Annecy

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been on a somewhat epic adventure through Switzerland, France and Belgium. But now, I’m back to normality in sunny Aberdeen (*sigh), and all I have left are waaaay too many photos to remember it by.

We start our travels in Annecy – a small, impossibly picturesque town in the east of France. We arrive by car from the south, slowly snaking our way along the bank of Lake Annecy. We’re staying at a hotel in the town centre, so nervously force our way through narrow the cobblestone streets, dodging ambling pedestrians and and illegally-parked cars as we go. We arrive at the Hotel du Chateau – a small, yet pleasant hotel a stones-throw from the centre of town.

Not our hotel, but the Palais de l’Isle, Annecy

To say my room is teeny-tiny is a bit of an understatement – but it’s clean, includes Wifi and breakfast, so suits my needs just fine for a single nights stay.

We dump our stuff and head straight out into town. It’s a beautiful (albeit touristy) maze of cobblestone pedestrian streets, dotted with cafes and gift shops. A sparkling, blue canal runs through the town centre, making the whole place feel like something out of a fairytale.

Seriously beautiful Annecy

I’d done some research of things to check out in Annecy – but while I’m here, I’m more than happy to just cruise around snapping photos and eating (amazing) Nutella crepes. We stop for an afternoon tipple at one of the many cafes around the old town, and pay tourist prices for a horrible glass of Rose. But I’m in France, so I don’t care!

We eat that night at a little restaurant called Lilas Rose that feels a bit touristy, but is pleasant enough. It’s a snap decision after we realise just how cold it had turned outside, and we couldn’t be bothered finding anything more ‘authentic’, lest we actually freeze. But the food was pretty good, the service friendly and it didn’t seem overpriced, so we were quite happy with our choice.

Blue skies at Lake Annecy

After dinner, we brave the cold for a final walk around town. The cold has scared most sensible people indoors by now, so it is a beautifully serene wander through the tiny streets.

If I ever find myself in this part of the world again, I’d happily revisit Annecy for a night or two. Not to sight-see, but to pause, relax and enjoy this lovely little corner of the world.

The Palais de l’Isle by night

Stay tuned for more picture posts of my little Euro adventure!

 

Scottish food bucket list – FULL SCOTTISH BREAKFAST

I’ve been searching for a good, local Full Scottish Breakfast here in Aberdeen, but am yet to be tempted by anything open on a weekend morning. I was talking to a local friend about this, who had a good theory as to why I can’t seem to find anywhere to serve me a good cooked breakfast. He said that weekend breakfasts are ‘family time’, and the best traditional breakfast I could possible have would be cooked in my own kitchen and served at my own table. So – I decided to do just that.

Breakfast pack

I was wandering past a local butcher the other day and saw a ‘breakfast pack’ for sale, so took that as my cue to get cooking. The pack included six eggs, sausages, lorne sausages, black pudding and smoked bacon. I was secretly tempted to add some mushrooms and baked beans to my haul, but given the intimidatingly huge breakfast I was already in for, decided against it.

So, I start with the sausages. I normally throw sausages in a frying pan, which inevitably results in burning and split skin, so instead place them under the grill at a medium heat.  While they are cooking away, I get going with the bacon, as I figure it can warm in the oven while the rest of the meal cooks. I LOVE the bacon here. Bacon in Australia is always bought pre-cooked, and is never quite as smokey and flavoursome as the bacon here. The thick sliced bacon sizzled away satisfyingly. Between the bacon and the sausages, my little kitchen is smelling pretty darn amazing. It’s also getting a bit smokey.

Black Pudding sizzling away

I throw the bacon in the bottom of the oven and get going with the black pudding and lorne sausage. Full disclosure – I’d never cooked either of these before. After a (very) quick Google, most people seem to recommend pan frying them both – so into the pan they go. Within minutes, both the black pudding and lorne sausage are swimming in an eye-watering amount of their own fats and oils. Though it smells delicious, I say a silent prayer for my arteries. The smoke increases. I crack a window, but it does nothing.

