Published: October 2013
The restaurant's Gaelic name translates in English as 'Black Isle', the proudly distinctive peninsula on which it sits.
The choice of name also harks back to the nostalgically remembered eight-vehicle car ferry which once served as the main link between the Black Isle and Inverness, before the opening of the Kessock Bridge in 1982.
A policy of sourcing its food locally – you may pass some of the beef in fields on your way there – also makes the name seem pretty apt. If you ask where anything on your plate comes from, chances are a member of staff will be able to tell you – and that it won't exactly be a million miles away.
The traceability question is one which still raises a suspicious eyebrow in all too many eateries and it's reassuring to be able to get a straight answer. The potatoes, incidentally, are terrific too (some homegrown; others sourced from Ardersier, I learned).
Having stopped by in the passing before for tea and scones, we were keen to check out what it could offer for a Sunday lunch to help celebrate a family birthday. Getting a reservation on the day was possible although we were glad that we did on arrival – our four-seat table was the only one free. In terms of bums on seats, the omens were good.
It doesn't look like anything special from outside, truth be told. And "cosy" and "intimate" are the words that come to mind when looking for adjectives to describe the interior of Eilean Dubh. There's not an awful lot of space between the tables but there is enough. Tune in to the conversations around you and you'll hear plenty of local accents – generally another good sign.
The main body of the restaurant is separated from the bar by a single, open corridor that leads to the toilet. The carvery is set to the side, next to the kitchen. The Sunday we visited, the restaurant was doing a roaring trade – although there always seemed to be just enough space to fit in any walk-ins. That's a nice balance if you can pull it off.
The welcome was warm and we were given ample time to study the menu before ordering. No one likes being hustled although it's remarkable how often that still happens.
Raise your eyes to the walls for blackboards with the day's specials. That's where we spotted the faultless potato and leak soup (which, by the way, was reported by a member of our party to be the perfect post-night out stomach settler. A more wholesome alternative to Irn Bru, I'd suggest!) Served with crusty bread, it was good value for the £3 asking price.
The children in the party found their own way to the kids menu which offers slightly downsized portions at a reduced price. The portion sizes, it turns out, are ideal: it was a toss-up in the end whether they still had room for dessert. When they read the dessert board, it turned out they did...
The homemade beef burger served with potato wedges (£4.95) was a cut above what you often see unimaginatively doled out with greasy fries elsewhere. The Diet Coke accompanying it cost £1.50.
The kids fish, battered and served with wedges and baked beans (£4.95), ticked the boxes and helped to satisfy a voracious young appetite sharpened earlier by a spot of dolphin-watching and beachcombing.
The adults in the party plumped for the carvery (£9.50), roast lamb and beef the main choices with a generous selection of vegetables plus roast, mash and boiled potato (all three in our case) and melt-in-mouth Yorkshire puddings. On the plate, it looked very good. Happily, the taste buds were also very happy, the meat beautifully tender and the trimmings all well up to scratch. At the price, the carvery we felt represented very decent value for money – a theme of the lunchtime menu in general.
It's difficult to identify any major downsides. They didn't have the listed Cromarty Brewing Company-produced Happy Chappy pale ale I'd been keen to try the day I visited (slight irony as it's also produced on the Black Isle). However the randomly selected (and perhaps appropriately named) Dark Island (brewed in Orkney) went down a treat with the lamb from the carvery and was also new to me.
The in-house sticky toffee pudding (£4.95 and highly recommended) was served with cream proved an indulgent delight to finish up with. Four diners ate their fill for £55 – pretty decent in the value for money stakes.
Quality of food: 9
Menu choice: 7
Value for money: 9
Summary: Tasty, locally sourced eats in cosy surroundings with friendly service (and dolphins on their doorstep!)
Eilean Dubh Restaurant
18 High Street
Tel: 01381 620690