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Three-Salmon Kedgere

Three-Salmon Kedgere


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Explore the Scottish culture with this delicious three-salmon kedgere dish by chef Shirley Spear

With more than 11 million North Americans claiming Scottish heritage, ancestry enthusiasts of all kinds are invited to explore the Scottish culture explore the Scottish culture with this delicious three-salmon kedgere dish by chef Shirley Spear, owner and retired head chef of the award-winning Three Chimneys restaurant. Inspired by the stunning landscapes and the diverse culture of the people in the region, the following dish serves as a true testament to connecting food with heritage.

Photo and recipe courtesy of Chef Shirley Spear

Ingredients

To Poach the Salmon

  • 450 Grams fresh Scottish salmon fillet
  • 4 Slices of lemon
  • 2 Slices of onion, separated into rings
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of parsley with stalks
  • A sprig of fresh fennel or dill with stalks (optional)
  • 8 White peppercorns
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 Lemon, juice only
  • 1 1/4 Cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/4 Cup water

To Cook the Rice and Complete Dish

  • Basmati rice, measured and washed as described above
  • 1 Medium onion, finely chopped
  • 50 Grams Scottish butter, preferably unsalted
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (juice of half can be used in the poaching liquor above)
  • 4 Cardamoms, gently crushed with the blade of knife
  • Sea salt flakes
  • 3 Large eggs, hard boiled, cooled and chopped
  • 4 Spring onions, sliced
  • 125 Grams Hot-smoked salmon
  • 125 Grams Peat-smoked salmon (or any well-flavored smoked salmon product)
  • 2 Tablespoons Mixed chopped chives, parsley, and herbs (such as dill, fennel, chervil, etc.)
  • A little butter and fresh single cream for serving

Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.


Skye highs

Some years ago, I had the most exuberantly revolting meal of my life on Skye, the rugged and mesmerising island off the west coast of Scotland which proves that God was, from time to time, simply showing off.

There were mitigating circumstances. We were camping, in between falling off various mountain tops in the Cuillin range. The rain was so relentless that, even under canvas, we were wetter than otters in a dishwasher. Two of us were squabbling because we both wanted to sleep, wetly, next to the girl and we'd forgotten to bring any real food, or pans. Vermicelli and corned beef was the soggy order of the day, chemically fused together in the bottom of a tin kettle and eaten with one spoon and three sets of second-degree burns, taken in a sulky bath of silence.

The point is this: had we been instead in the absolutely finest restaurant on the island, the food would have been even worse. If Skye has all the best bits of the rest of Scotland's scenery crammed into one, it also seemed, then, to have the very worst of its attitude to cuisine. Anyone who has ever been on holiday - on 'holiday' - on the west coast of Scotland knows the kind of thing. Exploding tubs of sour UHT creamer with your weak coffee, while cows stand outside begging to be milked. Hotels that somehow manage to make toast rancid, and serve lunch for precisely 20 minutes every day, at around 11.30am, and even then it's a filthy Scotch egg, grey as a grudge, with actionable chips.

You could, if you wished, watch the gorgeous little fishing boats unload their wares on to dinky little lorries, thence to be winsomely frozen and shipped romantically off to Spain but you couldn't get any local seafood into your mouth without physically diving into the sea. Instead the soft air was constantly rent with the 'ping' of a thousand microwaves, the Western Isles having been left alone for far too long with frankly ludicrous grants from the European Regional Development Fund and a liberal selection of white goods catalogues.

Something huge has happened. Recently I stood, belching gently with happiness at the memory of the last seared Skye scallop, the size of a fist and rich with orange and mustard dressing, gazing out over another criminally romantic stretch of water, wondering whether I could actually manage the next three courses - there was Loch Dunvegan lobster and langoustines with tian of Bracadale crab to come, and cheeses from nearby Achmore, and perhaps the world's finest dessert, Talisker and heather honey cranachan (roasted pinhead oatmeal in cream) with the island's first fresh raspberries of the year - and knowing that of course I would, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten so well.

The water happened to be the Sound of Sleat, a fabulous stretch that, like the rest of Skye, has more moods and beauties than there exist words for: but it could, almost, have been anywhere on the island.

Within about 15 years or so, within a significantly shorter space of time than it takes the intestinal system to fully rid itself of the average hotel Scotch egg, Skye has become probably the most sophisticated culinary island around Britain, and I'm wary of even telling you this because you're all going to want to go there with your cars and money and smiling stomachs, and eat all the food, and drink all the whisky. Except, fortunately, Skye seems finally to have realised that in such crises it doesn't have to wait, praying, for the next frozen dogburger van to venture across from the mainland. It just goes into the loch, and up the hills, and picks and catches and brews and grows some more.

Your first or last stop, depending on whether you like your gratification instant or delayed, has to be the Three Chimneys at Colbost, up in the northwest of the island. Seals bask on the shore, and clouds dance, constantly parting to offer tantalising glimpses of the Cuillin Ridge, or the distant coastline of Harris, and inside Shirley Spear is making another handful of lunch guests weep with happiness. If you had said, a few years ago, that a Skye restaurant would this year be voted on to the world's top 50 list by a panel of chefs and food writers, for the Restaurant magazine, you would have been met with open-mouthed fish noises. But there it is, up at number 28, above The Ivy and a slew of other select London venues, and to celebrate, Shirley and her husband Eddie are running a special £28 'taster' lunch of seven courses, mostly featuring seafood lifted from the water outside the window.

