“Gigha is a small island off the west coast of Kintyre in Scotland. The island forms part of Argyll and Bute and has a population of about 160 people. The climate is mild with higher than average sunshine hours and the soils are fertile.”
The Isle of Gigha is an island community that is owned wholly by its residents under a development trust called ‘Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust’. The islanders purchased it in March 2002 for £4million, with help from grants and loans from the National Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Interesting Fact: 15th March is celebrated as the island’s “independence day”, as this is when the purchase was made between private owners and the community.
Venturing over to Gigha, although unknown to most, is something I really feel everyone should endeavour to do at some point, especially if you’re already down the South West coastline! I work on the West Coast, and the Isle of Gigha is an island under my Operational remit at the moment, unfortunately only until the end of next week, hence why I wanted to make the most of my last minute opportunity to visit one last time. And god damn was I hella lucky with the weather! It was bloody glorious … as the photos can attest to. The island is accessible via a ferry from Tayinloan, which is situated on the A83 almost exactly between Tarbert and Campbeltown in Kintyre, Argyll.
The CalMac ferries run every hour, on the hour, from Tayinloan to Gigha from 8am until 7pm (Mon – Fri during the season) and every hour on half past the hour back from Gigha to Tayinloan. It only takes 20 minutes to travel between, and it costs approximately £25 for 2 people and a car return journey. If you want more ferry information, either in regards to timings or costs, please visit CalMac website.
Since I am a self-proclaimed foodie, which is why I started this blog in the first place, the key aspect of this post is to talk about The Boathouse restaurant. I’ll touch on where to stay, other ‘things to do’ or general information about Gigha further on , in the hopes that it may seal the deal on your decision to take a trip over to try their locally sourced seafood (maybe in conjunction with a visit to Tarbert and Campbeltown – as there’s plenty to do there too, but more on that another time!).
The Boathouse, Ardminish Bay, Gigha
The Boathouse is a family owned restaurant with a great reputation for the finest Scottish seafood on the West coast of Scotland, most of which is landed on our doorstep.
When I visited Gigha back in February I didn’t get the opportunity to try this restaurant, as it is only open seasonally (23rd March 2018 until 30th Sept 2018). So when I decided to organise a visit this time around and I knew my Mum was coming with me, it was the obvious choice for evening dinner plans. We booked a table in advance for 7.30pm and (being the fussy, pernickety b**t*rd that I am) I requested a window seat – but being an old boathouse, there only is 2 x small windows with little visibility outside, but I’d still request it if you like natural light. Whilst sitting in our hotel’s beer garden at around 6pm, we got hungry. So I made a phone call to The Boathouse and they accommodated our booking an hour early at 6.30pm and we walked down to the restaurant from The Gigha Hotel as it only takes about 5 minutes.
Although we’d booked a table, we walked by a few people sat on benches outside and couldn’t help ourselves – we had to sit outside too and appreciate the awesome view … I mean look at it?! Have you ever seen a more glorious backdrop … I think it would undoubtedly win first prize for the ‘most likely assumed to be a tropical island, but actually in Scotland’ award. It might tie in first place with Luskintyre beach in Isle of Harris, but Gigha is in my area right now (Argyll) – so it has my total allegiance and vote!
My mum and I had already looked up their menu online, but were delighted to find a vast array of local seafood dishes available on the Specials Board. Anything they had run out of was marked with an asterisk (gutted about the mixed grill of fish situation… although it worked in my favour, as I’ll get onto), but regardless there was plenty on offer in addition to the main menu – lending to the fresh ‘sea to plate’ ethos. So much of their produce is landed locally on Gigha – salmon, halibut, lobsters, scallops etc. and the list goes on!
Our order comprised of the following:
Langoustine Tails in garlic butter (me)
Deep Fried Monk Cheek with plum sauce and lime (Mum)
The langoustine tails were finger licking good (like seriously, I’m an animal!) and they weren’t shy with the portion size either so you feel like you’ve won the lottery when the dish is placed in front of you. My Mum loved her monk cheek, and said the batter was crisp and delicious but the lime was a little sharp for her. She said I would have enjoyed it though (as my taste buds live for sharp flavours … pass me the whole lemon please!) Unfortunately at this stage, the damn midges got so bad we had to move indoors, and although they’d given away our table to someone else – they accommodated our request (thank you so much!)
Goodbye gorgeous backdrop for my photos… until we meet again…
Whole Lobster (me – told you it worked out in my favour didn’t I?!)
Grilled Gigha Halibut with avocado, apple, radish, chilli & orange crispy pancetta with walnut arancini (Mum)
The grilled halibut was cooked well and served over a cold salad, which my Mum said was light, crisp and nailed it on the flavour combinations – her smile below was maintained throughout the whole meal, so that always makes me happy; as I love it when I get to share a great dining experience with my Mum. I ended up ordering the lobster, because 1) they didn’t have any of the mixed grill of fish left, 2) I love lobster and 3) it kept drawing my eye, and I’m not on Gigha often – so ‘why the hell not’ attitude promptly reigned supreme in this situation. And I was not disappointed! First of all, look at the size of it! It has a monster amount of meat in it, which made for a very happy (albeit full) girl. It was cooked extremely well, and the light salad and potatoes were the perfect accompaniments. Lobster meat can quite easily become quite tough if overcooked and not handled well, but the chef clearly knows what he’s doing with this excellent local produce!
