Applecross Inn, Applecross, Scotland
The Applecross Inn needs very little introduction to those who know the Scottish food scene, winning award after award including Pub of the Year 2012 in The Good Pub Guide. It also required no introduction for me, having first visited around 1989 when I was still of ‘can of Irn Bru and poke of crisps’ age and many times since then. Over the years it has been extended, adapted, moved around a bit but the focus on fresh and local food and drink has never changed, neither has the warmth and hospitality extended by Judith Fish and her team. It was the natural choice for a family special occasion.
The Inn itself is situated in the Scottish north-western highlands and sits right on Applecross Bay. Much of the seafood is sourced from these very waters and the beer garden all but sits on the beach. The menu is very Scottish with an extensive seafood theme including Applecross Bay prawns, dressed crab and squat lobsters, oysters from Skye and smoked salmon. There are also local meat and game dishes alongside pub classics like gammon steak and chips.
I’d already decided on a seafood platter. ‘Is that a hot or a cold one’ I was asked, ‘eh…?’, ‘or mixed’. Wonderful. These would be a sharing platter for most normal mortals so myself and my Dad decided to share the chicken liver parfait as a starter as he was having the platter too. A starter between two and sharing platter each, naturally. Other orders went in for smoked haddock chowder, haggis flambeed in Drambuie, 1/2 pint prawn tails, squat lobsters in sweet chilli sauce. The kids were well catered for too with the ubiquitous cheesy pasta and chicken nuggets.
The parfait was quite delightful, so light from what must be endless work with a beautiful liver flavour and loads of garlic and booze, enough to make you smile but not too much to overpower, served alongside homemade grape chutney this was fantastic. I tried the chowder as well and it was the only thing to disappoint me with a little too much going on with mixed peppers and not enough chunks of haddock. I like to see fish. The haggis was fabulous too with a lovely sweetness from the liqueur complementing a meaty, spicy local pudding.
So to the main event. Now I’m not sure what you’d expect from a seafood platter, some like it looking like an extra from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with massive claws and shells and ice, maybe even a big silver bowl and a bit of rock pool theatre. That’s fine, but not for me. What I like is a plate of food where I can see everything, nothing gets lost and I know what it is. Which is exactly what I got. Well almost. I was most disappointed to see the ‘tomato artistry’ given centre stage on the plate until I realised it was actually hot and cold smoked salmon which had been prettily folded rather than some out of place fruit vegetable.
To say I loved this platter would be an understatement. There were sweet chilli and sesame prawns which were rich with a depth of flavour but still tasted of prawns, king scallops with pancetta and garlic which were just heavenly, again a richness but also the taste of the sea. Home cured rollmops added an acidic lift to the richness alongside lightly battered haddock with tartare sauce served in an oyster shell. There was an oyster with a beautiful salty tang from the water beside Talisker distillery, langoustines, squats in marie rose sauce and a little pot of dressed crab. Even the salad was delightful with a light homemade citrussy dressing. It took me a little while to stop smiling and start eating. Then when I stopped eating as I could eat no more I collected the rest in a doggy bag for the next day. The platter was perfectly matched by the Marques de Caceres white Rioja from the pretty extensive winelist as well. I dispensed with a dessert, still digesting what was effectively two main courses. Even the cranachan couldn’t tempt me to finish a wonderful meal.
Having said all this The Applecross Inn is more than just good food. It’s a lovely pub as well, with good bottled and draught beers, ciders and real ales. Somewhere that the kids can borrow Guess Who and Jenga to occupy them while you eat or drink or where you can sit in the beer garden watching the sun come down over Raasay and Skye. It serves a huge array of spirits, especially malt whisky and a growing selection of Scottish gins. It’s well worth a trip over Bealach na Ba for a visit.