Sometimes you just need a decent coffee and a good view to help you get through the day. The weather has been pretty awful and there are very few really good places nearby where we can stop for coffee & cake. We’ve heard that the Birsay Bay Tearoom is worth a stop and it overlooks one of the more interesting places on today’s route – the Brough of Birsay.
Rock orders a home-made coconut cake and, because I’m in the mood for something savoury, I order a cheese scone. The coffee and the coconut cake are both good but the cheese scone is fantastic – really light and yet full of flavour. With great views and good service this has been an ideal place for a mid-morning break.
Sometimes we enjoy beer with our food and, very occasionally, we enjoy food with our beer. Today we have an opportunity to sample beer at The Orkney Brewery – so we may as well have lunch while we are there! The Brewery is located in a former schoolhouse in Quoyloo. Beer and food are served in the Tasting Hall – a former classroom. Will they teach us anything we don’t already know about beer?
It would be imprudent not to sample several of the products, so we begin with a tasting paddle of Red MacGregor, Meridian and Dark Island. Red MacGregor is a ruby ale with hints of spice & malt; Meridian is a golden ale with notes of fruit; Dark Island is a dark beer with flavours of chocolate and dried fruit. They are all good but Dark Island is my favourite and I can understand why it has twice won the CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Scotland Award.
There is beer in most of the food they serve here. I order a Dark Island Hot Pot – Orkney beef and root vegetables slow cooked in ale and served with Bere Bannock – an Orcadian barley grain artisan bread. The hot pot is very good – loads of beef and great gravy but it really needs more root vegetables. Rock is having the Orkney cheddar & Dark Island Reserve quiche served with salad and fries (Dark Island Reserve has been voted the best dark beer in the world – very strong, quite sweet but very fine indeed!).
We decide to share the Dragonhead cake. It is a great decision. It is a moist, intense chocolate cake for grown-ups, flavoured with Dragonhead ale and topped with cream cheese frosting. We have enjoyed great service from Joyce & Michelle and the Dragonhead cake has given us a fabulous finish to a lunch for beer lovers. The Orkney Brewery has simply reminded us that there is always more for us to learn…
One of the reasons we chose to stay at Eastward House is that it won the Best Breakfast in Orkney award last year. Dinner last night at the Eastward House restaurant, Mission Bell was truly exceptional and we are hoping breakfast will be just as good. Patrick & Keiko can provide a range of gourmet breakfasts but most are based on the principle of one course to provide vitamins, another to provide fibre and a third to provide protein.
Our first course is their extraordinary fresh fruit salad. Very fresh fruit, perfectly ready to eat – the combination includes strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, melon, pineapple, grapefruit, blackberries, orange and papaya. Better than any other vitamin supplement known to man!
Next is the fibre course….the gourmet porridge. The porridge is served with cinnamon, honey and an intense fresh apricot & nutmeg compote. The porridge is good but the apricot compote is simply fabulous – highly flavoured and spiced to perfection.
Breakfast protein comes in many forms but does not usually involve fish cooked in wine. Today I am having haddock poached in Sancerre and French tarragon, while Rock is having Orkney hot smoked salmon steamed in Chardonnay. Both are served on fresh spinach leaves, with a poached egg, oven roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and asparagus. Wow!
No wonder this breakfast has won awards…
Sometimes you just go out for a meal but, very occasionally, you go out with the expectation of an eating experience. Tonight we are having dinner at the Mission Bell, near St Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay. You have to book in advance, you have to agree the menu in advance… because this is no ordinary restaurant. It is a salt-free, slow food kitchen which embraces a number of Orcadian & international cuisines including Japanese Washoku.
Owners Patrick & Keiko make us very welcome. The Missing Bell is unlicensed – so we have brought a half decent bottle of Chablis with us. Our first course is Tataki, lightly seared pieces of fresh tuna dressed with garlic flakes, spring onions, samphire and a ponzu sauce. Served with leeks and miso. The whole dish is beautifully presented, the tuna is cooked perfectly….it is a stunning start!
Our second course is Teriyaki Beef. Medium rare slices of Aberdeen Angus beef fillet served on a bed of courgette ribbons with rice, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, orange and a teriyaki sauce. Again the dish is presented like a piece of art – the beef is tender and it tastes sensational.
Tataki seared tuna
Green tea mousse
Patrick & Keiko are great hosts throughout the evening and Patrick will tell you everything you want to know about their cooking philosophy. When dessert arrives it is a green tea mousse sitting on a black sesame seed sponge, chocolate cake, fresh strawberries, pomegranate and mint. A delightful end to a truly fabulous meal.