“ Skye & Lochalsh,Glenmoriston,Inverness, IV63 7YW,Scotland. Tel:44 (0) 1320 340238 „
Whilst driving from Inverness to Balmacara, the small village we stayed in on our recent holiday in Skye & Lochalsh, my parents pointed out a cute whitewashed pub in Glen Shiel, called the Cluanie Inn, in an absolutely stunning setting in the bottom of the high sided glen. It is located on the A87, the Road to the Isles - the road from Inverness, through the Great Glen and onto Skye, and beyond via ferry.
My parents told me they had eaten there before and it was fantastic. So a few days into our holiday we decided to go there for lunch - this was the main plan of the day, as it was going to be a special lunch and it was about 45 minutes drive from our cottage.
On the way there, my mum was going on about the wonderful menu, all the Scottish dishes on it and the interesting combinations - she told me several times about the black pudding and goats cheese dish she had had last year. My dad was looking forward to the local real ales on offer. I was just hungry.
When we reached the inn, my dad thought it was a great idea to have a little walk into the glen before lunch. The temperature was 6C - having come from London in a warm September, I was pretty cold. But off we went. The walk lasted about five minutes. My teeth were chattering in the wind, and seeing signs warning of a deer cull in progress I refused to go any further. So off we went for lunch.
We knew that since my parents last visit a year ago, the inn had changed hands. It had had an excellent reputation under the previous management, so we were keen to see if it was still as good.
The interior of the inn is quite typical Scottish country pub. Tartan carpets, prints of paintings like the Monarch of the Glen on the wall, all accompanied by a good if bizarrely mixed soundtrack of Scottish music- ranging from traditional pibroch to accordion ceilidh tunes to Runrig and the Red Hot Chili Pipers. The bar was clean and appeared well maintained, with a variety of table sizes and a nice big window at the front. There are two parrots in a large cage in the hall, African Greys I think, which were squawking a lot.
Things got off to a bad start. My dad went to the bar to order drinks - an ale for him, lemonade for me and coffee for my mum. He asked for a pint of Hebridean Ale, but before he could take a taste he knew it was off from the smell. So he asked for a pint of Red Cuillen - which wasn't so whiffy but in his words was "barely drinkable". My lemonade was warm and flat. My mum's coffee was fine though.
With our disappointing drinks in front of us, we had a look at the menu. Immediately we could see this was not up to the standards of what my parents had experienced at the Cluanie previously. The menu was printed on a folded and slightly ratty piece of A4 paper, which didn't bode well. The food on offer looked fine - light bites such as sandwiches, toasties and baked tatties, alongside more substantial dishes such as fish and chips and haggis. But it was all fairly standard, there was nothing different or special here, yet the prices were a little higher than you would expect.
We decided to just have a lighter lunch than planned, given that the main menu wasn't that exciting. I chose a cheese and bean baked tattie, my dad went for a BLT and my mum had the leek and tattie soup. When the food came, there really was nothing wrong with it - but it was boring. I could have had the same baked tattie from the café in my office building, and for less than half the price. The same with the sandwich and soup - they were fine, but very ordinary. This was a real letdown for my parents, as they had really loved the Cluanie under the previous owners, and it was a bit of a let down for me, but less so as I hadn't been there before.
The prices for our meals were £6.50 for the baked tattie, £5.25 for the sandwich and £3.75 for the soup. Certainly the baked tattie and the sandwich should have been priced lower, although around £4 is the going rate for soup in pubs I think. The main meals on the menu were almost all over £10, which is high even for a tourist area - and given that the lighter meals we had weren't worth the prices, I'd guess the main meals may well be the same.
The service at the Cluanie Inn wasn't bad, but it could have been better. There seemed to be one girl working the bar and waitressing, which seemed odd for lunchtime - there were quite a few people in. She was very friendly, but personally I thought she was a little overfamiliar - too chatty, and a bit too informal. That said, the service was reasonably quick, and she certainly wasn't rude.
The Cluanie Inn probably makes its money from a mix of passing trade and locals travelling for a special meal. However, given the quality now compared to what it used to be, business will be falling - we heard from the lady who owned the cottage we were staying in that a hotel further down the glen was doing very well since the new owners took over at the Cluanie.
My dad is a keen hillwalker, and told me that the Cluanie Inn used to be a favourite spot for a post-climb pint with walkers, being very close to numerous Munroes, including the Five Sisters of Kintail. He even pointed out the area which used to be where all the climbers would sit with a pint after a day on the hills - but now it seems to just be another part of the lounge bar. His observation was that if the Cluanie Inn always offers off real ales like he experienced, they will soon lose the custom of the walkers - why would anyone go there for a well earned pint if the beer is off??
I was very disappointed by the Cluanie Inn, given what I had been told about it by my parents, and also from the look of the place. It's a lovely building in a stunning location, and the interior is well looked after. But the owners really need to buck up their ideas about what to serve and what to charge. Skye & Lochalsh is an area my parents visit annually, and the Cluanie Inn has certainly lost their custom after this last visit.