A menu full of tasty surprises matches a truly magical setting and inspirational location. 

THERE’S no easy way to get to Mingary Castle. It’s a two-hour drive from Fort William with the last hour on a twisty single-track road. Alternatively, you can come by ferry via the Isle of Mull. One thing’s for sure: it’s well worth the journey. 

Already late, I drive past the little wooden sign, backtrack and follow a farm track, convinced I’ve gone wrong. Turning the corner, Mingary Castle rises dramatically above the rugged coastline. Mingary is a Thirteenth Century edifice, not a country house with grand ambitions. 

Renovated between 2013 and 2016, a beautiful boutique hotel has been cleverly built within the castle walls. It’s billed as a restaurant with rooms, and the four suites feature four-poster beds, antique furniture, roll-top baths and fireplaces.

Running the show are hospitality power couple Colin Nicholson and Jessica Thompson. Colin was head chef at Arisaig House then Inverlochy Castle before the opportunity to take on Mingary arose. His partner Jessica was Inverlochy Castle’s restaurant manager. Many of their team are former colleagues who chose to follow this talented pair to this most remote outpost of gastronomic delights. 

The dining room is probably cosier than the original banqueting hall would have been, but it’s definitely in keeping with its style, with wooden panelled walls, gilt mirrors, antiques and soft music. I’m here for the tasting menu: eight courses, though the first comes in three bite-size stages so it’s easy to lose count. 

The National: Mingary CastleMingary Castle (Image: Mingary Castle)
To start is a single perfect plump oyster in a ceramic shell, on a bed of oyster shells. It’s anointed with cucumber puree, dill and delicate edible flowers. Was ever a single oyster so beautifully presented? A crisp crab tart with grapefruit granita and a warm Mull cheddar beignet complete the snacks.

I’m presented next with a beautiful little loaf of malted sourdough with three (yes, three!) different homemade butters: salted, nasturtium and a beurre noisette. I’ve polished off half the loaf before I realise other tables are sharing one between four. It’s a foolish move so early in the menu but I’m defenceless in the face of the indecently delicious beurre noisette – so creamy and salty, with the aroma of toasted hazelnuts. 

I’m dining solo so privy to snatches of conversation from around the room. Behind me a waiter translates the menu to a French family, while his colleague explains lobster creels and community gardens to an American couple. It’s clear the front of house team know their stuff and that international guests have got the message about Mingary. 

Kilchoan community produce stars in the next course – a play on beetroot – as a jelly wrapped around cream cheese, as a mousse, and pickled. The courses are listed in Gaelic, from A’Chiad (first course) through to Milsean (sweets), a reminder of both our highland location and the couple’s North Uist roots. 

Next up is tender langoustine with a pool of lobster bisque poured at the table. Everything up to this point has been delightful but it’s the bisque that makes me realise quite how extraordinary Colin Nicholson’s cooking is. The sweetness of the langoustine soars against the complex savoury notes of the bisque. I’d drive from Edinburgh or kayak from Mull just for a bowl of this.

A fillet of wild halibut follows, with foraged chanterelles, and seaweed gnocchi bobbing in a umami mushroom dashi broth follows. Tiny sweet broad beans from the community garden complete this deeply delicious dish. 

I’m slightly regretting all the bread but manage cheese (oozing Baron Bigod with a raisin puree, brioche and honey) and a dark chocolate dessert with brandy cherries. 

I’m driving so haven’t sampled the tempting paired wines. Instead I’ve been obsessed with every dish appearing from this small kitchen at the end of a single-track road. Go now while you can still get a table.  mingarycastle.co.uk