She's in a happy mood, bustling between kitchen and the quiet rooms of the restaurant - all dark wood and streaming sunshine - innocently thrilled with her success, as would be any self-taught cook but it was hardly overnight.

'It was a very different island when we first came, about 15 years ago. I remember battling to get fresh milk delivered. Having to drive miles every morning to pick it up myself, because they said there was "no call" for it around Colbost, as everyone was quite happy with UHT. The island was a bit like that.

'I think what's happened is that, along with a general Scottish revival of interest in good food and cooking, Skye's realised it has some of the best and freshest food in the world, just sitting around on its doorstep. We get so much locally now - scallops from just up the road, herbs from round the corner, fish from the Minch. it makes perfect sense, of course, but for too long it didn't seem to.'

I could have stayed at the Three Chimneys for a few days quite easily, for there are six suites in the adjacent 'Room Over-By', and there was so much still to taste - the venison collops with bramble and beetroot game gravy the simply-grilled local cod with mussel and saffron broth the three-salmon kedgeree the hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard - but it is, in fact, a big island, and I had to find out whether the Three Chimneys was just a gorgeous aberration or the shape of the island to come.

And it soon becomes clear, driving gently along the single-track roads, that a sea change has taken place. There are handwritten signs, as you pass through the villages, for organic exoteries: and the keyword on all the signs is no longer 'cheap', but 'fresh'. Just five minutes from the Three Chimneys, at Glendale, German-born Kornelius and Bridget Hagmann have made a fine success of their working organic garden: the restaurant takes many of their herbs and edible flowers for its salads. Turn towards Uig and there, washed in sunlight by the harbour, is what must be our country's most perfectly sited microbrewery. The Isle of Skye Brewery, established in 1995 by two local teachers, has been winning awards almost since that moment. It's in the process of expansion, building high new extensions that will ease the back-breaking task of hauling sacks of grain along cramped gantries, but the beer, we're promised, won't change: still unadulterated by additions, still made from the same spring further up the hill. Give them a call if you're on Skye to find the nearest pub or hotel which stocks their many ales, black and gold and brown. My favourite, in terms of name at least, has to be Extortion Ale, created specially at the height of the row over the exorbitant charges for crossing the Skye Road Bridge barrels of the stuff were carried across to the mainland and drunk in protest, which is a nice kind of protest if you can get it.

You won't have much trouble finding the island's other drink you might have trouble staying away from it. There are rumours of a small forgotten guesthouse on the island's southeast that doesn't contain a bottle of Talisker whisky, but not yet confirmed. Take the time, if you're passing the distillery, to go in for the tour. You get to learn about mashes and tuns you get to watch the torrent of colourless spirit, fresh-made and yet to colour and age, being shepherded lovingly through complex mazes of pipes and glass cages and hygrometers and you get, rather importantly, to drink goodly amounts of their whisky.

Not that we really needed it, at that time in the morning I could still taste the stuff from the night before.

The venison at Skeabost Hotel, in the north of the island, had been world-class. Michael and Ann Heaney only bought the country house-style hotel a year ago - it had a long and sad recent history of neglect and internecine battles, after its glory days in the Thirties, when the owner was making a small fortune selling whisky to Al Capone - and already they've turned it into a sumptuous and welcoming stop. Chef Paul Gibson, a devotee of the Gordon Ramsay school, is yet another tireless campaigner for the benefits of simple and fresh local produce.

It was a fine complement to our next night's stay, at Kinloch Lodge, which many non-islanders, and non-Scots, have now heard of thanks to the cookery writing of Lady Claire Macdonald. She and her husband were absent, but had thoughtfully left a team of cooks slaving for a few hours to bring us fresh local lamb, more fresh seafood, fabulous local cheese, fresh raspberries and some gratifyingly ancient Talisker, with a fine lochside sunset getting busy in the background. Their daughter, Isabelle, is now moving to the island from London with her husband, to see if they can open another, slightly less formal restaurant near the lodge, concentrating on lunches: this says much about the changes. Skye used to be a place from which the young and talented fled as fast as they could bribe the ferryman.

I could go on and on. Within 50 miles, you can find oyster and scallop farmers, fish-smokers, chocolate and cheese makers. Heather-reared lamb. lobsters lifted straight from the creel. fabulously tasty Pot Noodles. and only one of these is not true.

'You can eat better on this island than anywhere else in Scotland,' says Peter MacAskill, hauling another rope of fat mussels on board as we talk in the soft rain in the middle of Loch Eishort. There are about 80 tons of mussels hanging on a hundred lines somewhere in the water below in varying stages of their four-year development, and Peter and his colleague check them, and the water in which they're growing, with awesome regularity before harvesting. It's a wet and a slippery job, and yet he talks with fierce enthusiasm of the end result, of everywhere his mussels go, every stage of the process, and of the new dynamism suffusing Scottish exporters as the world demands food made as far away as possible from chemicals, and sludge, and people. And I suppose we should let them keep exporting, while the world demands: but Skye seems to have learnt, finally, to keep the best stuff for home.

The following correction was printed in the Observer's For the record column, Sunday July 21 2002

The 'criminally romantic stretch of water' identified as the Sound of Sleat above, was the criminally romantic Loch Dunvegan. The Cuillin hills would have got in the way of a view of the Sound of Sleat from Colbost.