As we’ve developed our traveling habits, we’ve come to learn that we really enjoy skimping in some areas so that we can splurge in others – i.e. eat freeze dried meals and wild camp for free, and then sign up for the “Kitchen Table” experience at The Three Chimneys for one of the best meals we’ve ever had.
Many of the food destinations that we wanted to experience on Skye are located up near Dunvegan, so I made the executive decision (i.e. Mike and I debated for weeks whether this would be too lush) that we should cram all things food that we wanted to do into one day, mainly to minimize driving around the island.
Step 1: Find Good Coffee
Soaked and shivering, we were eager to find some good coffee in Carbost after our short but very wet hike out to Talisker Bay. Google Maps didn’t indicate that we’d have any luck, but we thought that if Carbost didn’t have a cafe, we could hang out in our heated car until the Oyster Shed opened for lunch.
As luck would have it, Caora Dhubh (pronounced “Cora Du”, Gaelic for “Black Sheep”) had opened its doors for trading only three weeks prior. Jamie, the owner, hadn’t put the “COFFEE” sign on the building just yet, so when we drove ’round the village for the first time, we were sure that we’d be going with Plan B and sitting for an hour in the car. But a stunningly simple and beautiful cottage, sitting right on the water’s edge across from the Talisker Distillery, caught our eye and we wondered aloud whether it was in fact a coffee shop. We parked our car and dashed over to the structure, shielding ourselves from sheets of rain. We were relieved to find that the structure was in fact a coffee shop, and an incredible one at that! (Seriously, if I were to design and open my own coffee shop someday, I’d want it to look just like Jamie’s.)
We poked our heads in and were greeted with a friendly smile by Jamie from behind the counter, and a nod from the local who was chatting him up. We told Jamie how relieved we were that we had actually found his coffee shop, and explained how we’d been camping in the torrential weather for the past few days. We were so excited to stand inside a covered structure and warm up. He and his local friend were incredulous that we’d been outside in the storm, let alone slept in it, and happily chatted away with us about Skye as Jamie made our (first of many) coffees.
The coffee was amazing – we both ordered Black Americanos and they were smooth and delicate, different from the harsh Americanos I always get in London, and I asked Jamie where he sourced his beans from (answer : Artisan Roast in Edinburgh). This led to me explain that I had worked in coffee in London. We properly introduced ourselves and proceeded to nerd-out about coffee.
Jamie invited me behind the counter to mess around with latte art, and thus proceeded one of the highlights of our trip. I get such a kick out of connecting with people, especially over food, and it felt so natural to be back in front of a coffee machine making shots and steaming milk. A few customers came in, and Jamie even let me make their coffees for them! The customers were a bit confused, but Mike, the friendly local, and Jamie were amused.
If you’re on the Isle of Skye, I highly recommend making the trip to Carbost early enough for a cup of coffee and friendly morning banter with Jamie at Caora Dhubh, and while you’re at it, get the chocolate cake for a cheeky breakfast!
Step 2: Eat Fresh Oysters
Several people recommended The Oyster Shed for a fresh, local lunch. The shed is located just up the hill from Talisker Distillery and Caora Dhubh, so a visit fit into our Day of Food plan nicely.
We arrived, just as it was opening at 11AM, to find a shed already full of visitors. A mini structure right outside of the main building housed a young man who was cooking up a seafood storm. We wandered into the main building and found a whole array of local products – seafood and art – and at the back was an ordering station with a list of the daily catch on the wall.
For around £25, we ordered a smorgasbord of fish – a dozen fresh oysters, a plate full of scallops, smoked salmon, fish chowder, and seasonal salad. I’m pretty sure in London we would have paid triple the amount, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as fresh. A woman behind the counter shucked our oysters for us and shoved them across, and indicated that we could pick up our hot food at the shed outside.
The oysters tasted like the sea, and the salmon was smoked perfectly. The scallops melted like butter and were the best I’ve ever had – so much so that I went and harassed the young man who cooked them about his cooking methods. (FYI – he said simply sear fresh scallops for two minutes per side in garlic butter.)
Step 3: Day Drink a Whisky Flight
As soon as we decided that we were going to Skye, Mike announced that we were visiting the Talisker Distillery. He is a big whiskey fan, particularly a Scotch (Scottish whisky) fan, and I enjoy a dram on occasion myself.
We opted for the Talisker Tasting Experience over the less expensive (and perhaps less excting!) regular tour, because go big or go home, right? This was a good decision. I’ve been on several other distillery and brewery tours before, and this one was by far the best.
The tour lasted about two hours, guided by an experienced, local employee who reminded me of a Scottish John Cleese. We learned about the nearly 200 year old distillery and their methods as we inhaled the deliciously sweet scent of malt. It concluded with a nearly hour long tasting of six different ages of Talisker whisky. Mike and I both preferred the Talisker 18, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the tasting, and not surprised by the strong head ache that set in afterwards!