As the lorne sausage and black pudding finish cooking, a crack some eggs into my last clean pan. Then – my smoke alarm goes off. I’m torn between salvaging the well-cooked sausages from the grill and waving a tea-towel under the detector. It doesn’t matter – I can’t find a tea-towel anyway. Brad rushes into the kitchen (no doubt panicked by the ear-bleedingly loud beeping from the smoke detector) to see a kitchen filled with smoke, pans piled high on the bench, oil cracking and splattering from a pan, and me seemingly doing nothing about it as I stand in the middle of the mess looking for a tea-towel. It, perhaps, wasn’t my most dignified moment.

I do, however, manage to recover. Brad manages to stop the beeping, while I pop in the toast and grab the sausages. Minutes later, I’m plated up and looking like a total breakfast pro. It looks great – albeit, not terribly healthy.

Sunny-side up

The only part of the breakfast that I’ve never had before was the lorne sausage. I’m not sure if I cooked it right, as it went a bit crispy on the outside, thanks to all the oil. It was nice, but perhaps not as tasty as a traditional sausage. I understand that it’s made with a mixture of meat and ground-bread or rusk, which gave it an interesting and enjoyable texture. But overall, I found it a bit bland and a bit difficult to stomach given how incredibly fatty it was. I can imagine it would be better in a breakfast roll with some brown sauce…

I’d also never had black pudding as part of a breakfast. Again – it was super fatty. But spicy and completely delicious along side the eggs and bacon. Yummers!

I was not even half-way through this epic meal before I started slow. Maybe I included too much meat. Or maybe I didn’t cook it right. But it was a calorific battle that I was bound to lose. I failed epicly, getting through only about half of what I’d cooked. Brad yummed his down – then regretted it almost immediately. It’s the only breakfast I’ve ever had that requires a quiet lie-down on completion.

In saying that – I’d have it again in a moment. Though I’d likely substitute lorne sausage for something non-meat based. I reckon either beans, tomato or mushrooms would go compliment it really well. And perhaps be a bit easier on the stomach.

That’s another down on my Scottish food bucket list!

Voila! A full Scottish breakfast!

 

Review: Oryza Hotpot, Aberdeen

So I found myself wandering the streets of Aberdeen at 8.30 on Saturday night, hungry and (once again) without a restaurant reservation. We were about to pack it in and head to a chain place for a quick bite, when I remembered walking past a cute little Japanese restaurant on Thistle Street earlier that day. We walked up with our bellies growling and our fingers crossed for a table – and were in luck! The staff at Oryza Hotpot greeted us politely (which was sweet, considering we were such a late walk-in!) and we sat at a small but nice table for two.

Tsing Tao at Oryza Hotpot

Oryza Hotpot is an adorable looking restaurant, with a quirky yet comfortable atmosphere. It’s a fairly casual place, with an open kitchen and cute wooden tables throughout. We were given two menus – a ‘quick lunch’ menu and the traditional hotpot menu. We knew we wanted a hotpot, but the menu was a bit intimidating and confusing, offering a massive range of options for your hotpot with heaps of choices of broth, meat, vegetables, noodles, sauces and so on. To save time, we decided on a mixed hotpot for two – around £30 for meat, seafood, vegetables, noodles and sauces to share.

The food was presented quickly, along with our simmering hotpot with two types of broth for us to try (we went with miso and spicy).  The food looked fantastic, and is a really generous serving. We were also given a card with instructions of how to cook the food. I will say – it would have been great to get an explanation on what we should do from a staff member rather than a card to read. We fumbled for the first few minutes arguing over what we should put in first. Brad started just throwing in random ingredients, whereas I want to follow the card (“Don’t just throw in the chicken! The potatoes go first! No – not the prawns!”) Moments before contemplating divorce citing the use of chopsticks vs spoons in the hotpot, we manage to get a staff member over to give us a bit of much-needed guidance. She describes the hotpot as ‘like a Japanese fondue’, and offers some helpful pointers on how we should cook and eat the food.

Our selection (and cheeky beer!) at Oryza Hotpot

Once we gained a bit of confidence, we started to have a great time. Cooking your own food at a restaurant may not be everyones cup of tea, but we both really enjoyed the experience. Plus – the food was beautiful. Both the seafood and meat were fresh and clearly of a high quality. The vegetables were yummy too – and there were even a few random ones in there that I’d never tried before. We did catch ourselves accidentally overcooking some ingredients a few times (mostly when we ‘lost’ them in the broth, only to discover a random prawn 10 minutes later), but it was really great once we got the hang of it. But the absolute best part of the meal was the noodles. I’d hazard a guess that they were freshly made, as they took only moments to cook. We left them until last (per the instructions), so we could enjoy them as a soup , now richly flavoured by all the previous ingredients. It was just lovely.

