Places to eat in the Cairngorms National Park
As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Cairngorms National Park, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of restaurants, cafés, pubs, local producers and markets to find the best local food and drink in this glorious in this glorious protected area in Scotland.
There are some Scottish flavours that need no introduction: haggis or beef, for example, and salmon from the Highlands’ lochs and rivers. Others might not be so familiar, but are no less toothsome – and they transform menus across the Cairngorms’ cafés, restaurants and bars. Local ales beef up pies and fish batter. Creamy, crumbly speciality cheeses sit nicely on pasta, toasties or cheeseboards alike. As for cranachan and clootie dumpling… well, you’ll have to read on to discover just what those specialities are. And then there’s the whisky – unsurprisingly, given Speyside’s heritage as an epicentre of production for malts, many places pride themselves on offering head-spinning selections of Scotch.
To help you choose where to refuel while exploring Cairngorms National Park, we’ve rounded up the cosiest bars, most soothing and innovative restaurants and enlivening cafés. Each celebrates the best local and seasonal ingredients, and boasts a warm Scottish welcome to boot.
Despite the name, cafés in the Cairngorms aren’t just about the coffee – though it’s invariably excellent. Tuck into homemade speciality home-baked cakes, sandwiches and soups in these welcoming eateries – most with outstanding views.
If you hadn’t guessed, Cafaidh is Gaelic for café – which tells you a little about the ambience and menu of this friendly place in Aviemore. Freshly prepared soups, cakes, crêpes, burgers and mountain platters are prepared with proudly Scottish ingredients (there are local beers and, naturally, whiskies, too), and there’s top-notch coffee. But there’s more than just chow here – browse the bookshop and Scottish music collection, and admire the art displayed around the walls. There’s free wifi, too. Active Aviemore, Grampian Road, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1PT www.activeoutdoorpursuits.com/whats-new-at-active/active-aviemore.html
The Glenlivet Distillery Coffee Shop
Perhaps the idea of visiting a whisky distillery to drink coffee seems a little odd. And not just any whisky: The Glenlivet has been created here for nearly two centuries (legally, that is – whisky has been produced here since long before George Smith was granted his licence). But with a tempting menu of snacks, homemade soup, rolls, baked spuds and confectionaries – including the famous Glenlivet whisky cake – as well as fine Fairtrade coffee and juices, it’s well worth stopping off for a bite or (non-alcoholic) drink after a tour of the distillery. There’s also an interesting new exhibition about the tipple. Glenlivet AB37 9DB www.theglenlivet.com
Clootie Dumpling Restaurant at the Speyside Centre
What, you may ask, is a clootie dumpling? It’s a traditional pudding wrapped in cloth (‘clootie’) and boiled in a pot over an open fire for several hours – a bit like Christmas pudding, but with ingredients that here include carrots, apples, raisins and various spices. A slice at this friendly restaurant is served with a choice of no fewer than 21 accompaniments, from simple cream or custard to sausage, bacon, fried egg and tomato. There are plenty of other options, too, from soups and sandwiches to more substantial meals, and the Speyside Centre is a fine place at which to while away a few hours, learning about heather, and shopping for paintings, antiques and local gifts. Skye of Curr, Dulnain Bridge, Inverness-shire PH26 3PA www.heathercentre.com/pages/Restaurant/Restaurant.html
Bridge of Brown Tearoom
This small, whitewashed tearoom might reasonably be described as hiding in the middle of nowhere. And that’s its big appeal: tucked away off the old military road between Grantown-on-Spey and Tomintoul, in the north-east of the park, it’s a wild, lonesome place with striking views. A place to stop off at while hiking or cycling through the park, to fuel up with a Fairtrade coffee or tea, homemade soup or a hot snack, a cake and a huddle by the roaring fire. Bridge of Brown, Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9HR
