After an earlier visit to the Hotel Eilean Iarmain, our dining review concentrated on the range of options on offer, highlighting the distinction between the fine dining and 2 AA Rosetted Birlinn Restaurant on the one hand, and the excellent pub food available in the Praban Bar on the other. On our most recent visit the hotel was in the first year of offering the same menu in both the Birlinn Restaurant and the Praban Bar, for lunch and dinner. You can read our hotel review for Hotel Eilean Iarmain here.
The menu changes over time, so our comments about detailed dishes set out below may not apply when you visit. We suspect, however, that the overall themes most certainly will: of local sourcing wherever possible; of a particularly fine choice of seafood dishes; and of a wide range of options. Sometimes the sourcing is very local indeed: on an earlier visit we witnessed a box containing langoustines being carried from the a boat at the pier to the hotel, which that evening contributed to dinner. And the venison that features on the menu comes from the Eilean Iarmain Estate, which includes the hotel and village.
When we visited the menu had a choice of eight starters, eight mains (and six side dishes), and six sweets plus cheese. Six of the eight starters were seafood, and four of them were identified as being locally sourced: Arisaig mussels (in two dishes), hand dived island scallops, and local crab. The starters included a soup of the day, and a vegetarian option. We had the "fresh linguini and local crab tossed in ginger, lime and red chili", which was delicious, while the "hand dived island scallops, carrot puree, buttered fennel and chorizo" added a range of temperatures to the fascinating flavours on offer.
The main courses available when we visited included estate venison loin, Mallaig haddock, wild Skye mushroom and summer truffle risotto, free range chicken supreme, and crisp Lochaber pork belly. We chose "sirloin of Black Isle beef, fondant potato, chantennay carrots, kale and peppercorn sauce" and "Eilean Iarmain venison burger, caramelised onions, tomato relish, chips and Orbost salad". Both were very good indeed, with the venison burger and its accompaniments adding up to an extremely filling meal.
The sweet course was less of a success. An unexpected run in the Praban Bar on "sticky date pudding, toffee sauce and salted caramel ice cream" meant that this was unavailable in the Birlinn Restaurant by the time 7pm diners reached this point in the meal, and perhaps highlights one drawback of a menu that is shared between both dining areas. Another was the way dinner service, which started very well, slowed to a crawl by the time we reached our sweet course. One of us went for "raspberry and oatmeal cranachan, te bheag ice cream and homemade shortbread" instead of the sticky date pudding. The interpretation of cranachan that emerged some thirty minutes later was odd, and rather unpleasant, with too much emphasis on thick cold porridge piped onto a slate and rather too little raspberry. We also chose a "selection of Isle of Skye ice creams". The three scoops of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream that were served were pleasant enough, but we are not sure what became of the choice of eight different flavours on the hotel's sample menu shown on their website.
After a dinner best described as a "game of two halves", we were not certain what to expect of breakfast, which is served in the restaurant. The buffet starter course offered everything you'd expect, while the table served main course was exceptionally good. Porridge and traditional brose appear on the menu alongside main courses including Mallaig herring fillet in oatmeal; Mallaig kippers; smoked haddock and poached egg; and scrambled eggs with Skye smoked salmon. And the traditional Scottish breakfast is excellent, including generous portions of superb bacon along with whatever else you choose plus the option of pork or estate venison sausages.
Our latest visit gave rise to a healthy debate about the change of approach to dining at the Hotel Eilean Iarmain. We suspect that if you'd never experienced the outstanding fine dining previously on offer in the Birlinn Restaurant, and assuming, as we suspect, that the service issues towards the end of our meal were a one-off, caused by an unusual and unexpected demand for food in both Praban Bar and the Birlinn Restaurant simply overwhelming the system, then you'd probably be very happy with the single menu now on offer in both bar and restaurant. But we can't help feeling some regret that the fine dining option previously available in the Birlinn Restaurant is no longer available, and sincerely hope it returns at some point in the future. You can read our hotel review for Hotel Eilean Iarmain here.