Though it was a initially a bit hard to get a staff member to help us, all were very polite and accommodating once we got their attention.

Don’t go to Oryza Hotpot if you want a quick meal – it’s so much fun to just take your time while cooking at your own pace. For obvious reasons, I probably wouldn’t suggest one this for young kids either – a pot of boiling water on the table isn’t exactly child-friendly. But I would absolutely recommend it to anyone wanting a social, fun and slightly quirky meal for a very reasonable price. All up, we paid around £20 per person for dinner and a couple of Tsing Tao beers.

I loved it the whole experience, and will certainly be back to try it again  – perhaps with a bit more confidence next time!

Oryza Hotpot on Urbanspoon

 

Scottish Food Bucket List: BLACK PUDDING

I feel like I’m cheating a bit here, as I’ve had the dark mystery-meat that is black pudding a couple of times since I’ve been here. And, not surprisingly given my track record with Scottish foods, I love it. Granted, it’s always been part of a bigger dish rather than just ‘on the side’ as such, but it is an absolute taste SENSATION that even the most squeamish of eaters should try just once.

Firstly – it is dark. Likely, grossly dark. And yes – it’s dark because one of its main ingredients is congealed pork blood. Gross, right? But only those who have never eaten a damp, luke-warm hotdog from a street vendor with questionable personal hygiene; or inhaled a stale, donor kebab at 3am can cast the first stone here. Because surely black pudding is no MORE gross than these, and so many other more ‘social acceptable’ processed meats we eat every week. It just looks a bit more… intimidating.

Firstly, for a black pudding novice, I think it would be easier to imagine the dish as being more palatable if you have a better understanding of what it is. I say that because for me, the word ‘pudding’ evoked mental images of some type of meaty custard. Ew. In reality, it’s simply a type of sausage.  Though looks a bit different, and is traditionally served in thick, round slices rather than in ‘sausage’ form – the taste and texture is pretty much the same.

As it’s (usually) made with oatmeal, it does have a more delicate texture than a traditional meat sausage, and it can be easily pulled apart with a fork. And, it tastes just awesome. Seriously, actually, good. It’s salty, spicy and a little bit sweet – albeit very, very rich. A little certainly does go a long way.

As I mentioned, I’ve tried it a few times as an accompaniment to dishes – normally starters. It goes amazingly with fresh pan-fried scallops – the rich, saltness of the pudding compliments the delicate sweetness of plump scallops just PERFECTLY. It’s become an absolute go-to for me when I see it on a menu! I’ve also had it with chorizo, which was a great combination of spicy flavours and different textures.

The other, more surprising, flavour bomb was black pudding paired with thinly-sliced apple. Of course, in theory it makes sense – pork and apple sauce is a no-brainer. But it was amazing, and so simple! Just small pieces of quality black pudding topped with thin slices of green apple. PERFECTION.

So – black pudding, though perhaps not for the more conservative of palates, is a total winner for me. Though I can’t really imagine eating it in large portions, I’ve found it a delicious, interesting compliment to a range of different flavours.

It’s been a while, but that’s yet one more down on my Scottish food bucket list!

Review: 99 Bar & Kitchen, Aberdeen

I’m not going to lie – I’m no stranger to 99 Bar & Kitchen. It’s one of my absolute favourite places for a casual drink in Aberdeen. Their cocktails are (in my humble opinion) the best in the city and the service is always fab and friendly. But despite how embarrassingly close I am to working through their seasonal list of delicious cocktails, I hadn’t sampled the food until just last night.

99 Bar & Kitchen is a great looking bar. Dark furniture, low lights and heaps of candles give it a great atmosphere, and there is a really cute sitting area upstairs strewn with old couches and coffee tables. The whole place manages to offer just the right amount of hip and retro, without crossing the line into ‘douchbag hipster’ territory. It’s a hard line to toe, but they do so effortlessly. The friendly bar staff definitely help – they’re always only too happy to give recommendations, or to make off-menu cocktails.

