Inverness and on up to the Orkney Islands
I always do this. I get so excited about a trip that I start doing research WAY in advance. We're not going to Scotland until September 2014. :)
Still, the general plan is to fly into Inverness then hire a car. Maybe spend a day in Inverness or the surrounding area and visit Castle Urqhart and Eilean Donan Castle. Then we'll go on up north and maybe visit Castle of Old Wick, and catch the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness and spend several days on the main island exploring neolithic sites and whatever else catches our fancy.
Then back down towards Inverness and perhaps a day or so there exploring castles to the east. This is all somewhat fluid at the moment but that's the general idea.
So for food, we'll want a small number of nice places to eat, maybe one really fancy one (but maybe not, things in Europe are so much more formal than here in New England...). My husband can't stand fish but I love it and want to have it. He's also not fond of gamey tasting meats, but loves beef, pork, and chicken (do they have turkeys up there?). He's ok with lamb/mutton depending on how it's prepared. So long as whatever place we're at has a reasonable non-fish option, he's happy for me to have fish. :D We are both very fond of cheese.
We always prefer going for local foods that we're not likely to get at home, or that might be way better than what we can get at home (for example, I can get ok Mexican food at home, but it doesn't hold a candle to Tex Mex I get in Texas, or anything I could get across the border into Mexico). So we tend to prefer eating along with the culture as much as we can.
Neither of us really drinks much (we don't really like the taste and our surgeon doesn't want us drinking alcohol anyway). Still, when I was in Italy we tried local wine and enjoyed it. I'm willing to consider trying a local potable that would be superior to whatever I could get here.
We are both large people. My husband is very large. So if a place you're recommending has small booths only for sitting, it'd be nice if you note it (if it occurs to you) so we can decide if it's worth chancing not fitting. Not a huge problem if you don't.
Another thing that has me wondering is about clothing in the restaurants and what's typical. We're from a very informal part of New England and my husband is even less formal than that. Because of his size, he finds most trousers to be terribly uncomfortable and he prefers shorts. He wears shorts even when it's 0-10C outside. Now one of the solutions I've come up with for this is to buy him a couple of nice kilts. But they are very much NOT Scottish kilts. They're made of a heavy cotton canvas material, in solid colors (a rich blue and a dark green). And some collarless shirts with lacing that dress him up, and a lovely kufi hat (he has to wear hats because he gets migraines within half an hour without one, his head gets cold). All this dresses him up nicely and I even took him to a formal night on a cruise in this and didn't have any problems.
Thing is, I don't know how well this will fly in Scotland. Since it's very much not a traditional kilt in any way. Will folks look down their noses or refuse service because he's wearing, say, cotton instead of wool, or a clearly American kilt versus a Scottish one? Should we not even try a fancy restaurant? Or at least, if you recommend one, maybe keep it to places you think wouldn't be all judgey about a fat American man with a kufi hat in a non-traditional kilt. :) (photos upon request ;) )
Anyway, thanks for making it this far through my long-winded post (I'm not the most concise writer out there). I'd appreciate any suggestions around the area we'll be visiting, or thoughts on what to look out for or search the web for. I appreciate your time. :)
I got married in Scotland in April. Our rings were made by a couple who live near Loch Ness ... after we picked up the rings we visited Urquhart Castle. The ringmakers suggested Fiddlers (in the village of Drumnadrochit) for lunch. Very casual and very pleasant ... give it a try.
You can find pictures of the interior of most every restaurant in existence these days by using the "Images" search feature of Google. You can see the spacing of the tables and you can often find snapshots when the restaurant is full, taken by customers, that shows how patrons are attired. So as you collect recommendations, or while you are on the road, you can look up pictures on the internet.
Orkney is not best for food despite it being famous for produce, the cafe at Skara Brae was an improvement on the old days and the Orkney Brewery eating hall is okay. The beers are fine but not the best Scotland has to offer despite its collection of awards. I don't go out for food when I visit. Can recommend the amazing natural landscape, Marwick Head is my favourite for the seabirds and try the John Rae museum. As a local tip - don't call it the Orkneys. Orkney or the Orkney Islands - I'm not being pedantic - the (sort of) locals I know wince! Have a wonderful time, its a special unique place and I adore it. Sorry I can't be more helpful.
I will be in the Highlands the first 3 weeks of September. If anything new and/or interesting turns up, I will let you know.
