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You take the high road, I'll take a spaceship

The locally sourced liver and fresh seafood proved a hit - it's just a shame this pleasant island isn't easier to get to

Published 5 June 2011
News Review
933rd article

Michael at the Highland Cottage hotel on Mull with, from left, David, Jo and Catriona Currie (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The island of Mull in the Inner Hebrides lies off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. The seafront of Tobermory, the capital, has little houses painted in various bright colours. Pretty it may be, but what a surly lot serve in the shops.

We went to Mull Pottery, nobody else there. The lady behind the counter didn't greet us or offer to help. If she were the main attraction, Mull wouldn't get a single visitor.

We progressed to the Isle of Mull Soap Co. Again the girl behind the counter said nothing. In the Tobermory Pharmacy a man behind the counter never uttered a word. Geraldine said "thank you" (for what?) and "goodbye". The man stayed silent.

"There must be a surly school nearby," I observed. "These people graduated with honours."

Everyone else on Mull was very pleasant. We were met by David Currie who, with his wife, Jo, owns and runs the Highland Cottage hotel, where everything bears the mark of absolute care and good taste.

In an unattended bar there were no bills. "We trust them to pay," said David, adding that he lost a pint of beer occasionally.

Lovely bedroom with a four-poster bed, charming cottage-like decoration. I got very overexcited because the television didn't work. It wasn't plugged into the wall socket, nor was the wire plugged into the TV itself. David fixed it. I lived.

Jo cooked dinner and the couple's daughter, Catriona, helped out. The menu advised, "Jo's cooking is honest and down to earth." We got a green apple sorbet. I ordered "cauliflower veloute, scallop brunoise".

"What does that mean, David?" I asked.

He replied, "It's a poncy way of saying 'bits of'." Then he changed it to "small bits of". He can go on about this for a long time if we let him, I thought.

For the main course I chose twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé, toasted pine nuts and basil dressing. It was fine.

The menu offered "parfait rusty nail". David said it was "Drambuie and whisky, a semi-frozen parfait; the other stuff gives it flavour." A major triumph. Very good raspberries around it.

For breakfast there was just-squeezed orange juice, exceptionally good home-made bread, marmalade and a bowl of lemon curd. The scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, nice.

David took us on a tour of Mull. Mostly unspoilt, but a few ghastly new houses going up here and there. Rugged, great beaches, moss on old walls.

We lunched at the Bellachroy Inn in Dervaig - "the oldest inn on Mull, established 1608". The owner, Nick Hanson, used to work at the Michelin-starred Vineyard at Stock Cross in Berkshire.

I had lentil soup and langoustines, which had just come in from the sea, presumably to do some shopping. Died of boredom dealing with the storekeepers. Geraldine had liver from a farm 500 yards way. All extremely pleasant.

I liked Mull. If I had a spaceship that got me there in five minutes I'd go regularly. As I don't I'll probably never see Mull again.

  • Far be it for me to criticise the Wolseley. It's my favourite restaurant: I go there more than anywhere else. So I'm familiar with the dishes.

    The other Sunday, after chatting with Albert Finney, I ordered choucroute. The Wolseley's consists of a frankfurter, slices of three other sausages, sauerkraut and boiled potatoes.

    When it arrived I noticed one sausage was missing. I ate up quietly, then pointed this out to the restaurant manager, Daniel (not related to James Bond) Craig. He went to the kitchen and returned and explained, "The chef said one sausage didn't come in today."

    "Then why not tell the customer he isn't getting the normal choucroute?" I asked.

    Later, I phoned the Wolseley's superb restaurant chief, Robert Holland, to ask for a whole cheesecake for a dinner party I was giving. "I've got some good news and some bad news," I announced.

    "I know the bad news," said Robert. "The choucroute - I've already created hell in the kitchen." Quite right, too, Robert: the Wolseley shouldn't deplete dishes without telling diners who order them. Especially me.

  • From a reader, Eve Lowen: Hymie tells the doctor he's worried about his poor sex life with his wife.

    Dr Smith examines him and finds nothing wrong. He says, "There's an easy solution, Hymie: just run 10 miles every day for seven days. Let me know how you get on."

    A week later Hymie phones Dr Smith.

    "Well?" asks the doctor. "Did it work?" "How should I know?" said Hymie. "I'm 70 miles from home."

  • Here's one from Steve Wells: Hymie is feeling unwell. The doctor examines him and tells Hymie he has only two weeks left to live.

    Hymie says, "In that case I'll have the first week in July and the last week in November."

  • Another, from Chris Eich: Doctor says to Hymie, "You've got six weeks to live."

    Hymie says, "I want a second opinion."

    Doctor says, "Okay, you're ugly, too."

    Michael's missives

    You ask for more restaurant letters so I won't comment on your outfit outside Nate 'n Al last week. I can't afford to eat out at all these days. Must be my overdraft is too small. Can I inherit yours, please, when you're gone?
    Geoff Tabor, Hampshire

    Of late you've looked like a rag and bone man. You should sell the stock, not wear it! It won't reduce your overdraft much, but it should cover the horse feed.
    Patrick Tracey, Carlisle

    We enjoyed the food at Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, but the service left a lot to be desired. All the staff seemed under 25. The restaurant needs a dapper, silver-haired fox to schmooze the room - why not send them your CV?
    Maria Walsh, London

    A sad trend seems to be developing at Blumenthal establishments. Lunch at his pub near the Fat Duck was spoilt by a noisy group. Then at the Fat Duck a table of loud and vulgar diners reduced our experience. And you had similar problems at Dinner.
    Gregory Welch, Bedfordshire

    Following an overnight fiasco (sweltering room, shower not working) at Scarborough's Crown Spa hotel, I complained. The manager suggested we leave. On arrival my daughter had wanted dinner before the end of what passes for service. At 9.31pm the staff said the chef had gone home. We should have followed his example.
    Barry McKay, Berkshire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk