectly: a bravura performance.
Our pre-dessert amuse bouche was a butterscotch jelly with pear consomm, which Vicky loved but which left me cold. I rounded off with a magnificent warm fondant of chocolate, which arrived with raspberries, pistachio mayonnaise and some marvellously creamy crme brle ice-cream.
Vicky's pudding was, if anything, even more ambitious, with five portions of tropical flavours (fruit soup, terrine of citrus fruits, lemongrass pannacotta, passion fruit sorbet and roasted pineapple with fromage blanc sorbet) that was at times almost bewildering. Generally it worked, particularly with the pannacotta, but the pineapple was a miss.
While at times Morrison over-extended himself a little, his mixing of diverse flavours was always thought-provoking and there's much to admire in his creative ambition.
It's perhaps no surprise that much of Ullinish's outside trade comes from local people, although there's no getting away from the fact that with just six bedrooms, it's difficult to build up an atmosphere of bubbling conviviality, especially in midwinter. And if Ullinish's interior can't quite match the sheer grandeur of Kinloch Lodge or the low-key rustic comfort of the nearby Three Chimneys, then Pam's homely, welcoming influence around the dining-room does much to bridge the gap.
Ullinish Country Lodge
Struan, Isle of Skye (01470 572214, www.theisleofskye.co.uk)
Out of pocket
45 per person (coffee and petits fours 5–7 extra). DB&B from 110