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Catherine

The Three Chimneys, Skye

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Our visit to the Three Chimneys on Skye didn’t start too well. We arrived at 7.30pm to be told our booking had been for 6.30pm. Who on earth would want to eat dinner at 6.30 unless they were off to the theatre and there are not a lot of theatres on Skye. Apparently our 7.30 booking was not good for the restaurant and an email was sent to change it but we had already left home. Now, I don’t care how wonderful a restaurant is, or how many people are desperate to eat there, I object strongly to being told what time my reservation should be. Call me awkward, but I would rather not eat at all than eat at 6.30 or 10.30 just to make it convenient for the restaurant or allow them to squeeze in another “sitting”.

Anyway, having said all that, the Three Chimneys’ maitre ‘d accommodated our “late” arrival (albeit slightly sniffily) so we slunk out into the front garden with our drinks to smoke. There is no smoking anywhere in the restaurant or tiny bar so beware those who like a puff. It’s fine outside in the summer (midges allowing) but would be extremely chilly after September.

According to someone who knows these things, The Three Chimneys is the 32nd best restaurant in the world, only 4 of which are in the U.K. I have not visited most of the preceding 31 on the list, but I have been to some of them, so here was an intriguing peg to hang our standards on. It was curious sitting in this tiny place on a fairly remote Scottish island thinking the chef could be cooking at a top London venue.

The tiny restaurant has been cleverly converted from (probably) a fisherman’s cottage and has wonderful views over the seascape to the peaks on surrounding islands. The soft natural colours of the décor and the simple furnishings retain the atmosphere and the modest beginnings of the building and give a pleasantly relaxed feel to the place.

We found the canapés served with our drinks somewhat predictable and a little “tired” and moved inside to begin our meal. The homemade bread was not memorable and neither, to be honest, were the entrees. My langoustines were spankingly fresh (but then so they should be at such a location) and perfectly cooked, but the unusual and fragrant selection of “leaves” underneath them was actually more interesting than the shellfish. More of those leaves later! My husband’s “collops” of salmon were also rather bland although the watercress crème fraiche sauce was pleasant.

Taking advantage of the “seafood specialities” of the restaurant, I ordered a dish of scallops and monkfish with an orange, honey and grain mustard dressing. The mustard in the dressing seemed to overwhelm the subtle fish flavours and the crunchy potato “stack”, although good, was a bit soggy by the time I cut into it. My husband had grilled turbot and lobster in a shellfish sauce veloute and he pronounced it a good combination although the new potatoes were slightly overcooked. The wine selection was good and reasonably priced.

Unusually, the Three Chimneys makes no service charge, which is a welcome relief from the normal 12½ %, which one has to be hardnosed to decrease. Service that evening was efficient (although our wine was not topped up at all during the meal) but perfunctory and slightly detached. Was it because we had not arrived when we should have?

For us, dessert was the high point of the meal. Both the warm Plum and Almond Torte and the hot Marmalade pudding were meltingly good although I felt the torte would have benefited from a more generous dollop of crème fraiche as the last few mouths full were a bit dry. But perhaps one should not be churlish because according to the menu, the crème fraiche was “Local”

Yes, Local with a capital L, but then every word, including the adjectives, on the menu had capitalised first letters, which I find an intensely annoying trait. What this says to me is “Look, you must appreciate how wonderful every aspect of our food is. We have a top class chef and you should understand the effort and imagination which has gone into the dishes you are about to consume so we are going to highlight every word.”

Of course, this is not just a foible of the Three Chimneys in Skye. But I mention it because there is also a Footnote on this menu, which raised an eyebrow and my blood pressure too. Apparently much of the veg and fruit are locally grown and organic. The Footnote continues, (all underlined) "We hope you enjoy their superb flavour and quality". Patronising or what? Should we be lectured on how much to enjoy the veg? Or is it just me?

Catherine Hahn

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Very nice review Catherine, I've been looking forward to reading about this restaurant, the first report we've had I believe. Doesn't quite sound like it lived up to its reputation as 32nd best in the world and I wonder if that is ultimately more of a hinderance than a help to this sort of operation. Could it ever hope to live up to such expectations?

