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Issue 46 - Good and local

Scotland Magazine Issue 46
August 2009

 

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Good and local

Ian Buxton visits The Creel, a destination restaurant on remote Orkney.

Orkney is quite a long way to go for dinner and, even once you’re there, the little port of South Ronaldsay is hardly central. But it is worth the journey. St Margaret’s Hope is delightful – small and unspoilt it hugs the end of a sheltered bay off Scapa Flow.

It’s home to The Creel, an understated restaurant with rooms that has been quietly winning awards since 1985. Quite without fuss or hype, it has built up an international following of enthusiastic fans who travel literally from round the world for owner chef Alan Craigie’s locally sourced menus.

You may think I exaggerate but on a recent visit I was hailed in the street by a New Zealander looking for the restaurant and seated next to us were two passionate devotees from the USA. And mercifully, because this is an establishment that has retained its local roots and community links, a party of locals enjoying a celebration.

The initial impression is of a modest sandcoloured building right on the sea front. The small reception is lined with awards and, I have to confess, my heart sank – too often this presages the complacent or the pretentious.

But we were not greeted by a self-satisfied maitre’d but by Joyce Craigie herself, running the front of house with a calm efficiency and a genuinely warm welcome for all her customers, new and old.

The restaurant itself is plainly furnished but distinctive local artwork from Orkney’s vibrant artistic community lines the wall and provides great visual interest, provided you can drag your eyes from the view of the bay.

The Creel specialises in Orkney’s local produce – excellent seafood, fine meat and locally grown vegetables. In consequence, both the restaurant and the menu are small, but the food is superbly fresh and the cooking memorable. Naturally, to take advantage of local sourcing, the menu changes frequently but there are some signature dishes which may well appear when you visit (as you should, as soon as possible). The freshest of fish is always on the menu, including many species you may not know – wolf-fish, megrim, tusk and seawitch being just a few examples.

These include Queen Scallops in parsley and lemon butter as a starter – fresh from the sea, cooked to perfection and served simply in their shells. Or perhaps a crab and langoustine salad, straight from the cold waters of Scapa Flow, or ling and haddock fishcakes.

Main courses centre on fish, with a panfried monkfish and steamed tusk presented with cauliflower, broccoli and garden pea casserole greeted with acclaim. Roasted North Atlantic cod was a tempting alternative with a roasted rib-eye and braised shin of beef on a bed of Scotch mince and onion marmalade for meat-eaters.

The highlight for many though will be the justly-renowned North Ronaldsay seaweedfed mutton. Smart London restaurants vie to get this meat, reckoned to be among the world’s finest food delicacies, and with only 3,000 sheep on the island, extremely rare. The taste is succulent, slightly gamey and quite delicious. At The Creel it is cooked with both flair and care, making an appearance alternatively as a starter and a main course.

Prices are straightforward: £30 for two courses, and £36 for three (try to save room for the lemon tart and marmalade ice-cream or the cheeseboard). There is a short, wellpriced and interesting wine list, though no fuss was made and no corkage charged when we asked to bring our own bottle. A short selection of single malts is offered, though the cooking is the main draw here.

There are three Bed & Breakfast rooms, large by local standards but at £105 per night for a couple, cheaper accommodation is available locally only a few doors away.

The Creel is an outstanding example of Scottish hospitality and cooking at its very best. As Rick Stein said: “If ever a restaurant could be said to stick to what’s good and local, this is it.” And he should know.

Information Creel Restaurant and Rooms Front Road, St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney KW17 2SL Tel: +44 (0)1856 831 311 www.thecreel.co.uk Booking essential during summer months