According to Facebook, Tuesday night at 99 Bar & Kitchen is Tiki Night. Which sounds amazing. EXCEPT, I learned the hard way that it doesn’t kick-off until 9pm. And I, like a true old person, had arrived at 7pm. Oh well. At least we got a table.

The food menu is fairly short, but diverse enough. It offers a range of starters, including soups and share platters, then sandwiches, burgers and mains. I’d seen a photo of their Lamb Kebab on Facebook that looked awesome, so ordered that immediately. The others at my table are tempted by the giant burgers that they’d spotted at some tables around the place. It’s bar service to order the food, which – given how quiet it is at 7pm – is fine by us.

The food arrives after about 15 minutes, and looked just fab. Each was served on a wooden board, arranged perfectly, and were extremely generous portions. My kebab was awesome. The lamb was tender, tasty and had clearly been slow-cooked for some time. Served with skinny fries and slaw on the side, it was a delicious (albeit calorific!) dish that I’d order again in a heartbeat. The burgers (served with a pickle, onion rings and skinny fries) also went down a treat. Plus, no one else at the table liked pickles, so I got to eat theirs! Score!

I finished the meal with a Espresso Martini (not on the menu, but they were happy to oblige with my request), that was absolutely fantastic. It was made to PERFECTION and was the ultimate way to end a casual, yet completely delicious meal.

Price wise, I found 99 Bar & Kitchen perfectly reasonable. At about £10 for the burger and £11 for the kebab, it’s a bit more expensive than your average pub-grub, but it was great quality food in an awesome-looking space.

So, now that I’ve (finally) eaten at 99 Bar & Kitchen, I can say with confidence that their food is certainly to the same standard as their cocktails. And their cocktails are amazing.

Review: Aperitivo, Aberdeen

I dined at Aperitivo on a whim on Saturday night as part of a large group. My first impression was that it’s a great looking restaurant, with an inviting bar area and a warm, social atmosphere. It was however, very busy. And very noisy. It was fine for us as a group, but I’d likely be a bit put off if I was hoping for a romantic or intimate meal. Regardless, having endured a decidedly average Italian meal out last weekend, I was pretty excited to give Aperitivo a go.

The menu is diverse and interesting, though surprisingly void of pizza. I loved the huge range of hot and cold small plates (I assume one could share them like tapas), but as my group were all going for single mains, I wasn’t able to try those options this time. I instead went with the Arancinette Con Formaggio to start, and Linguine Al Pesce as my main.

It should also be worth noting that the wine list at Aperitivo was really impressive, offering a huge range of options for every taste and budget.

I was a bit nervous that the service would be sluggish given the size of our group, but I needn’t have worried – the starters for all 15 of us were out within ten minutes. My risotto balls were simply presented, but cooked to perfection. A crispy outer shell surrounded delicious, creamy risotto within. Served only with a yummy homemade salsa (which complimented the risotto balls really well), it was a great starter  – and a good size, too! Everyone else at the table seemed similarly pleased with their respective dishes.

The mains followed soon after. As my pasta was placed in front of me, I was offered freshly grated parmesan and fresh cracked pepper – a small, simple touch that I think really goes a long way in an Italian restaurant. The pasta was fantastic. Chock full of fresh, quality seafood with a light tomato sauce that gave the subtlest hint of chilli, it was a phenomenal dish that I would return for in a second. I LOVED it. The rest of my group was just as satisfied. There was one small issue with a meat dish being presented to one of my party a little too rare – but the staff were more than happy to fix it, and did so quickly and without fuss.

I didn’t have dessert (the pasta main was huge!), but a few of the group ordered ice cream – which looked just wonderful. I made a mental note to leave room for sweets next time!

My only (very small) issue with Aperitivo was I did get the feeling that a few of the staff did not have a lot of patience for large groups of diners. Whenever meals came out, the waitstaff would stand at the end of the table and yell the name of the dish, waiting for diners to claim what was theirs. It wasn’t certainly wasn’t a deal breaker for me, but as the one sitting at the end of the table have dish after dish yelled over my head, it was perhaps a little off-putting. It was a shame, as all the staff were lovely when dealing with them one-on-one.