Rocksalt & Snails
A branch of the longstanding favourite café in Aberdeen, this Ballater coffee shop dishes up much more than just coffee (though the Ipanema Espresso, named one of the world’s top brews by the Rainforest Alliance, is worth stopping in for). Paninis and sandwiches introduce unusual combinations, while salads, quiches and soups use proudly local produce. As for the fresh-baked breads, croissants and cakes… oh, the cakes. The diet can wait another day. And no, snails aren’t on the menu. 2 Bridge Street, Ballater AB35 5QP www.rocksaltandsnails.co.uk
Mor @ Glenmore
Glenmore Forest Park is an island of ancient Caledonian pine forest carpeting the hillside above Loch Morlich and its wonderfully broad sandy beach. The visitor centre is the place to find out about the pinewood, and the activities on offer around the park – but also to tuck into a hot drink, light meal or home-baked treat at its café, produced with locally sourced ingredients. The views from the café are pretty spectacular, too. Glenmore, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QU www.forestry.gov.uk
Aviemore Gallery Coffee Shop
The Aviemore Gallery is the place to admire the works of Scottish artists – paintings, ceramics, sculptures and jewellery – and to pick up locally produced crafts including candles, textiles and toys. The coffee shop, though, is the place to drop those shopping bags and settle in with a tea or coffee (Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified) and a cake or sinful scone. Outside tables provide views of the Caledonian pinewoods, while in winter the big woodburner belts out the warmth. Inverdruie, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QH
If there’s anything about this café more tantalising than the views of loch and beach – and there just might not be – it’s the home baking: in particular, the Smarties chocolate cake and carrot cake fly off the counter. There’s also a range of soups, paninis, rolls and drinks to tempt, and a fire warms in colder months. Canoes, kayaks, windsurfing gear, sail and rowing boats are available to hire at the watersports centre downstairs. Glenmore Forest Park, Inverness-shire PH22 1QU www.lochmorlich.com
A bright, cheerful café in Braemar, taste.. is about as close to the centre of the park as you’ll get without being on top of Ben Macdui. The menu is short but sweet (literally – note the homemade cakes, especially the sponges for which owner-cook Ros is renowned), with fresh soup, bacon rolls and a handful of tasty sandwiches made with local bread on offer daily, plus Fairtrade teas and Rainforest Alliance coffees. Airlie House, Auchendryne Square, Braemar AB35 5WS www.taste-braemar.co.uk
The Druie Restaurant Café
Why, when you’re near a spot that’s been voted Britain’s best picnic site, would you choose to eat indoors? Well, this welcoming café – named for the burn flowing behind – there’s a menuful of answers, many incorporating Highland beef, wild venison and rainbow trout produced or caught right here on Rothiemurcus Estate. Lighter options are plentiful, including breakfasts, lunches, locally roasted coffee and homemade cakes, plus an array of other local produce. The Druie is adorned with a changing display of art, and the adjoining farm shop and deli is a treasure trove of treats – artisan cheeses and honey alongside those estate-nurtured meats and fish. Rothiemurchus, By Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QH
This array of bistros, inns and country-hotel restaurants demonstrates a wide variety of styles and ideas that draw on the finest local ingredients to create very different – and delicious – cuisine.
In a fabulous setting on the shores of Loch Insh (the views were ranked in the top five of any restaurant in Europe in a recent poll), this delightful log cabin feeds hungry watersports enthusiasts with hearty pub-style fare: sandwiches, soups, burgers and spuds. As the day wanes, though, things get a little more sophisticated; on a summer’s evening, as the soft sunset light reflects in the Loch, a seat on the balcony could be the most romantic spot in the world. Don’t forget to look up from the candles and watch for the resident osprey.
Loch Insh, Kincraig, Kingussie, Inverness-shire PH21 1NU
From its lofty perch at the Top Station on CairnGorm Mountain, the Ptarmigan looks down on everything around – at 1,097m, it’s reputedly the UK’s highest restaurant. But this popular spot might also take the high ground when it comes to locally sourced goodies, with homemade soups, scones and a mountain of hot chocolate. In the evenings the vibe changes, sometimes offering fine dining, at other times foot-tapping, swinging ceilidhs. Cairn Gorm Ski Area, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1RB cairngormmountain.org/snowsports/ptarmigan-restaurant
With a roaring fire, soothing dark-green walls and a menu blending gastro-bar fare with sophisticated takes on classics, this two-AA-rosette bistro is something special. There’s a clear pride in Scottish culinary heritage at play – the menu is heavy with the likes of Speyside venison, hand-dived Shetland scallops and grass-fed, locally sourced Aberdeen Angus beef. There are cask-conditioned ales on hand to quench the thirst – try Cairngorm Brewery’s Trade Winds – and a range of whiskies for a postprandial nightcap. The Boat Hotel, Boat of Garten, near Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH24 3BH www.boathotel.co.uk/eating.html
The Cross at Kingussie
Set in a converted Victorian tweed mill by the River Gynack, this ‘restaurant with rooms’ has got its priorities clear: the food comes first – and it’s exceptional. Three-course meals or six-course tasting menus both emphasise the seasonal and the local, cooked with panache and imagination – not for nothing was chef Ross Sutherland named Young Highland Chef of 2012. Isle of Gigha halibut, Shetland lobster, local venison, Perthshire lamb – it’s all Scottish, and all delicious. The restaurant is soothing and warm, set in gardens where roe deer and red squirrels are frequent visitors. The wine list is thoughtfully compiled, and some 40 single malts are on offer. Tweed Mill Brae, Ardbroillach Road, Kingussie PHh21 1LB
Old Bridge Inn
This venerable inn by the Spey, blessed with a great location and a talented chef, is bringing high-quality, proudly Scottish fare to the Cairngorms. The convivial bar – roaring fire, music, local real ales, whiskies (of course) – and candle-lit conservatory both offer meals of real flair, most featuring carefully sourced ingredients such as local trout or duck, black-faced lamb and Scottish venison, Shetland seafood and artisan cheeses. The adjacent Aviemore Bunkhouse now offers hostel accommodation, too. Dalfaber Road, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1PU
Garth Hotel & Restaurant
The word garth may be derived from the Gaelic garadh, meaning warming, a similar word to gàradh - garden. Apt, then, for this welcoming hotel that looks to its surroundings for ingredients in its acclaimed restaurant’s cuisine. Local game, beef, lamb and tasty haggis, comes from Grant’s just up the road; salmon is proudly Highland, cold-smoked in the Spey Valley. The malt whiskies, of course, are many and varied, though Speyside supplies the lion’s share. There’s a private dining room for parties, too. Castle Road, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3HN www.garthhotel.com
Rowan Tree Country Hotel
Call it modern Scottish cuisine, call it traditional with a twist – this friendly, award-winning hotel restaurant takes Scottish ingredients and adds its own take on classics and novel dishes alike. The rich gameyness of oven-roasted local venison is complemented by a blueberry and balsamic sauce; beetroot-cured salmon (a house speciality) is served with deep-fried smoked haddock and cheese beignet. Oh, and you can enjoy your porridge with whisky, should you need that extra nip on a chilly morning. Many ingredients are locally sourced – Scottish smoked salmon, black pudding, even Cairngorm bitter in the beer batter for fish.
Loch Alvie, by Aviemore, Inverness-shire, PH22 1QB www.rowantreehotel.com
Why leave anything to chance? If you want the perfect gravadlax, take the finest Hebridean salmon and cure it yourself. At least, that’s the philosophy at this debonair eatery, which resolutely uses the best Scottish produce to create toothsome and novel takes on grills, pies, risottos and other standards. The menu and specials change from day to day and week to week, according to what’s available and in season, and the soothing, understated dining area is everything you’d want in a local bistro. Deshar Road, Boat of Garten, Inverness-shire PH24 3BN www.andersonsrestaurant.co.uk
Keiller Brasserie & Lounge
Showpiece of this resort in Ballater is the ‘Marmalade House’ – the grand edifice built by the Victorian marmalade magnates, the Keillers – and its in homage to them that Craigendarroch’s brasserie is named. But this stylish, relaxed eatery has other local heroes: those who fish the Loch Duart salmon, breed the Scotch beef and make the Cambus O’May cheeses. These are a few of the highlights on the concise menu of popular family-friendly favourites – steaks, fish and seafood, burgers and an array tempting desserts
Hilton Grand Vacations Club Craigendarroch, Braemar Road, Ballater, Royal Deeside AB35 5XA www.higvc.co.uk/resorts/scotland/craigendarroch
Moorfield House Hotel
Why they say daily specials, at Moorfield House Hotel they really mean special food that changes daily. The menu reflects what’s available locally and best now, which is why it’s short but sweet – three choices for each course, but each thought out and presented with care and imagination. Think game pâté with caramelised onion and cranberry chutney, pan-fried sea bass with chilli oil dressing, and home-made cheesecake with Scottish strawberries. The hotel overlooks the Braemar Highland Games Gathering grounds and has an enticing bar for warming the cockles on chilly evenings, with an array of single malts and a roaring log fire.
Chapel Brae, Braemar AB35 5YP www.moorfieldhousehotel.com
PUBS & BARS
You don’t have to forego quality cuisine when stepping into a bar. These drinking holes – lively, serene, stylish or traditional – all dish up tasty and proudly local food.
There’s a mountain outside (well, underneath – you’re on Cairn Gorm), and another inside: the near-legendary Hot Chocolate Mountain, piled with marshmallows and cream. This cosy, wood-panelled bar is an essential fuel stop for the climbers, walkers, skiers and families who make the ascent – whether on foot or by powered means – and it does its job admirably, with plentiful home baking, freshly made sandwiches and hot rolls, soup, coffees and teas, mulled wine and light meals. Inspiring images of the world outside, landscapes, flora and fauna, rotate on a big screen as you toast yourself by the open fire. Cairn Gorm Ski Area, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1RB cairngormmountain.org/activities/cas-bar?p=/summer-activities
The Woodshed Bar at Hilton Coylumbridge
Log-lined walls and a mighty stone fireplace lend this congenial bar the air of a frontier cabin, but with live sports on TV, live music, quizzes, a pleasant decked terrace with tremendous views, and a range of cocktails to add extra sophistication to the wines, whiskies and Cairngorm ales. A menu of lunches and snacks includes tempting sharing platters and regular weekend barbecues. Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QN
A proper pub is dark where it should be dark and light where it should be light. It’s cosy in the bar, perhaps with oddments hanging from the ceiling and whisky bottles glinting behind the barman’s shoulder. It’s bright in the conservatory, with striking mountain views. It serves a decision-stumping array of dishes that sound familiar – sandwiches, steaks, fish and chips – but with local pride and flair. Haggis lasagne? Venison goulash? Chicken Ben Macduie (stuffed with black pudding)? All are to be found at this impressive-looking traditional hotel, and all made with proudly Scottish ingredients. Naturally there are Cairngorm ales and whiskies aplenty, to boot. Grampian Road, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1PE
The Laggan Whisky Bar
The cosy Laggan bar in the Macdonald Highlands Hotel specialises in, yes, whisky. It stocks more than 60 local Speyside malts, and won the Best Wee Dram Hotel Club awards in 2011; knowledgeable bar staff are on hand to advise you on your choice, or rustle up a cocktail. There’s a menu of light meals and snacks. Macdonald Aviemore Resort, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1PN macdonaldhotels.co.uk/our-hotels/macdonald-aviemore-resort/eat-drink