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I ate at the Three Chimeys three or four years ago, before a lot of the hype (we happened to be staying in a house a few miles up the road for a walking holiday). It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but then it wasn't burdened by the kind of expectations you mention. I also think it is unfair to expect the same from a restaurant in the Highlands as from a London restaurant - both can be excellent but in very different ways, and I think a lot of metropolitan habits would seem out of place on Skye.

I hope to go back at some point so it will be interesting to see how things have changed.

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I agree that these "league tables" are pretty meaningless and make for unrealistic expectations. I mentioned it only because it peeked our interest to go and try it. However, I hope I made it clear that the place was charming and the food very pleasant. But it wasn't special which was disappointing. I wasn't looking for metropolitan sophistication - quite the opposite in fact - just some truly great cooking.

Pricewise, it was £ for £ the same as Martin Wishart in Edinburgh which has one Michelin star and although there are obviously different cost implications for the Three Chimneys (seasonal trade, smaller restaurant but lower staff costs, for example) - I felt the food and the whole experience should have been more memorable.

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Hullo Catherine!

A couple of thoughts

My mum went there a few years ago - before it was famous - and enjoyed the seafood greatly. And she is normally fairly picky about seafood.

I think you highlight an issue in the UK, however, which is that once you get outside London the average standard of places is OK, but nor really great; it compares unfavourably to somewhere like France where standards are maintained beyond the capital.

Interesting they do not charge service - only other place I can think which does that is Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons (but then again they make it back several times over on the eye-watering carte prices!)

And finally welcome Catherine! It is good you could join us!

Regards

Jonathan


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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Interesting they do not charge service - only other place I can think which does that is Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons (but then again they make it back several times over on the eye-watering carte prices!)

Sally Clarke in London still follows that (French) practice, as does Shaun Hill in Ludlow.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Shaun Hills menu states the prices 'include' service charge so it is a wrong to say that it isn't charged to the bill - it is hidden in the cost (something I would not begrudge Shaun HIll as he is so reasonably priced anyway).


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Am I alone in thinking that restaurant staff not topping up my wine is a good thing?


PS

Edinburgh

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Am I alone in thinking that restaurant staff not topping up my wine is a good thing?

Scranmeister,

IM(humble)O, it depends on the occasion and the atmosphere that the restaurant is trying to achieve. For example, at the Waterside Inn/ Hibiscus, I like the formality of having my wine poured for me, so long as this is done intermittently; which at this standard of place, it obviously is. The antithesis of which are some West End Chinese restaurants, where the entire bottle is decanted into everyone's glasses at near lightning speed and topped up every 15 seconds until finished; quickly followed by the inevitable " Do you want another bottle"!

Having said that at The Merchant House - Shaun Hill cites on his wine list that there is no wine service per se. Here is what it says:

"Restaurant service often has rigmarole and stuff. Our approach is more basic and straightforward. Serving wine, we offer you a taste to check the quality, pour a small glass for everyone, and then leave it up to you. We like pouring our own wine and hope you do too".

In this less formal setting- I have to agree. I am very happy to be left to my own devices and to be allowed to pour wine for family and friends as suits us. The same approach is adopted at The Crown and Castle(Orford) and suits the pace of such meals I think.

Incidentally- Catherine - my colleague is off to the Three Chimneys for lunch next month- on my recommendation!! I hope she she has a more pleasant experience than you unfortunately enjoyed !


Edited by Bapi (log)

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Catherine, my wife and I were thinking of staying/eating at the Three Chimneys and decided against it. At the time we were unable to find anyone who could give us any personal feedback so I was excited to see your post. I was also amused by the timing issue as my wife and I were constantly annoyed in Scotland by what seemed overly restrictive dining hours.

I have a few questions:

First, assuming you stayed there, how were the rooms and the other aspects of the Three Chimneys? The rooms themselves are not cheap for that area of the world so I wonder how they hold up.

Second, if you were to think of the restaurant as a restaurant in Skye, or even the Western Higlands, as opposed to a destination restaurant, how would the food hold up? I generally found the food in that area to be quite poor (with the exception of the Old Pines near Fort William). I would have been very happy to find an excellent restaurant, even if it werent one of the top 100 in the world. How would you rank it against other restaurants in that area? as opposed to comparing it to London? Obviously the best in the area may still be worth a visit if one is in the area for other reasons (like the almost unbelievable awe-inducing scenery). Have you found anyplace in Scotland that compares that is not in Edinburgh or Glascow?

