The Potting Shed Cafe & Restaurant, Applecross
The Potting Shed is the restaurant at Applecross Walled Garden, so called I assume as it sits against the back wall where the original potting shed would have been. It doesn’t take Rebus to work it out. To me it is a hidden gem and a wonderful example of local and seasonal eating. Our first visit was for coffee. Which became coffee and cake when we saw the mouthwatering home baking on offer. A quick browse of the menu soon made it apparent that lunch was required so we went back a couple of days later for a meal.
The menu at The Potting Shed is based around what is available from the garden, what has been caught by Jon the chef on the loch and what meat is available locally. The venison comes from the Applecross Estate where the garden sits, while lamb, pork and wild boar all come from Toscaig, four miles to the south. As the proud claim says ‘the food miles for much of the food is best measured in yards’. The restaurant is very much about community as well as flavour, both are important and both are delivered.
The cafe menu is quite simple but also stylish, there are hot and cold sandwiches as well as light snacks which double as starters, plus hearty meals like casseroles and pies. So for lunch we shared a starter of wild boar terrine. The terrine was wonderful, really flavoursome meat surrounded by a beautifully seasoned jelly. The spicy plum chutney was lovely too but the terrine was so good I preferred it on it’s own.
For main course MrsT had Applecross Bay prawns done in garlic and lemon butter and I had venison casserole with mustard mash. The prawns were sumptuous, really fragrant butter and wonderfully fresh prawns. The seafood in this part of the west of Scotland really is unbeatable and also very difficult to get hold of as it’s the envy of the world and the majority of it goes abroad. The venison casserole was fab, massive chunks of tender venison with a rich beer (I think) gravy served with beautiful fresh vegetables from the garden. I’d have liked a little more of the liquor but only because so much of it had been soaked up by the potatoes! Even the kids thought it fantastic with a kids portion of pesto spaghetti, home-made with fragrant basil from the garden, and homemade fish fingers with a fabulous light crispy breadcrumb and meaty white fish.
Because we had fallen in love with the garden as a whole we decided to return the following evening for dinner. This time walking was in order to enable the garden herb cocktail and a glass of wine to be enjoyed. The cocktail is either gin or vodka, depending which you prefer, infused with rosemary. This is mixed with lavender syrup, lemon juice and sparkling water. I love the inventive use of the ingredients that nature provides, and also loved how refreshing this was after our walk. The dinner menu is lovely, a really seasonal offering with some inventiveness. I opted for boar and shore which is wild boar and squat lobsters in a sweet chilli sauce. This was very similar to the dish on the seafood platter at The Applecross Inn but then Applecross is that sort of place, where things are shared and borrowed. The boar was well cooked with a real chargrill meaty flavour. MrsT’s crab and prawn pancakes with veloute were delicious too, very light and fresh.
The kids had again gone for their favourites. One daughter is a connoisseur of chips, the other would far rather have pasta. However ‘pasta with red sauce this time please, not green’. No problem said the chef and he whipped up a creamy tomato sauce to go with the spaghetti. Chips were much easier but just as well received. For desserts they both wanted ice cream, no chocolate ice cream was available but again a chocolate sauce wasn’t a problem. Freshly homemade in that way that makes it go slightly thick and unctuous as it cools and brings back wonderful childhood memories. It’s these wee things, giving you what you ask for without a second thought, that really impress me. Maybe if it had been later than 6pm or the restaurant had been full the answer may have been ‘I’m afraid not’ but on this night the answer was yes and that made two little girls very happy.
So to the main courses, these really blew me away as they were beyond what I expected. I’m not certain what I expected but it wasn’t food of this standard at this value. The pork loin with blue cheese sauce, bubble and squeak cake and black pudding bon bon was superb. The freshness of the vegetables stood out of the bubble and the meat was beautifully cooked, really tender and deliciously sweet. The tangy blue cheese then the rich iron flavour of the black pudding brought it all together perfectly. My ‘Scotch Pie’ of lamb three ways was a quite ingenious deconstructed ‘mutton’ pie. The pie crust was served with a lamb cutlet, lamb ‘rissole’ of slow cooked and pulled leg meat (I think) and a lamb and caper burger. All served with a rich meaty jus alongside, fresh minted peas and home chunky chips. Each element was executed beautifully with the cutlet cooked medium, the burger thick and well seasoned and the rissole rich. I loved every bit of it.
As the kids ran around the garden we went for the Assiette of chef’s desserts with an espresso, one of which was happily swapped for a cappuccino. Again a classy little plate of food with a little shot of lemon posset, a little wedge of chocolate tart (the pastry could have been more crisp, finally found something that could have been better!), a fantastically rich but light strawberry mess from the garden, little discs of prune and Armagnac ice cream and tiny oatcakes with cheese. I really liked the idea of having cheese and biscuits on the plate, however the fact it was chilli jam and not a fruity chutney came as a little surprise. After this I wandered around the garden with my glass of rose breathing in the amazing perfume one last time and marvelling at this lovely little village on the west coast with so much good food available in it.
I can’t eulogise enough about the food and ethos here, as readers of this blog will know, seasonal, local and Scottish is what excites me most. In Applecross, both at the Inn and The Potting Shed in The Walled Garden you’ll find both. The walk home also brought us face to face with five stags as they wandered across the road, now that really is local food.