But – it was also a very busy and loud night, which would definitely have added to the confusion of what meal went where, I suppose.

Despite that – Aperitivo offered high-quality, delicious food for a very reasonable price. It was, without a doubt, the best Italian food I’ve had in Scotland to date, and I can’t wait to return.

Aperitivo on Urbanspoon

 

Review: Jamie’s Italian Aberdeen

To be honest, I had pretty low expectations of Jamie’s Italian. Not because I don’t love Jamie Oliver  (seriously – what’s not to love??), but because I’m not really a fan of chain restaurants. I was also a bit nervous of the fact that Jamie’s Italian in Aberdeen is a ginormous restaurant, with a two massive levels crammed full of tables.

The first thing I notice after entering Jamie’s Italian is the plethora of Jamie Oliver paraphernalia adorning the restaurant – all for sale. Not only is there a small shop on entrance, but you’ll also find Jamie watching you eat from the dozens of cookbooks scattered around the seating areas. It’s a little tacky, though obviously a great business venture.

Despite having a reservation, we’re disappointingly seated at a small table bang in the middle on the bottom level, next to a support beam. But in fairness, the place was packed so we might have just snagged the last table of the sitting. The restaurant is set up like a shop front, with huge windows looking out on to Union Street giving diners on the bottom level a bit of an uninspiring view of the Costcutters and Pound Stretcher across the road. But I assume it’s designed like that to attract pedestrian traffic, as it’s a very attractive space inside.

Jamie’s Italian lasagne

Despite the size of the restaurant, service was great throughout the evening. We were presented with menu’s shortly after we were seating. Having never eaten at a Jamie’s Italian before, I was surprised that there was no pizza on the menu – I just assumed that would be a key part of the restaurant. But what it lacks in pizza, it makes up for in a heap pasta options, as well as a number of mains. I’ll also make special mention of the wine list. Though there wasn’t a huge number of options, I loved that we could order wine by either the bottle or carafe, or small or large glass. I always find that a bottle is a bit too much, and a glass isn’t nearly enough, so a carafe is perfect for the two of us! To start, we’re temped by the ‘famous’ meat plank and try the Arancini balls.

The meat plank was presented beautifully, and our waiter took the time to tell us about each of the ingredients and even recommended the order in which we should sample the platter. The meats and cheese were all quite good, though it was a small serving for the price. I was also a bit surprised that it wasn’t served with bread. The Arancini Balls were good without being great. The texture was fantastic, but I’m not sure if it was missing some seasoning or a key flavour element, as they were a bit bland and forgettable.

Underwhelming pasta ‘special’

Our waiter sold me on the pasta special of the evening, which was described as fresh pasta cups hand-stuffed with mushroom and cherry tomatoes, with salami throughout and an olive oil dressing. It sounded great, but the reality was quite different. Don’t get me wrong – the pasta was great. It was clearly fresh and cooked perfectly. But I noted only about half a cherry tomato and two mushrooms throughout the whole dish. There were lots of tiny bits of salami, but it really wasn’t a great dish. It was also lacking in seasoning, and the dressing tasted more like water than olive oil. Even more disappointing – when we got the bill I realised that it was more expensive than any other pasta on the menu. Honestly – I felt a bit ripped off and that I was taken on a ride by the restaurant. Should I have complained at the time? Probably. But I’m also embarrassingly non-confrontational. It’s a personality flaw that I should address (but probably won’t).

However – Brad’s lasagne was absolutely awesome. And was the subject of some pretty intense food-envy from the other side of the table. I’ll definitely order off the menu next time.

We shared some ice cream for dessert, which was actually OK. Though a small serving (too small for two people to share), they offered a great choice of flavours (including salted caramel – my favourite) and said we were welcome to mix and match with sorbets if we wished. We went with vanilla, chocolate and caramel (obviously) which was lovely.

So to sum it up – Jamie’s Italian did exceed my expectations. But my expectations were very, very low. It was OK for the price (around £30 per head), but ultimately a bit of a forgettable, disappointing meal. I won’t rush back, but if I do find myself back there I’ll certainly be requesting an upstairs table and ordering straight off the menu.