Third, when you say there is no service charge, what does that mean? Does it mean it wasnt included, or that somehow the restaurant conveyed that you were not expected to pay it? Even if it wasnt included, I would assume the standard is to leave something, no? I often find the 12.5% is less than what I would leave on my own, so actually come out ahead where service charge is included.


Thomas Secor

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First, assuming you stayed there, how were the rooms and the other aspects of the Three Chimneys? The rooms themselves are not cheap for that area of the world so I wonder how they hold up.

I can't comment on the rooms but the location was stunning even by the standards of the West Highlands which is saying something.

Second, if you were to think of the restaurant as a restaurant in Skye, or even the Western Higlands, as opposed to a destination restaurant, how would the food hold up?  I generally found the food in that area to be quite poor (with the exception of the Old Pines near Fort William).  I would have been very happy to find an excellent restaurant, even if it werent one of the top 100 in the world.  How would you rank it against other restaurants in that area? as opposed to comparing it to London? Obviously the best in the area may still be worth a visit if one is in the area for other reasons (like the almost unbelievable awe-inducing scenery).  Have you found anyplace in Scotland that compares that is not in Edinburgh or Glascow?  Second, if you were to think of the restaurant as a restaurant in Skye, or even the Western Higlands, as opposed to a destination restaurant, how would the food hold up?  I generally found the food in that area to be quite poor (with the exception of the Old Pines near Fort William).  I would have been very happy to find an excellent restaurant, even if it werent one of the top 100 in the world.  How would you rank it against other restaurants in that area? as opposed to comparing it to London? Obviously the best in the area may still be worth a visit if one is in the area for other reasons (like the almost unbelievable awe-inducing scenery).  Have you found anyplace in Scotland that compares that is not in Edinburgh or Glascow? 

Very well - and not just because of the mediocre standard of food in the area. I'd also rate it well against many restaurants in London - it's just the 32nd best restaurant in the world thing that is the issue. One thought though: if you were basing your ranking on a scenery and atmosphere, I think a place in the top ten could be easily justified.

I was interested in your views on the Old Pines. On our last trip we failed to get in there and ended up in a place in Strontian that we were very happy with. I suspect the food wasn't quite as good as the Old Pines would have been, but the lochside location was superb and together with nice rooms and friendly service it easily made up for any weaknesses in the meal.

I would also suggest Monachyle Mhor near Balquhidder as another hype-free alternative for that sort of trip.

By the way, the timing issue is a cultural thing - I struggle to get my parents to eat dinner any later than 6.30!

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I would also suggest Monachyle Mhor near Balquhidder as another hype-free alternative for that sort of trip.

Lordy, it's been ages since I ate at the Monachyle Mhor--maybe almost 10 years ago--and I can't remember much about it apart drinking too much wine and whisky and having to stand in the middle of the bar and recite poetry for the stalkers. I believe it was a great meal. (Maybe I should also add this to the "Great Meals I Can't Remember" thread. Is there one?) Does anyone know if it's been done up and/or extended recently?

Great place and--as I remember--totally out of the way at the end of a single track road. Fabulous.

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Hello Thomas

I will try and answer your questions although someone has already posted a reply on the rooms at the Three Chimneys. We did not stay there, unfortunately, because it was full but some acquaintances did and said the accommodation was really good.

The standard of the restaurant would be very high for Skye although our only other experience was pub food (which was poor) although I understand a seafood restaurant nearby (can't tell you the name I'm afraid but it was near Waternish Point) is reputed to be excellent. The coast around there is stunning too.

As for the rest of Scotland, apart from Edinburgh where there are several good places to eat, I would recommend Ayrds Hotel near Oban/Fort William. Haven't been there for about 4 years but at that time it was really fantastic - great food, wonderful rooms and a superb location for views/walks etc.

On the Three Chimneys menu it says "Prices include VAT @ 17.5%. We make no service charge." We took that to mean that we should pay whatever we thought the service was worth so we left a little less than the customer 12.5 %.

Hope this helps.

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The Three Chimneys is in a beautiful location and it does serve good food, but nothing really that Sally Clarke in London does not do better. Also it is very expensive and rather pleased with itself.