Also note that the leading "ethnic" available in the area will likely be some form of Indian/Pakistani.
Should you travel to the west coast of the Highlands, the Kylescu Hotel in the wee village of Kylescu is well worth a visit. The menu there leans to seafood.
I live in California but have spent between 5 & 7 weeks in the Highlands for each of the past 10 years. Most of my time is spent in Dornoch, a lovely town about 45 miles north of Inverness.
The Mustard Seed is probably the best of the "local" restaurants in Inverness.
For "fine dining" in Inverness, the Albert Roux restaurant ("Chez Roux") at Rocpool Reserve is worth a try.
The Boath House is also every good (Michelin starred), but it is 20-25 miles east of Inverness.
If you visit the coastal town of Fortrose, on the Black Isle north of Inverness, the Anderson Pub serves good food.
My favorite place in Dornoch is Luigi, which features a contemporary menu and excellent shellfish (scallops, mussels, langoustines).
The Sutherland House is Dornoch is also good for dinner, but it serves more traditional, heartier Scottish fare.
Further north, La Mirage in Helmsdale is a fish & chips place worth a visit, but it is not your typical f&c takeaway.
Should you wish to visit a distlilery, I would recommend Glenmorangie, right off the A9 highway north of Tain, or Highland Park, in the Orkneys.
Be aware that things can change (for the better or worse!) over the next 12 months.
We just came back from Scotland last weekend and as some others said: plan for much slower journeys than you would in North America! Roads are narrow, traffic is slow, and driving on the left side of the road makes you even slower! A 250 km can easily take 5 hours to drive, so plan accordingly, or, like us, you will not have time to stop and sightsee, because you will be running against the clock to make it to that night's accommodation. That said, Scotland is a great country! We stopped in Inverness for lunch and ate at Riverside http://www.riversiderestaurant.info/ (which unsurprisingly is by the river, and just off the high street). We both had the salmon gravlax (we love fish!), then the turbot, which was served on a bed of kale, with new potatoes. DH had the crème brûlée, and it was really nice. Food was beautifully presented, service was friendly and I would really recommend that place. Enjoy your trip! :)
Morganna, it's been too many years since our last visit to Scotland so I am not going to recommend any particular restaurants. However, I do recall that the "Taste of Scotland" certification -- http://www.taste-of-scotland.com/ -- was a reasonably reliable indicator of good restaurants when traveling in off-the-beaten-path locations.
Scottish High Tea. Indulged in whenever we saw a sign outside a restaurant. It ensured you got something hot along with the lemon curd, scones, sandwiches, and various teas. I always get the fish.
I have a nasty habit of staying on two lane highways and diverting to anything that a local tells me is a must see. As you will be there in the fall, please be on the lookout for salmon. And please don't be shy about having mutton. They are experts at tasty renditions.
I found Inverness to be disappointing, foodwise, when we were up there a couple of years back. That said, it's an excellent part of the country for fresh fish if you can find somewhere that can cook it properly. You'll be going at a time when our game season will be in full swing, so lots of lovely, local meats, like venison.
Just looked in the Good Food Guide for any recommended places between Inverness and Scrabster. And there aren't any. The only ones listed in the whole area are Rocpool in Inverness (which is bound to be better than the three dinners we ate in the city ) and the Captain's Galley at Scrabster.
I tend to disagree about the relative formalities of American-v- European restaurants. I regularly encounter (and discount) American ones where jackets are required yet there are no more than a large handful of places in the UK so old-fashioned as to still require them. I have no idea how your husband's proposed attire might be received - with humour, I suspect. It is one thing an American wearing a traditional kilt - I suspect such might be expected from tourists - but it another thing for a man to be wearing what sounds to be, effectively, a skirt. Kufis will be no surprise - or, at least, no surprise to anyone used to living near a Muslim or African community. Of course, such communities are pretty much non-existant in the Highlands.
Humor I can take. :) Though I prefer it be good-natured rather than snarky, of course. We are a very unusual looking couple and most likely I'd be in a salwar kameez with a shiny jeweled bindi for any place we'd need to dress up for. So which person gets stared at more might be a bit of a competition.
I wasn't sure how formal it is in the highlands, to be honest.
Also, even if the food is adequate or competent, we're fine with that. Maybe just a list of places to utterly avoid would be helpful. ;) I'll do some more poking. Thanks for the thoughts, Harters! You've always been so helpful in the past. :)