Islay Food Journey
Islay is famed for its smoky, single malt whiskies, geese and miles of sandy beaches. It’s also a foodie heaven. With beef, venison and lamb from local farms, game from island estates, scallops, lobsters, oysters, crab, langoustines and prawns from the Islay fishing fleet and kitchen gardens galore, you can feast on the finest local produce expertly prepared. Many of the island’s eateries are in stunning locations.
Start your journey at the famous Ardbeg distillery. Located on the rugged shoreline at the southern end of the island, it’s a fantastic place to sample a peaty dram or two and tuck into tasty home-cooked dishes. Some say Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Café is the best place to get lunch on the island, but we’ll let you make up your mind about that. Check out the specials board for great dishes featuring local produce, such as Ardbeg cask strength cured Scottish salmon Gravadlax and succulent Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak with an Ardbeg and peppercorn sauce.
Now head south along the A846, passing Lagavulin and Laphroaig, until you reach the fishing village of Port Ellen. Your next stop is the white-washed Islay Hotel which overlooks the harbour and the marina. The food here is locally sourced and prepared with flair and care. As you might imagine, seafood features heavily. The seafood medley is an ideal way to sample a range of seasonally available local seafood, simply cooked and beautifully presented. Other classics like ‘Rack of Argyll Lamb’ are on the menu, so it’s not just about the fish! Dine al fresco on the terrace on a warm day.
Bowmore and Bridgend
Next head north along the A846 to Bowmore, home to the world-famous Bowmore Distillery. It’s the main shopping centre on the island and is a great place to while away a few hours. The Celtic House Coffee Shop is perfect for morning coffee or afternoon tea. It’s part of a gift and book shop. After browsing the range of Hebridean books and Scottish crafts, treat yourself to some delicious home-baking.
The Harbour Inn sits at the heart of Bowmore village overlooking the harbour. The award-winning restaurant serves up fabulous food featuring the finest local produce. There’s a Bar Lounge Menu for more informal dining.
Carry on along the A846 and you’ll come to Bridgend and the lovely Bridgend Hotel. This 19th-century hotel is a warm and welcoming place to enjoy a meal. You can dine on traditional Scottish cuisine in the garden-view restaurant or enjoy pub-style dishes in the cosy bar. You’ll find lots of local produce on the menu, including vegetables from the Islay House Community Garden, which is just around the corner. This 4.5-acre walled garden was originally the kitchen garden for Islay House. Visitors are more than welcome. You can buy vegetables and wide range of soft fruit seasonally, together with some flowers, herbs and salad leaves.
Islay may be famed for its whisky, but it’s also home to Islay Ales. This range of hand-crafted, high quality cask and bottle conditioned beers is available in many of the shops and hotels on Islay. If you’re a real ale fan, then a visit to the Brewery and Visitor Centre in Bridgend for a tour and tasting is a must.
The next leg of your Islay food journey takes you to The Rhinns of Islay, a peninsula that has some of the most beautiful bays on the island. Follow the A847 south to the village of Port Charlotte, which was built in whitewashed stone in 1828 by The Laird of Islay. Drop into the Port Charlotte Hotel, a beach-front hotel with stunning views and cracking food. How does pan-fried seabass and scallops in garlic and chilli sound? Catch live music in the bar on Sunday and Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
Continue along the A847 past Nerabus and you’ll come to An Gleann where An Gleann Tablet is made. This gourmet butter, chocolate and malt whisky flavoured tablet is handmade in small batches and is utterly delicious. You can visit the outlet to sample the tablet, as well as browse the tablet in gift bags and boxes. You can also buy honey and free range hen and guinea fowl eggs, natural beeswax candles and peacock and guinea fowl feathers. From here, either head north back to Port Charlotte or south to Porthnahaven and then up the Atlantic coast in a loop that will bring you back onto the A847 near Port Charlotte.
Next up is Kilchoman Distillery. Head north up the A847 and then take a left onto the B8018. Kilchoman (pronounced kilhoman) was established in 2005. A tour gives you the opportunity to see all that is best in the grass-roots traditions of malt whisky distilling – from barley to bottle. There’s a great café that serves cakes, soups, paninis and Cullen Skink. They do excellent coffee and are always happy to add a shot of whisky to your latte!
If you have time on your hands, continue along the B8018 to the stunning Sanaigmore Bay at the north-west edge of Islay. Here you’ll find the Outback Art Gallery and Coffee Shop. This fabulous barn conversion is packed with local art. After a stroll along the beach, kick back on the giant leather sofas, tuck into some home-made cake and enjoy the views north to Colonsay, Oransay and Mull.
The final leg of your Islay food journey takes you back to Bridgend and then east along the A846 to Port Askaig. It’s worth stopping off at Labels in Ballygrant. This fantastic coffee shop sells scones, cakes, toasties, pies, sweets and more. You’ll also find clothing, jewellery, handbags, toiletries and homeware. The Ballygrant Inn also offers good home-cooked food and is famous for its monthly Indian curry buffet nights. The Ballygrant Inn Malt Whisky Bar also has the largest collection of malts on the island!
Persabus Pottery Café is another must. Situated five minutes from Port Askaig on the road to Bunnahabhain, Persabus offers a unique setting in which to unwind and explore your creativity! Paint some pottery and indulge in home-baking and filled rolls. On warm days you can sit outside on the picnic benches and take in the spectacular views of the Sound of Islay and the Paps of Jura.
And your final call on this foodie adventure is the Port Askaig Hotel. Situated on the shores of the Sound of Islay, overlooking the pier, this old drover’s inn has a brilliant beer garden. Kick back with a local ale, a plate of fish and chips and drink in the view of the Paps of Jura.