The restaurant on Waternish is the LochBay Seafood Restaurant (www.lochbay-seafood-restaurant.co.uk) tel 01470 592235 and it is indeed excellent. Simply furnished and situated down near the loch in the village of Stein, the restaurant has its own tanks for lobster and oysters and everything is fresh and simply cooked and excellent value for money. Lobsters about £20-£30 according to size, whole baby turbot for £14.50, huge plate of scallops also for about £14 and then clootie dumpling and creme fraiche for pudding. Fantastic! They also do a huge fish platter for two served over four courses and there is a good wine list, too.

You can tell I liked it. The Stein Inn also in the village used to have a good reputation for food, but it has nosedived. However, you can stay there. Another option; if you book the LochBay Seafood Restaurant, ask them for help with local b and bs. They have a list.

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Spanky

It was about 18 months ago that I was at Monachyle Mhor. It looked as if it had been done up a bit but is still in the same ownership. The food we had was excellent - good ingredients, especially seafood, nicely cooked. They take the food seriously but not too seriously and the bar had exactly the atmosphere you recall - I can't imagine that happening at the Three Chimneys!

The only weakness was the rooms which weren't much above a decent B&B, but if that puts some people off then so much the better! Same goes for the single track road.

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Looking even further north, I have to travel shortly to, well, 2 hours drive north west of Inverness. Think Ullapool and then up a fair bit. I'm looking for somewhere for a second night within about another two horus drive. ANy thoughts?


Jay

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Jay

try the Summer Isles Hotel , in Achiltibuie, north of Ullapool. Need to book a room to have their set dinner since small dining room but they also have a pub annexe that serves their grub.

Anny

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Thanks Gavin. Had already tried them but they were fully booked the night I was looking for. May try them again, to see if they have a cancellation.

J


Jay

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Three Chimney's to close? I've heard that the owners have or are buying a place in N Berwick - perhaps as part of a retirement plan or the harshness of skye winters (& summers) is getting to them. Mind you - not sure if its a house or restuarant they're buying.

Heard anything?

Also - had an astonishingly good meal there last spring - never got round to posting but if you've always wanted to got - don;t leave it too late.

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:unsure:

Three Chimney's to close?  I've heard that the owners have or are buying a place in N Berwick - perhaps as part of a retirement plan or the harshness of skye winters (& summers) is getting to them.  Mind you - not sure if its a house or restuarant they're buying.

Heard anything? 

Also - had an astonishingly good meal there last spring - never got round to posting but if you've always wanted to got - don;t leave it too late.

:shock: I can assure everyone personally, that Eddie and I have no plans to close The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By in beautiful north west Skye.

We are amazed that information about our North Berwick project has spread so far! To explain: we have sold our 1-bedroom flat in Leith and bought a 2-bedroom cottage in North Berwick. This will give us the combination of accessibility to my home city of Edinburgh, where our children live and work, with the wide open spaces of the East Lothian coastline. The cottage will take at least another year to renovate. We hope that all the family will use it and that we ourselves, will have a small retreat.

We have no plans to retire! Indeed, we re-opened last night following our annual period of closure for essential maintenance and ongoing refurbishment. We had a full house and a superb menu appeared to be enjoyed by all. Eddie was playing genial host front-of-house as always and serving the wines from his great list.

As you will see from our website, we appointed a new Head Chef, Michael Smith, a little under three years ago. We worked closely together for the first 18 months, building a new team. I had realised a few years ago that one day I would have to pass on the day-to-day running of the kitchen to younger chefs. I have worked hard to make this changeover successful, rather than walk away from all that we have achieved at The Three Chimney. The "peculiarities" of running such a special restaurant in this crazy location took Michael a few months to accomplish. He is a brilliant Chef and completely on my wavelength about the importance of using the wide range of local produce available from Skye and the Highlands of Scotland, as well as promoting the superb culinary heritage of Scottih cooking.

The "astonighingly good meal" referred to by Tony H was all down to him and the team. I have not been at the stoves for a a year now. However, I am here virtually al of the time, assisting Eddie with running (and possibly developing) the buisness for the future. We are still living in the flat over the restaurant - our home for 22 years and still counting!

Come up and see us sometime. But don't forget to reserve a table as demand is greater than ever!

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delighted to hear your not closing - it is a truly special place

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Shirley, I'm relieved to hear you're not closing. My annual visit to the most beautiful place on earth would not be complete without dinner at the Chimneys!

:unsure:
Three Chimney's to close?  I've heard that the owners have or are buying a place in N Berwick - perhaps as part of a retirement plan or the harshness of skye winters (& summers) is getting to them.  Mind you - not sure if its a house or restuarant they're buying.