The Boathouse Meringue (me)
Clootie Dumpling (Mum)
My Mum had decided before she came to the restaurant that she wanted the Clootie Dumpling, as it’s a childhood favourite of hers, and she said it was delicious – the ideal balance of moist and rish. She wasn’t as keen on the whiskey ice-cream that came with it, but that’s a personal preference as neither of us is hugely keen on alcohol infused ice cream. My decision to order The Boathouse Meringue was a direct result of one being placed down in front of the man sitting at the table next to us – it was a total FOMO moment. I was quite full, but I couldn’t rightly leave the restaurant knowing I had missed out on something so spectacular! It was the perfect ratio of crunchy to chewy and the vanilla infused cream and fruit complimented it impeccably in a firework display worthy finale for the overall meal.
Our server, Annabelle, was polite, smiley and a great waitress for the duration of our meal, which always impacts on your experience of a restaurant. And she put up with facial expressions like the one above whilst I tore into my lobster! The meal came to a total of approx.. £100 (excluding tip), and we left distinctly full and feeling like Violet who just visited Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but not regretting it one.little.bit.
So much so, that after work the next day, we decided to go back from lunch the next day before getting the ferry back to the mainland. So it wasn’t quite the goodbye we thought for that glorious view, as it looked equally if not more beautiful the next day. Annabelle was working again as well and laughed when she saw we had come back less than 24 hours later and perched ourselves once again at the benches outside and – luckily for us – the midges didn’t make a return.
We decided to share a couple of starters, and opted for more seafood, as clearly The Boathouse knows how to handle its seafood and it would be a damn shame to miss out on all their offerings, so we ordered:
King Prawns: with garlic hot sauce, cardamom and lime butter and blackened fried noodles
Seared Scallops: with 12 hours slow cooked pork neck, pear & black pudding bon bons, cauliflower puree and green chilli and orange marmalade
The prawns were succulent, meaty juicy and moreish – with the texture contrast of the fried noodles in a rich, flavoursome sauce that my Mum proceeded to spread on bread (made freshly on Gigha). The scallops (I feel like I don’t even need to say they were cooked perfectly at this stage) were delicate and ideally suited to the cauliflower puree and bon bon accompaniments – I only wish there were more!
We then paid up promptly, as we thought we could catch the ferry at 1.30pm, only to realise that there isn’t a 1.30pm ferry (lunchtime break) and we HAD to go back to The Boathouse for coffee and cake to await the next ferry at 2.30pm. So it was fair to say Annabelle probably thought we were obsessed by this point, but it was drinking my coffee whilst overlooking the Ardminish Bay that I had one of those rare ‘ahhhhh’ moments. One of those moments where you sit back, breathe in deeply and really appreciate your surroundings; feeling totally content and present in that current moment. We then headed off back to the mainland, having had a totally great time on Gigha, primarily thanks to The Boathouse restaurant, staff and location.
I’m only sorry I never got to try their Queenies, and their crab claws, oh wait … and their lemon sole … and ………. Oh never mind, I’ll just need to go back!
The Boathouse also offers camping and camper van facilities, with toilets and showers within their grounds. So take a trip over, park or tent up and enjoy the view over a glass of wine and some langoustine tails – I swear you won’t regret it.
Where To Stay: The Gigha Hotel
With its natural charm and delicious locally-sourced cuisine, the Gigha Hotel is a true testament to the finest in island hospitality. Perched quietly above Ardminish Bay, the Hotel offers everyone unsurpassed views of the beauty of Kintyre Peninsula and beyond. Whether you are with us for the day or a week, our dedicated staff will always make you feel welcome! So bring your boat, your bikes, your wellies and relax with us. Stop in at the pub and have a drink with us and allow yourself to be inspired by this wonderful hidden gem.
The Gigha Hotel is a typical island hotel; the perfect balance between local chatter (locals gather in the reception area for tea), cosy public areas (the front room has lovely couches, TV, games and books), outdoor seating area (for when the sun does shine and you want a beer garden) and quirky elements that make it stand out in your memories later in life (the breakfast order process).
Things To Do: Achnamore Gardens
Sir James Horlick acquired the estate in 1944 he wished to establish a garden to grow his more tender Rhododendrons. He managed this by cutting small clearings in the Ponticum and trees and by 1970 the garden was full and looked magnificent. On his death he left some of his collection to the National Trust for Scotland so that rare species could be propagated and shared with other great gardens.
If you’re looking for something to do, the community owned and operated gardens deserve a visit – they settle you into that ‘ahhh’ moment I mentioned earlier even more as nothing quite achieves that more than the beauty of nature.
Local Produce: Wee Isle Dairy
Tarbert Farm is a small dairy farm on the Isle of Gigha off the southwest coast of Scotland, run by Emma Rennie Dennis and her brother Mark Rennie, where we milk roughly 60 cows. The herd is predominantly Friesian, with a few Jersey and other breeds. The farm is owned by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust; Emma & Mark’s parents took on the lease in 1968.
You can drive by the dairy farm and past the cows that produce the lovely milk and artisan ice-creams by travelling north on the island and over the cattle grids. Similar to organic produce, it’s nice to see the animals frolicking around and playing with each other as it demonstrates a happy life on the island for them. Wee Isle Dairy milk is also one of the only producers these days that you can get the truly traditional ‘cream at the top’ of the milk bottle; extra tasty when mixed in with Scots Oats porridge! Their milk is available from various shops in Argyll (I picked mine up in Furnace local shop), and also in Edinburgh and Crieff now too.
Views: Sunset over Islay and Jura
Top Tip: The Gigha Hotel is currently running an Itison voucher, so why not take advantage at a discounted rate and go see how great the Isle of Gigha is for yourself?!
“Seriously WNTL about The Boathouse and Gigha…fantastic service and fabulous food in a ‘far far better than the Caribbean’ setting. My friend and I, with our four legged friends Cerys (Welsh Terrier) and Nina (German Shepherd) are already planning an island hopping road trip in a converted van and will book in advance for the ferry, camping and the restaurant. We’re taking no chances. Can’t wait to return.