It’s always refreshing to see an ancient Scottish castle be given a new lease of life, especially when some are left to slowly decay and ruin.
There are some great examples of rejuvenated grand abodes, such as Borthwick Castle and Dalhousie Castle.
One of the relatively new kids on the block is Mingary Castle on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.
The 13th century castle was restored to its former glory in 2016 and in 2021 it reopened as a restaurant with rooms.
Running the atmospheric castle are two seasoned hospitality professionals, chef Colin Nicholson and his partner Jessica Thompson.
Both have worked at a range of luxury hotels and restaurants (including Inverlochy Castle) at home and abroad, so I was looking forward to a late summer visit.
Mingary Castle is about a four hour drive from Glasgow, where I live, so it’s a definite escape from the city road trip, which includes a crossing on the Corran Ferry.
While you’re still on mainland Scotland on the other side, there is an island feel to the scenery and winding, often single track roads.
The first thing you’ll notice on arrival at the castle are the uninterrupted views out to Mull and beyond.
The castle is built into the cliff edge, so its battlements cast an imposing view as you drive down towards the car park.
After such a drive we were looking forward to the tasting menu, which is available every night, with three iterations on a rotation.
Chef patron Colin Nicholson serves this six-course tasting menu in the cosy 20 cover dining room.
The daily changing menu showcases the best produce that the west coast of Scotland has to offer and often contains fruit, vegetables and herbs that are sourced from the local community garden.
Fish is sourced from Tobermory Fish Co and Iain Stewart’s in Fort William, and Highland-based Great Glen Charcuterie is used for cured meats.
They work with a local farmer who provides the pork for their homemade sausages for breakfast.
Our night started with three snacks - parsley panisse, Scotch egg and oyster.
The panisse was encased in an extremely light and crisp crumb, which hid its bright green herbaceous and slightly pickled interior. This was followed swiftly by oyster ice cream.
Bear with me on this as it was one of the most delicious ways I have eaten oyster, and on talking to chef Colin later on that night, it’s also one of the most sustainable as there’s no waste.
A creamy yet savoury snack, it’s a trick for the senses but delicious. Finally we were served the Scotch egg, which was made with local quails egg and served with an unctuous black garlic emulsion.
As that was a small taste of what was to come, it’s fair to say we were very much looking forward to the rest of the menu.
Next we tucked into two breads - the signature malted sourdough, which is also sold locally and a potato focaccia - both served with an artist’s palette of butter, black garlic, bright green narstirsum and pale golden cultured. I tried to follow advice not to fill up on bread but these were too good to leave uneaten.
Next up was an artfully plated Isle of Wight tomato dish served with tomato gel and goat’s curd - refreshing and tart followed by torched mackerel - a smoky, deeply flavoured dish that was lightened by cucumber elements, including flowers, from the community garden.
Then we moved on to venison, which had been rolled in burnt leeks and served in a red wine sauce.
The leeks, which are the often discarded tougher green parts, give a slight BBQ flavour to the lean cut of meat, and the locally picked chanterelles and beetroot give a complimentary earthy flavour and depth.
A small addition of salted blackcurrants added so much flavour, I had to ask for the recipe after dinner.
Finally we moved on to the cheese course, a small mountain of Hebridean Blue mousse, the richness of which was cut through with honey caviar, pickled walnuts and sourdough croutons.
Then dessert arrived - another artfully plated dish of poached and pickled strawberries with sweet honey parfait and champagne jelly.
Dinner ended with pistachio fudge, blackcurrant pate de fruit and nougat.
Wines were paired alongside each dish and explained with aplomb by the sommelier. These included a starter of Champagne and crisp whites and rose - still and sparkling.
Jessica and Colin are focused on putting Mingary castle on Scotland’s culinary map, and with that tasting menu, service and overall experience, it’s hard to see how they’ll fail.
If Michelin don’t come calling soon, I’ll (gladly) eat a hatful of oyster ice cream.
The tasting menu is