When the sun shines and the clouds part, nowhere on Earth comes close to matching the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands.
We are blessed, in this country, with spectacular vistas, jaw-dropping natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage.
But after enjoying everything Scotland has to offer on a day of sightseeing, you’re going to work up an appetite, which is exactly what we did on a recent visit north.
Having been on the go all day, it was time to reward ourselves with some good old-fashioned Scottish hospitality, so we headed for the Coach House Bar and Restaurant in Dornoch – formerly the Dornoch Inn – in the town’s main square.
It was early on a Wednesday evening in the height of summer and there were only two other diners in the upstairs restaurant, which sits above the bar on street level.
The first features I noticed about the interiors were the exposed stone walls and the wooden ceiling beams, which added a period charm to the setting.
We had the option of sitting anywhere we fancied, so my daughter chose a corner where the seats were covered in white fabric, making us feel like we were guests at a wedding celebration.
The friendly waitress supplied us with menus and took our drinks order and I was very impressed with the varied choice of food on offer. I was going to enjoy this.
Such was the variety of tempting starters, we ordered three between the four of us to mix and match.
I liked the sound of the crab cakes and knew my son would enjoy them too. Two good-sized, flavoursome cakes arrived served alongside a baby leaf salad with a mustard vinaigrette. A small pot of cranberry jam also appeared on the artistically presented rectangular plate.
The other two starters were served on similar plates along with the same salad and vinaigrette. The brie wedges were delicious – thick and gooey cheese spilled out of the breadcrumbs and the sweet chilli sauce worked well as an accompaniment. The biggest hit with the children were the mozzarella sticks, which were served with a punchy barbecue sauce.
All the starters were polished off swiftly and our attention turned to the main courses.
By the time the mains arrived, the restaurant was starting to fill up. A group of American tourists sat at the table next to us and it was interesting to listen to their experiences of Scotland.
The fact they were struggling with the temperature was a surprise, and they even asked the waitress if there was a fan they could have at their table, such was the heat inside the restaurant. There was not, so they had to make do with a pint or two to cool them down. Scotland just isn’t set up to cope with soaring temperatures as they come along so seldom. But with the mercury touching 30 degrees that particular day, the only place to find comfort was in your car with the air conditioning turned up full blast.
However, we struggled on manfully, and my main course was certainly worth “battling” through the heat for. The meat in my venison and red wine stew was incredibly tender and full of flavour.
It might not have been the weather for a hearty stew, but I didn’t care. The venison was perfectly cooked and the red wine complemented the gamey flavour – every mouthful was simply fantastic. The meat was served alongside mashed tatties and sweet cabbage and I ate the lot.
My vegetarian wife had a decent selection to choose from and went for the veggie enchiladas. What a portion she received. Two giant enchiladas, smothered in melted cheese and stuffed with an array of vegetables in a rich tomato sauce presented quite the challenge. She enjoyed what she could manage, but had to admit defeat with the rest, but it won the thumbs up of approval for taste.
The kids both had the burger from the children’s menu before indulging in the obligatory chocolate fudge cake to round off proceedings.
By this time, the restaurant was bursting at the seams and the dessert took longer than it should have done to arrive, such was the demand on the two waitresses on duty that evening.
We were ready to leave by this stage as the extra bodies in the room were adding to the heat – I was relieved I was only dining in there and didn’t have to work. I certainly spared a thought for the hard-working staff who wouldn’t be clocking off for a good few hours yet.
Overall, we enjoyed our visit to the Coach House. The food was well-cooked and plentiful and we certainly left sated. A couple of ceiling fans would cool things down in the height of summer – or maybe I was just jealous of not being able to stay chilled with an ice-cold lager as I was on driving duties.
The heat didn’t seem to detract from the tourists’ enjoyment of their evening, though, and as we left we heard tales of golfing triumphs and toasts aplenty.
Yes, Scotland has a special place in many a heart, and long may that continue.
- Coach House Bar and Restaurant
- Castle Street, Dornoch IV25 3SD
- t: 01862 810376
- w: www.coachhousedornoch.co.uk
- Crab cakes £6.50
- Brie wedges £5.95
- Mozzarella sticks £4.95
- Venison stew £13.95
- Enchiladas £10.95
- Kids burger x 2 £11.90
- Extra cheese £1.50
- Fudge cake x 2 £9.90
- Soft drinks x 4 £6.80
- Total: £72.40