Step 4: Enjoy Truly Local Cuisine at The Three Chimneys
I can’t remember where we first came across The Three Chimneys, but I’m really glad we did. We read about their Skye, Land, and Sea tasting menu, which is comprised of ingredients almost entirely sourced from Skye, and about their Kitchen Table experience, where guests can opt to sit at a table located in the working gourmet kitchen in order to fully immerse themselves in their dining experience. We booked the Kitchen Table experience as the conclusion to our epic Day of Food.
We arrived at The Three Chimneys chilled and hungry, having just spent an hour outside in the storm taking down our tent a night early because the conditions had gotten so bad. We were guided into the comforting warmth of the guest reception area, where we were offered pre-dinner cocktails. It was storming heavily outside, but we imagined that on a clear day, the reception room would offer stunning views – it overlooked the Loch and what seemed to be a beautiful garden.
It turned out that another family was dining at the Kitchen Table with us, so once they arrived, we were all ushered across the garden, through the main restaurant past all of the regular diners, and into the working kitchen. We were seated at a table immediately adjacent to one of the main cooking stations, and informed that we could get up during the meal whenever we pleased to chat with the chefs or just watch them in their process.
Initially, I felt timid about wandering around, not wanting to distract the chefs hard at work or be in the way. I just sat perched on my seat, in awe of the buzzing kitchen staff as they seamlessly prepared beautiful dish after beautiful dish, while we chatted with the really friendly Scottish family seated with us. We were served our first few courses – Fried Dunvegan Oysters, Sconser Scallops with Salt Baked Celeriac and Sour Apple, Shetland Salmon Soaked in Sweet and Sour Beetroot Accompanied by Puffed Wild Rice.
After a glass of liquid courage (paired wine), Mike and I stood up and wandered over to the nearest counter where one of the chefs was shucking oysters. I asked him how many oysters he had to shuck for the evening. He chuckled and said each night he must shuck at least a few hundred oysters. He looked up, introduced himself, and showed us how he shucks the oysters, which are sourced from The Oyster Shed where we’d had lunch earlier in the day.
The rest of the evening, we more confidently abandoned our table to observe the chefs between each course. Of course we were in awe of the food, but I was most impressed by how chatty the chefs were. They were eager to share information with us, not viewing us as a distraction. When we told one of the younger chefs that we were surprised at how calm and positive the atmosphere was, he said it was the nicest kitchen staff he’s ever worked with.
Each dish also had a story. The venison was killed by a local farmer up on the hill behind the restaurant and every single part of the deer was used over the course of the week. The beef was sourced from a cattle farmer who kept his cows a few miles out on a remote peninsula where they could roam freely and enjoy the best grass. When Three Chimneys orders a cow, the man hikes out to herd the cow back in. The wild mushrooms were dropped off by “the mushroom man” who forages Skye with no shoes, and turns up in the kitchen unannounced with a basket full of mushrooms after weeks of no contact.
A particular highlight was when the Scottish family at our table learned that neither of us had ever tried haggis, a traditional Scottish “treat” comprised of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs mashed up with oatmeal, onions, and spices, and contained within the stomach casing. I’m a pretty adventurous eater, but I’d been avoiding haggis since we moved to the U.K. The Scottish family insisted we try it, and asked the chef if they had any lying around the kitchen, even though it wasn’t on the menu that night. The chef smiled, wandered off, and a few minutes later we were presented with a beautifully plated dish of haggis topped with a spicy sauce. It was surprisingly delicious, tasting like a rich gourmet sausage.
The Three Chimneys is worth a journey all the way out to Skye. We came away from it feeling inspired to be even more adventurous in our own cooking.
Step 5: Gather Skye Mussels and Learn to Cook Them
Having eaten mostly freeze dried camping meals, and then splurging on so many of Skye’s wonderful food destinations in one day, it was a welcomed change of pace to enjoy home cooked meals at Andy and Dorothy’s for the second half of our trip. Andy and Dorothy live in Tokavaig, a beautiful crofting village on the Isle’s southern peninsula, Sleat. Their house overlooks Loch Eishort, and across the bay to the Cuillin Ridge.
On our first day, they took us on a walking a tour of their land and the surrounding areas, complete with an adventure to forage for mussels! The tide was low, making it easy to spot mussels for gathering.
That evening, Dorothy taught me how to cook mussels. I was surprised at how simple it was, and how delicious they were. Of course, the fact that they were so fresh certainly helped. The only way they could have been any better is if we’d cooked them over a fire on the beach instead.
8-10 mussels per person
4-6 shallots or 1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
Dash olive oil
1 cup dry white whine
1 cup vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, freshly ground
- To ensure all of the mussels are safe to eat, fill a large mixing bowl with water and submerge the mussels in the water. If any of the mussels float, they are unsafe to eat and can be discarded.
- Scrub all of the viable mussels with a brush in cold water. Remove the “beards” – the strings hanging from the end of the mussels – with your fingers or a small pairing knife.
- Finely chop the shallots or onion and garlic.
- Heat the shallots or onion and garlic over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the wine, stock or water, and salt and pepper. Simmer the liquid for around 5-7 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the mussels to the liquid (they won’t be fully submerged), cover the pot, and raise the heat to high.
- Cook the mussels in the liquid for about 5 minutes, or until they’ve all opened their shells.
- Serve the mussels with the broth, and top with parsley.