Sniffing out the best of Fort William with Highland Soap Co.

Friday, 11 June 2021
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Post in collaboration with Highland Soap Company

What to do in Fort William when it inevitably rains? Soap making, cinema and good food are at the top of my list. The Highland Soap Co's new visitor centre offers a fragrant retail paradise alongside the opportunity to get crafty and make your own bespoke soap. Local provenance abounds with food from its larder as it does at The Highland Cinema's cafe bar.


My Dad's long standing Dad joke about Fort William is that as you walk down the High Street you can hear all the jackets breathing (feel free to groan). To be fair he does have a point as there are multiple outdoors shops selling a plethora of breathable walking and climbing kit. However there's much more to Lochaber's capital than its position in the shadow of Ben Nevis may have you believe. After an 18 month covid induced lull I was delighted to be invited on a press trip by Highland Soap Co. to sniff out the best of Fort William. I even brought along Foodie Loon to experience their new Visitor Centre and Larder Cafe, although to be fair the pull for him was more likely a trip to Hogwarts on the steam train over the Glenfinnan viaduct.


If Family Fortunes asked 100 people to name things that the west coast is known for I reckon midgies, rain and stunning scenery would be right up there. I very much doubt that food would get a look in and certainly not soap. Both have been combined in the new home of The Highland Soap Company at their imposing Visitor Centre & Larder Café at the northerly entrance to Fort William between the River Lochy and Inverlochy Castle. Here with dramatic views over Ben Nevis is where they make all of their products. The family run business was founded 20 years ago by Emma Parton who began the enterprise in her kitchen and has now been joined by business partner Archie MacDonald. Between them they have grown the enterprise whilst still retaining it's original ethics of organic, natural, sustainable and small batch.


Building upon their existing six shops (Aviemore, Pitlochry, Spean Bridge, Oban, St Andrews and Fort William high street) the Soapworks visitor centre and larder is the latest step towards further growth and diversification. Located on the site of the former British Aluminium Social Club it offers a stylish retail space, factory tours, soap-making classes and home-cooked food, coffees and cakes within the Larder cafe. It opened briefly in December before the second lockdown and already earned a place in the hearts of locals as a destination for both shopping and eating. Reopening post 2021 lockdown it's sure to be a magnet for tourists albeit this year more likely to be staycationers than those visiting from abroad. It's doggy friendly so 4 legged visitors are also made very welcome.


The imposing building is light, bright airy and stylish and of course it smells amazing! It roughly comprises of three parts - the workshop/factory, retail space and the larder cafe with outdoor seating area (and a bright red phone box!). Whilst the retail element naturally contains their own extensive product range there's a great selection of books, pottery, cards, gifts, food, drink, homewares and more. A viewing window lets you see into the workshop whilst an enormous sink allows you try out the full range of soaps and narrow down your favourites. Scottish ingredients and scents aboud - raspberry, nettle, heather, whisky, honey, seaweed, honeysuckle, bog myrtle and more. The product range includes soaps, hand wash, hand sanitizer (as loved by Phillip Schofield), shampoo, conditioner, body wash, bubble bath, creams, lotions, lip balms, diffusers and candles. 


A refill section is a large part of the offering in both the visitor centre and their other shops. Bring your empties to be filled up at the zero waste area which also includes soap offcuts and shampoo bars. Environmental credentials are an important part of the business with the use of organic and natural ingredients and sustainable packaging including some sizes of bottles made with sugarcane rather than traditional plastic to reduce impact. 


We were guinea pigs for their new soap making class which has now officially launched to the public. Costing £25 a head, the whole experience lasts about an hour, plus a further twenty minutes for the soap to set at the end whilst you have a coffee. Firstly you learn about the process before choosing your fragrances, colours and botanicals to create your own personal soaps and pour them into moulds. Following this is a behind the scenes tour of the workshop, soap making rooms and packing lines. This was my favourite bit (can you tell I used to LOVE going through the round, square and arched windows on Play School!)  As your soap sets its time for a coffee in the Larder Cafe before you return to the workshop to package your creations. The workshops are suitable for age 16+ (8+ when accompanied by a paying adult) and are a maximum of 4 people so you get a really hands on personal experience. You can check availability, book and pay online at Highland Soap Company Soap Making Workshops


The process reminded me somewhat of my gin blending experience at Eden Mill. I guess there is a similarity in sniffing and selecting the botanicals to come up with your own 'potion' whether that be alcoholic or soapy. Foodie Loon opted for Whisky, Heather and Grapefruit naming his creation 'Glen Jess'. My 'Foodie Quine - Gin & Juice' soaps contained a cocktail of Juniper, Grapefruit and Lemongrass and a sprinkle of ground nettles. I got creative with my mixing and poured my first soap before adding the nettles for my second, and colour for my third. Cellophane, labels and ribbon finished them off perfectly. 


