Scarista House, Isle of Harris
The scarily beautiful island of Harris, where infinity lochs shimmer on a lunar landscape, sea otters goof around in the shallows and seals sunbathe on the rocky foreshore. The empty west coast golden beaches stretch for miles and miles, the roaring Atlantic pounds away and if you’re lucky, you might spot a bottle nose dolphin or pilot whale. And if you’re even luckier, they might have a table for you at Scarista House, an elegant 18th century manse overlooking such a beach, where you’ll be welcomed like an old friend.
Coats are hung, smiling consideration of your wellbeing is ascertained and a stiff G&T is taken in the first floor drawing room. Looking out to Scarista beach and that turquoise sea. It’s a proper ‘pinch me’ moment. The daily-changing set menu is £43 for three courses, £50 for four. Following a couple of calm days, it will always include some form of seafood from the local boat, but fishing off Harris is weather-dependent, and we’ve had a pretty stormy time, it being summer and everything.
So, roast squab pigeon from Spean Bridge it is, served with bread sauce, buttered crumbs and giblet gravy with olive oil mash, spiced red and green cabbage. We’d started with Uist peat smoked scallop tart, a beautifully subtle plate despite the heady smoking, with pastry ‘as light as angel’s wings’ as my mum is fond of saying. The squab is perfectly cooked, the seasoning well judged, the meat on the right side of gamey. It’s a real plate of food, nothing cheffy or fussy about it. To finish, fruit brulee is a mass of fresh berries glued together with cream and a slick of mango and lime coulis over it; the essence of summer.
Scarista House is my dining highlight of the year so far, and d’you know what else? There’s no dress code, you don’t have to get got up; I was in jeans and a shirt and was made to feel perfectly at ease. Stunning location, friendly service, great food and no frocks. My idea of heaven.