(* A version of this exclusive feature was published in The Times on Saturday June 30, 2018.)
The Portree-born pair - Calum Munro, son of former Runrig frontman Donnie, and Calum Montgomery, formerly of the onet-time Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge – are currently in a frantic bid to open their doors to welcome tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world who, spurred on by travel websites and social media, come to Skye to get the “Outlander Experience”, visit top destinations such as the Fairy Pools group of waterfalls, the remarkable stone outcrops at the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr. Increasingly, though, they also want to sample local food and drink.
When I was in Skye in early June to host the Skye Food and Drink festival, I was astonished when visiting Portree on my first free evening to witness the number of visitors from Australasia, Korea, Japan, China, France, Spain, the US, Ireland and England – and to hear them demand local, local, local. I was told by many in the hospitality industry here that the traditional season of May to September has stretched from February to November. Virtually all the B&Bs, hotels and campsites were full and I heard many being turned away from restaurants because they too were full. It has been reported that some 150,000 visitors arrived in Portree last year, and that 550 homes are now listed with AirBnB. On this island of under 5000 households, this represents one AirBnB for every eight homes. (Continues ...)
Both chefs are determined to give visitors a “true taste of modern Skye” – though in very different ways. Munro, 33, hopes to open Caroy House, the old bakery in Portree main square, as a gastro-pub restaurant with rooms, in the next week or so, serving such delicacies as Skye hogget haggis with bog myrtle jus, Portree pollock ceviche and barbecued Dunvegan scallop in the shell.
Just 15 minutes down the road, meanwhile, at the 16th-century Edinbane Lodge Montgomery, 28, is devising a £60 ten-course fine-dining tasting menu with French and Nordic influences – such as Edinbane roe deer loin with garden rhubarb and pommes Dauphine and a Talisker whisky and chestnut souffle with smoked milk ice-cream. He too hopes to open this month, with his general manager John Grant, poached from London’s Wolseley restaurant, in charge of front of house. (Continues...)
Munro and his brother Niall are also preparing to give Glaswegians an early taste of his version of Skye with Fished & Foraged, his first-ever pop-up which will take place at the Briggait up on July 20 and 21. He will serve 300 diners over the two nights.
Asked if the two chefs, who have been friends since childhood, are now rivals competing for business, Montgomery replied: “I think there will be a bit of quiet competitiveness. Anybody who doesn’t admit that is lying.”
But he added: “I will be working with Calum rather than against him.
“There is room for all of us. I don’t know who doesn’t come to Skye now. It’s amazing that people will come here from all over the world. In addition to seeing the landscape and popular spots, they want a true taste of Skye too. I will try to do justice to the produce we have here. The difference I see now from when I started out 10 years ago is just incredible.
“Bringing two new restaurants onto the market within days of each other will help meet increasing demand.” (Continues ...)
In fact, the pair will be joined by another new entrant to the culinary scene. Red Roof at Glendale, a croft house run by the former head sommelier of the Three Chimneys restaurant, opened in May and uses only produce from its own and local crofts. It could be argued that Skye was put on the culinary map by Shirley Spear, who opened The Three Chimneys in the 1980s. That establishment remains a draw for international gastro-tourists under the creative expertise of head chef Scott Davies, who is only the third chef to hold that post in the restaurant's 33 years. Michael Smith won a Michelin star for Three Chimneys before launching his own restaurant Loch Bay at Stein, Waternish, where he currently holds the island's only star.
Munro said: “There are plenty of places on Skye that do fine-dining and the high end is well served, but I reckon there’s a gap in the market for more mid-market casual dining like that of Ox and Finch in Glasgow and Scran and Scallie in Edinburgh and I’ll aim to do that at Caroy House.
“My cooking differs from Calum’s in that it’s more flexible and changes on a daily basis according to what we can get and what’s available. Calum’s food is refined and beautiful. I can't wait to try it. It’s good to have a bit of rivalry but I reckon there’s room for the two of us.”
With upwards of a reported 150,000 visitors to Portree alone in recent seasons, no doubt they are hoping they won’t have to eat their words. And with world-class cooking now available at all levels on the island, I trust the Michelin Guide is taking note.