Seafield Lodge Highland Restaurant & Bar
This expansive Victorian house – originally the home of the first provost of Grantown-on-Spey – works the bistro menu, with a local twist. Served in both the more formal, wood-panelled restaurant and the cosy, log-fire-warmed bar, the list of dishes is heavy on local ingredients – Highland haggis, Scottish beef, salmon and cheeses – and a few classic Scottish recipes: how’s cranachan (fresh raspberries, whipped cream, oatmeal and of course whisky) tickle you for dessert? Woodside Avenue, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3JN www.seafieldlodge.co.uk
Rowanlea Bar, Cairn Hotel
First things first: it’s in a small, friendly hotel, but Rowanlea is definitely a bar – and a top-notch local one, at that. There’s an array of local ales to quench thirsts, notably from the Cairngorm and Black Isle breweries, but also guest beers from farther afield in Scotland. Chilly? Cosy up with a selection of malt whiskies and a roaring fire. Hungry? The food is pub grub gone local, too – burgers, fish, haggis, pork, steak and (Cairngorms) ale pie, sourced primarily from named suppliers in the neighbourhood. Main Road, Carrbridge, Inverness-shire PH23 3AS
LOCAL PRODUCE, SHOPS & FARMERS’ MARKETS
Look around you in Cairngorms National Park, and you’ll garner a few clues as to its culinary specialities. You won’t see swathes of large-scale arable agriculture or market gardens (though a goodly number of hotels and restaurants dish up vegetables and herbs from their own gardens).
What you will see are cattle and sheep, often rare breeds (which helps preserve the environment), grazing freely and producing mouthwatering beef, lamb and milk – whence haggis and creamy, crumbly traditional cheeses. You’ll likely see red and roe deer – wild venison is a real treat, along with other game – and outdoor-reared pigs. You’ll see the flowing Spey and other rivers, providing fish along with water for local breweries and, of course, the famed distilleries. You’ll see hillsides aflame with heather, from which delicious local honey takes its flavour. It’s fair to say that, in the Cairngorms, the landscape writes the menu.
Producers in the area share more than local pride. Farms tend to use traditional extensive methods, reducing the need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides, adhere to the highest animal welfare standards, and work hard to keep their carbon footprints small – helped by other businesses in the area who make an effort to buy from farms within the region. That means that much of what you find on your plate isn’t just truly local in flavour – it’s seasoned with the righteous knowledge that you’re helping the environment, too. The producers, shops and markets listed here are notable for their efforts in that respect.
Renowned butcher stocking local beef, Scottish blackface lamb, wild venison, haggis, numerous varieties of sausage and burger, freshly baked pies and deli.
11 Bridge Street, Ballater, AB35 5QP
Superb award-winning ales served in a large number of local bars, restaurants and hotels. The brewery has a shop and runs popular tours. Dalfaber Industrial Estate, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1ST http://cairngormbrewery.com
Highland farm producing top-quality beef and lamb, run to high environmental and habitat-management standards. Produce available to order online or at Cairngorms Farmers’ Markets.
Grantown-On-Spey PH26 3NH www.scottishholidayhomes.co.uk/balliefurth
Rothiemurchus Estate Farm Shop & Deli
Home-grown produce including Highland beef, wild venison, rainbow trout, sweet heather honey. Also artisan-produced chocolates, cheeses and wines, home baking, chutneys and preserves. Rothiemurchus, By Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QH www.rothiemurchus.net
Cambus O’May Cheese Co
Hand-crafted, unpasteurised artisan cheeses made to traditional farmhouse recipes.
The Creamery, Cambus O'May, Ballater, Aberdeenshire AB35 5SD www.cambusomay.com
Glenmore Mountain Shop
Breakfasts, snacks, cakes and drinks, plus local produce (including Cairngorm ales).
Glenmore Mountain Shop, Glenmore, Aviemore PH22 1QU aviemoreski.co.uk/index.asp?pageid=144762
Cairngorms Farmers’ Market
Regular event hosting the region’s top suppliers of meats, artisan cheeses, ales, smoked fish, ice cream, vegetables, free-range eggs, home baking, crafts and many other treats, held at Aviemore and Grantown-on-Spey. www.cairngorms-farmers-market.com
For information on local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our