The Summer Isles Hotel stands in the strung out village of Achiltibuie, some 10 miles north-west of Ullapool as the crow flies, but considerably further along the single track roads that extend west of the A835 in this part of Wester Ross. At the time this dining review was initially written in 2010, the Summer Isles Hotel was the receipient of a Michelin Star, which it had held since 1998. This was not re-awarded in the 2011 Michelin Guide, but so long as chef Chris Firth Bernard remains at the helm in the kitchen there seems every reason to believe that the dining experience will remain an outstanding one. We hope to update this review in due course and in the meantime what follows is as originally written. You can read our hotel review for the Summer Isles Hotel here.
The focus of fine dining at the Summer Isles Hotel is the food, and especially the dinners, served in the hotel restaurant. But this is not the only food, nor the only very good food, served on the premises and it is worth setting out the other options before turning to the dinners.
The Summer Isles Bar, housed in one end of the hotel, has its own pleasant bistro-styled dining area and offers light snacks throughout the day, as well as lunches and evening meals. The light snacks range from open sandwiches to soup and salads. When we visited the evening specials on offer included roast lobster, chicken breast stuffed with skirlie, pan fired hake and sirloin steak. Meanwhile the seafood on offer ranged from dressed crab through langoustines to the Summer Isles Hotel's signature seafood platter, which includes oysters, langoustines, crab, smoked mackerel and salmon, roll mop herring and salad. Lunches in the hotel dining room tends to revolve around fish dishes and, in particular, the seafood platter.
This is probably a good moment to talk about the Summer Isles Hotel's strong emphasis on local supply. Most of the seafood served in the hotel is very locally sourced, with much of it being caught almost within sight of the hotel. Many of the vegetables used are grown very locally, and venison and eggs are also from local sources. The hotel has to go slightly further afield for some of its other ingredients, but the policy is to serve food primarily from the Highlands, and wherever possible from Scotland.
The dinners served in the hotel restaurant are what has made the Summer Isles Hotel so famous. What is offered is a daily changing fixed five course menu. Fixed menus can have pros and cons, but they do allow the very best and most consistent quality to be attained, and guests dining at the hotel are asked whether there is anything on the menu they do not want earlier in the day. When food is this good, the best approach is to simply go with the menu and sit back and enjoy the art of the chef, Chris Firth Bernard.
Dinner is served at 8pm promptly, and guests assemble in the lounge beforehand for amuse bouche which, on the day we visited, included herb scones with mackerel and horseradish; an oyster; and cheese straws. Our dinner was a fish lover's delight. The starter was a gilled fillet of turbot on sauteed leeks, and this was followed by an outstanding Stilton and courgette souffle. Next came a palate cleanser in the form of an apple and calvados granita. The main course was, as it ought to be, the highlight of the meal, and we were served "west coast hand dived scallops served with vermouth on a mound of buttery champ with fresh basil."
The two remaining courses are the sweet and the cheese, and guests choose which order to have them in. They are served with a degree of theatre from cheese and sweet trolleys, each of which offers extensive choices. The sweets available when we visited were varied and delicious, and the cheese trolley again showed again the lengths the hotel goes to in order to source the very best from Scotland and, in this case, beyond. Throughout the dinner the superb food was matched by professional and unobtrusive service from a very able waiting team.
Breakfast at the Summer Isles Hotel is served in the hotel restaurant and does full justice to the very high standards of everything else that emerges from the kitchen. The starter course is self served from a buffet offering cereals, fruits, freshly squeezed juices and muffins. The hot main course choice included porridge and Achiltibuie kippers as well as fried breakfast elements that showed again the hotel's emphasis on its sourcing: with Cockburns haggis and black pudding matched with Ayrshire bacon, farmhouse sausage made to the hotel's own recipe, and locally produced eggs. You can read our hotel review for the Summer Isles Hotel here.