 

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon

 

Review: The Adelphi Kitchen, Aberdeen

A group of friends and I managed to snare a table at Aberdeen’s new The Adelphi Kitchen on Tuesday night, and it’s a good thing we booked in advance – the place was completely packed.

The Adelphi Kitchen is a stunning – though cozy – space. The low lights and dark furniture really facilitate a warm and intimate atmosphere. I also loved the chalkboard specials on the side wall – easy to read and it looked really cool.

Perhaps it was because the restaurant was so busy, but it took a while for us to get menus and to have a drinks order taken. For a time, I thought that the specials board was the whole menu. Which actually would have been fine – there was a heap of delicious looking choices up there. In fact, even after we got menus, I only ordered from the specials board.

For my starter, I chose the special of scallops with black pudding, apple puree and pulled-pork croquettes. It was a beautiful looking dish, with a number of huge, plump scallops ready for the eating. I do have to admit though, the dish looked a bit better than it tasted. It wasn’t bad – just a little disappointing given the amazing description. The scallops were fresh and well cooked, but a lack of sauce and only spattering of black pudding resulted in a rather plain, bland dish. The croquettes were good, but ultimately an unnecessary addition with a strong flavour that competed with – rather than complimented – the taste of the scallops. I should note that some of the other starters at the table including the oysters and Mac’n’Cheese went down an absolute treat.

60 Day Hanger steak from The Adelphi Kitchen

For my main, I was tempted by the 60 Day hanger steak special, with charred greens and onion rings on the side. The dish looked amazing and was presented perfectly. However, once again, it was a bit of a disappointment. The sides were fine – albeit a bit forgettable. The steak was rich and tasty – but, unfortunately, so tough and chewy that I could barely cut it. I’m not sure if it was the knives we were given, but it felt like I had to saw away each bite with considerable effort. It was such a shame as I was really looking forward to the dish, but it was really difficult to enjoy the flavour of the steak when presented with such chewy meat.

Brad had the Rib Special of lamb ribs, which seemed unusual to us – none of us had ever had lamb ribs before. And, I don’t think we will again. They were incredibly fatty, and prepared crumbed and deep fried. Perhaps that’s how lamb ribs are always prepared? Regardless, they weren’t very appetising, and Brad couldn’t finish the dish. Maybe their more traditional rib specials would be more to our taste.

Everyone loved their deserts – I treated myself with an Espresso Martini. Which was AMAZING. Seriously, I think it was the best Espresso Martini I’ve ever had. Ever. I’d strongly recommend to give that a go, if you get the opportunity!

Ultimately, I was disappointed by my first meal The Adelphi House. I really think it has the potential to be amazing – it has the venue, the atmosphere and great produce, but it just didn’t seem to come together on the night. It wasn’t a cheap meal either, coming in at about £50 a head for dinner and drinks. Though I won’t rush back, I certainly wouldn’t rule out giving it another shot in the future. It was just such a awesome, yet understated atmosphere. And seriously – that Espresso Martini. Unforgettable.

The Adelphi Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

A weekend in Riga

 

Dome Square, Riga

Riga Cathedral

 

Jacob’s Barracks, Riga

Riga laneways

Livu Laukums Square, Riga

Riga streets

St Peter’s Church, Riga

I loved the cobblestone streets…

Riga architecture

Rhubarb and custard crumble and espresso made a perfect breakfast

Amazing view from St Peter’s Church

My favourite little laneway

Fresh fish at the Central Market’s

The Inverness Whisky Festival

So, a few months ago I booked a couple of tickets to the Inverness Whisky Festival for two primary reasons; I wanted to go to Inverness and I like whisky. And that was about the extent of my knowledge of the festival. I had no clue what to expect, figuring that if it turned out to be shite, I could just head back into Inverness and chalk it up to a life-lesson learned. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear whatsoever. In fact, it was one of the best (albeit off-beat) festivals I’ve ever had the privilege of attending.

My friends and I had booked seats on the free bus from Inverness into the Festival on Saturday. After some initial confusion which resulted in us waiting in a nearby pub for half an hour for the bus to drop off the first load of whisky enthusiasts (there are truly worse things in the world than being ushered into a pub for a sneaky lunchtime pint), we were on our merry way.