Heard anything? 

Also - had an astonishingly good meal there last spring - never got round to posting but if you've always wanted to got - don;t leave it too late.

:shock: I can assure everyone personally, that Eddie and I have no plans to close The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By in beautiful north west Skye.

We are amazed that information about our North Berwick project has spread so far! To explain: we have sold our 1-bedroom flat in Leith and bought a 2-bedroom cottage in North Berwick. This will give us the combination of accessibility to my home city of Edinburgh, where our children live and work, with the wide open spaces of the East Lothian coastline. The cottage will take at least another year to renovate. We hope that all the family will use it and that we ourselves, will have a small retreat.

We have no plans to retire! Indeed, we re-opened last night following our annual period of closure for essential maintenance and ongoing refurbishment. We had a full house and a superb menu appeared to be enjoyed by all. Eddie was playing genial host front-of-house as always and serving the wines from his great list.

As you will see from our website, we appointed a new Head Chef, Michael Smith, a little under three years ago. We worked closely together for the first 18 months, building a new team. I had realised a few years ago that one day I would have to pass on the day-to-day running of the kitchen to younger chefs. I have worked hard to make this changeover successful, rather than walk away from all that we have achieved at The Three Chimney. The "peculiarities" of running such a special restaurant in this crazy location took Michael a few months to accomplish. He is a brilliant Chef and completely on my wavelength about the importance of using the wide range of local produce available from Skye and the Highlands of Scotland, as well as promoting the superb culinary heritage of Scottih cooking.

The "astonighingly good meal" referred to by Tony H was all down to him and the team. I have not been at the stoves for a a year now. However, I am here virtually al of the time, assisting Eddie with running (and possibly developing) the buisness for the future. We are still living in the flat over the restaurant - our home for 22 years and still counting!

Come up and see us sometime. But don't forget to reserve a table as demand is greater than ever!

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delighted to hear your not closing - it is a truly special place

:blush: Thank you Tony H and Sea Urchin Ragout! I want to know who you are now! At least your comments helped to restore my confidence after reading the other (outdated?) comments from other people way back in 2003. Those were quite alarming and I hope you agree, got us completely wrong. Well.....I know from years of experience that it is impossible to please everyone all of the time, so nothing should ever surprise me. We receive huge numbers of compliments direct and those are always very humbly received and passed around all of our lovely staff.

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Just back from 2 weeks on Skye. My wife and I ate an excellent dinner at the Three Chimneys. We have dined in many special restaurants around the world, so believe we can benchmark to some extent. We were both delighted with the Three Chimneys. I do believe it is a world class restaurant. Some of the 2003 comments on the thread did shock me as my wife and I had a completely different experience. Imaginative combinations of flavour. Put together with artistry and high technical skill. Also, must say a word about the really friendly front of house staff. Finally, an outstanding wine list. We had a lovely Gevrey-Chambertin.

To reinforce the point, my parents in law dined in the restaurant on the previous evening, and they also came home singing the praises of the food, the staff and the atmosphere. We are all looking forward to returning. the restaurant is now advertising the idea of spending a New Year week at the Three Chimneys. Very tempting. It would take a few kms of biking on Skye to work that off.

:biggrin:

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Just back from 2 weeks on Skye.  My wife and I ate an excellent dinner at the Three Chimneys.  We have dined in many special restaurants around the world, so believe we can benchmark to some extent.  We were both delighted with the Three Chimneys.  I do believe it is a world class restaurant.  Some of the 2003 comments on the thread did shock me as my wife and I had a completely different experience.  Imaginative combinations of flavour.  Put together with artistry and high technical skill.  Also, must say a word about the really friendly front of house staff.  Finally, an outstanding wine list.  We had a lovely Gevrey-Chambertin.

To reinforce the point, my parents in law dined in the restaurant on the previous evening, and they also came home singing the praises of the food, the staff and the atmosphere.  We are all looking forward to returning.  the restaurant is now advertising the idea of spending a New Year week at the Three Chimneys.  Very tempting.  It would take a few kms of biking on Skye to work that off.

:biggrin:

It has always puzzled me why the restaurant has never been awarded a star. Its a lot better than a few starred places that spring to mind. Never mind, they are not alone!!!!

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