Our restaurant reviewer hits the west coast with a trip to the new brasserie restaurant at independently-owned Highland Cinema in Fort William.
It’s a town that I don’t visit often, but of late, I’ve been to Fort William several times.
Known as the “outdoor capital of Scotland” it’s a hugely popular destination with fans of the great outdoors and is well placed for those who love mountaineering, hillwalking, cycling and sailing, to name but a few.
After a day spent outdoors working up an appetite, the burning question is where to eat?
There’s no shortage of restaurants in the town which offers everything from fine dining to pub grub. Over the years, I’ve tried several of them. But on both my last visits I’ve made a beeline for the same place – the new independent Highland Cinema on Cameron Square.
Now a cinema may not be the sort of place you first think of when it comes to good food because you may, like me, associate movie houses with hot dogs, nachos and oversized tubs of sticky popcorn.
But this venue is different as it’s also home to a very stylish restaurant and bar.
It’s the brainchild of Lochaber man, Angus MacDonald, who’s done a terrific job in helping turn around the fortunes of the town centre by using his own money to open an independent bookshop and build the new cinema.
Inside, the restaurant has a cathedral-style ceiling, big windows overlooking the square, and lots of lovely design features.
The red wooden boards in front of the bar, for example, are old floorboards rescued from a local social club and recycled, while antlers used to make the chandeliers were found locally.
There’s a mixture of long tables, ideal for larger groups, while some are divided by perspex screens to keep everyone socially distanced. But if you want a more intimate experience there’s also smaller tables.
The venue has a happy, relaxed atmosphere created by friendly staff and good background music, while old film clips relating to the area and projected on to a large screen make a great talking point.
The bar features several locally made drinks and has a good selection of cocktails, with one always relating to a film currently being screened.
On this occasion, it was the 25th anniversary of Fargo, so they’d created a cocktail called, Too Far Gone – a nice wee play on words.
Made with a double gin and lemon, creme de cassis and sugar syrup topped with a slice of lime and a fresh raspberry, it was delicious and ideal for sipping while studying the menu which showcases lots of locally-sourced produce.
We could see the chef creating pizzas and cooking them in a large, stylish red dome wood-fired pizza oven so decided to start by sharing a 12 inch thin and crispy fungi pizza.
The aroma, wafting from the oven to our table, was enough make us salivate. This was an exceptionally good pizza, and reminded me of those I enjoyed during a holiday to Rome several years ago.
Topped with a variety of mushrooms, red onions, green pesto, mozzarella and smoky, garlic oil, and dressed with peppery, fresh rocket, it had that perfect blend of crisp bottom and rich, gooey topping oozing with flavour.
We followed with a sharing “ghillie” seafood platter, served on a large, dark pottery plate, which looked tremendous, a real feast for the eyes.
Boards and platters have become hugely popular of late and there’s a real art in getting the presentation right. In the wrong hands, it can look like a pile of leftovers plonked down, but in skilled hands, it can become something you want to admire before diving in to explore.
This platter ticked that box perfectly, although I knew exactly where to start having spotted large, smoked mussels which were as smoky, salty and “meaty” as they looked.
Equally good were the cuts of hot and cold smoked MOWI salmon – the hot smoked salmon was exceptionally delicious, a good blend of sweet, smoky and salty flavours which lingered beautifully.
A smoked mackerel, bone-free and creamy pate, was delicious spread on the thick, crusty bread provided.
Dotted across the platter were baby tomatoes, capers, fresh lemon wedges, crispy salad and a pot of horseradish cream, and a pile of crunchy seaweed-flavoured crisps.
Part of the fun of platters is that food doesn’t get cold so you can take as long as you like to pick away at it, and while attentive, staff didn’t put us under pressure to eat up quickly which made it all the more relaxing.
To finish, we shared a pud, billed as sticky toffee bites with a toffee sauce.
I’d imagined “bites” to be little squares, but instead we tucked into a round, good-sized individual portion that was rich, light and smothered in a toffee sauce that was a little too sweet for our tastebuds and would perhaps have benefitted from a dash of cream or scoop of ice-cream to take away a little of the sweetness.
A terrific addition to Fort William’s eating out scene. It’s great to see so many local products ranging from bread to beer; charcuterie to yoghurt and seafood featuring on the menu.
Portions are generous and the dishes are not overly priced. Service is delivered with a smile, at the restaurant and bar which also welcomes well behaved dogs.
Address: Highland Cinema, Cameron Square, Fort William, PH33 6AJ
T: 01397 609696
- Food = 4/5
- Service = 5/5
- Surroundings = 4/5
1 movie magic cocktail, £6.50p; 1 Finca Flichman Malbec, 250ml, £5.75; 1 fungi pizza, £12; 1 ghillie board, £14; 1 sticky toffee bites, £6; 1 Americano coffee, £2.20.