The Inverness Whisky Festival

Pulling up to Bogbain Farm (about 15 minutes from Inverness town centre) I admit that I did start to second guess myself a bit. The site was much smaller than I expected, with only a small marquee housing the majority of the festival activity. On entry, we were handed a whisky glass, a bottle of Glenlivet water, a notepad and a pencil to record our tasting for the days. I’m going to go ahead and admit right now that my note-taking lasted all of about three tastings before it was chucked in my pocket and forgotten about, but I’m sure classier and more serious whisky connoisseurs would have made good use of it.

Bogbain Farm is a stunning venue. Though unassuming from the outside, it offers a warm and welcoming bar area on entrance with a crackling fire place and lovely decor. Along with the inevitable whisky selection, there was also a really good selection of beer, cider and spirits – and an interesting selection of whisky based cocktails. But it wasn’t the bar that was the star of this festival. Nor the decor. Nor the warm, inviting fireplace. It was purely, completely and absolutely about the whisky.

The Malt and Barely review, Inverness Whisky Festival

We entered the marquee with wide eyes and empty glasses. About a dozen different distilleries (including Glen Moray, Glenmoragnie, Springbank, Cardhu, Talisker – and many more) were set up around the marquee – and they all had an impressive spread of bottles ready for tasting. Oh, the tasting. I started coyly at Tomatin, eying their new release Cu Bocan (which recently won the Best New Launch Whisky at the World Whisky Design Awards) with interest. “Is it ahhh, OK if… Can I please try that one?” The resulting pour was both friendly and generous, with the representative more than happy to answer  any and all of our questions, with no hard sell on his product. Not that it needed it – whisky of that quality sells itself. And so it went from there. In fact, every distillery we approached was more than happy to let us taste as we please, and chat with us about their product with breathtaking knowledge.

The barn at Bogbain Farm

One of the more interesting (and absolute stand-outs) of the day for me was the Glen Moray Peated Spirit. It’s only two years old (and, therefore, can’t be called a whisky), but it’s an incredible drop that I purchased a bottle of on the spot. Considering how much I enjoy it now, I can only imagine how good it’s going to be once it ages. It’s certainly one to watch.

We’d signed up for a Glen Ord masterclass on entrance to the festival (at only an extra £5, it was a no brainer), and it was time to head in before we knew it. The Masterclass was an interesting concept of experimenting with whisky and food pairings. Though it didn’t offer my favourite whiskies of the festival (three full drams were enjoyed as part of the class )it a spot of educational fun. Hot tip – peaty Lagavulin with a slice of rich, stinky blue cheese. Amazing.

The Glen Ord Masterclass, Inverness Whisky Festival

After the class it was time for… well… more whisky. We pulled up a pew inside the barn (a wonderfully whimsical room littered with fairy lights and hay bales) to watch the Malt and Barley Review – which was absolutely fantastic. Vocalist Tom Morton sang and recited original works which were, unsurprisingly, exclusively about whisky. Before I knew it, full bottles of single malt were being passed around the crowd for us to enjoy through the whisky-themed entertainment, and to discuss with Angus McRaild between songs. It was such a novel, fun and interesting way to enjoy both the entertainment and the whisky.

There was also a cooperage demonstration – which we unfortunately missed. Twice. Oops. I blame the whisky entirely for that one.

The view from Bogbain Farm

My only disappointment on the day was the food – but just because there wasn’t enough of it. By the time it occurred to me that I really, REALLY should eat considering the amount of whisky I’d consumed, they had sold out of most of the hot dishes leaving only soups. Fortunately, the lentil soup was delicious – but I would have loved to give the haggis or stovies a try.

The crowd was growing increasingly – err – jovial as the afternoon wore on. But with so many whiskies on offer, who could blame them? We left the merry crowd late in the day, eager to experience central Inverness on a sunny, spring afternoon. Our arms were full of single malt – and so were our bellies.

Though a part of me wants to encourage every whisky lover in Scotland to get to the Inverness Festival next year – I also feel like I want to keep it a secret lest bigger crowds affect the awesome, yet intimate atmosphere of the festival. Or maybe it’s just going to get better as it inevitably gets more popular? One thing is for sure – I know exactly where I’ll be this time next year… On a little farm just outside of Inverness, with a whisky in hand and a great big smile on my face.

The Inverness Whisky Festival, Bogbain Farm