The accommodation on our trip was The Garrison Hotel. This is the former Fort William police station and you can if you wish stay in one of the converted jail cell bunk rooms. If this sounds like your thing they have some very interesting plans up their sleeves to make this even more of a 'Prisoner Cell Block H' experience. We stayed in a more conventional room which was stylish, comfortable and a wee bit quirky. Always great to visit somewhere with my Tunnocks Teacake suitcase and find them on the guest tray. Of course the toiletries in the bathroom were supplied by none other than Highland Soap Co. The hotel breakfast menu very much exceeded my expectations, both reading and tasting much more like that of a city brunch spot than a Highland hotel. With restrictions easing on the first day of our stay we were delighted to be able to enjoy our first post lockdown indoor drinking experience in their bar.


Local entrepreneur Angus MacDonald read an article many years ago where research found that the two things that can help regenerate a struggling town centre are a cinema and a bookshop. So in an act of philanthropy he opened both on Fort William High Street - The Highland Bookshop and The Highland Cinema. The cinema opened September 2020 and is located right in the middle of the High Street in Cameron Square. It's design is reminiscent of a highland bothy with red corrugated roof and stone walls. The front of the building is a cafe bar which has quickly built a reputation as the place to go in town for cocktails. The rear houses two cinema screens seating an impressive 109 and 62 respectively. However the piece de resistance in my eyes in the Lotus Elan race car. Now that's what I call a drive in movie! Alas we were in Screen 2 for our first cinema experience in well over a year, so no shiny red race car for me.


Harry Potter wasn't even a twinkle in JK Rowlings eye the last time I journeyed on the West Coast Railways Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig. I was sure that my parents must have recorded our trip for posterity but alas no photographic evidence exists. In comparison to my 1980's trip I took a multitude of both photos and videos of this great railway journey. So much so they deserve a separate post so watch this space! Suffice to say our trip on the Jacobite/Hogwarts Express was truly magical and thankfully no Dementors as we crossed the Glennfinnan Viaduct. The following day we viewed the train from a different angle as we boarded Souters Lass of Crannog Cruises and did their hour long steam train cruise. This is just one of their cruises which leave from Fort William town pier. Alas Ben Nevis was shrouded in cloud but had fantastic views of the loch, spotted some local wildlife and enjoyed the informative live commentary. It was really emotional watching the train and waving to the passengers, I think Foodie Loon may even have had a damp eye.


I've made little mention of food thus far - perhaps because there was so much of it or perhaps because I'm saving the best until last. I'll let you decide. We kicked off our trip with coffee and cake at The Larder Cafe, we also enjoyed lunch there and a 'Taste of Fort William' event. The food and drink throughout was fantastic with plenty of seasonality and local provenance on show. In these covid times instead of a buffet we enjoyed 'small bites' with our coffee and 'a taster of' lunch. The cakes and bakes are either produced in house or come from Stiff Peaks a small local patisserie. 


Dinner on our first evening was at The Highland Cinema Cafe Bar and was a far cry from the overpriced hotdogs and nachos of multiplex cinemas. The menu comprises of sharing platters, pizzas from an Italian wood fired oven, and Scottish Tapas - ‘Biadh Beag’ (‘small dishes’ in Gaelic). We sampled it all! In particular the Ghillie and Stalker platters both looked and tasted amazing. I could not get enough of the MOWI salmon, smoked mussels and the beer cheese in particular but I did leave enough room for a small box of popcorn whilst watching the movie. It has to be done!


The 'Taste of Fort WIlliam' Event held in The Larder Cafe on our second evening provided us with further insight into the ethos of Highland Soap Co's food offering and a chance to meet some of their local producers and suppliers. It was particularly lovely to catch up with Anja Baak of Great Glen Charcuterie. I've long been a fan of her products (see my recipes for Scottish Mussels with Cider and Venison Chorizo and Orzo Risotto with Chorizo) Their wild venison charcuterie from nearby Roy Bridge features strongly on the menu alongside butchery from Lochaber Larder and fish from Iain Stewart. Standout items for me were the open steak sandwich with blue cheese dressing and the crispy fish tacos. This was all washed down with beers from Glen Spean Brewery and alcohol free Feragaia cocktails. 

Our trip certainly shone a light on what Fort William has to offer in addition to being Scotland's outdoors capital. It might have helped that we encountered zero midgies and a lot of sunshine during our stay but whatever the weather there's plenty to see, do, eat and drink in the town that won't require you to don a waterproof jacket - breathable or otherwise. 



For an alternative viewpoint of our trip you can read P&J Journalist Susan Welsh's piece at From a cinema with a restaurant to a soap factory with a cafe, Fort William has it all for foodies


Disclosure: We visited Fort William as  guests of the Highland Soap Co. 
As always, all views expressed are my own.
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me as a passionate Scottish Food Blogger to continue to share my Edible Food and Travel Adventures with you. I’m super choosy who I work with and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

Aberdeen City Centre Beer Gardens

Tuesday, 27 April 2021
Prior to 2020 should there ever be a glorious sunny day in Aberdeen many of us would rush to try and bag a table at one of only a couple of spots in the city with outdoor seating. Cue covid and the new normal and suddenly if we want to enjoy a drink then certainly for now it invariably needs to be outdoors - whatever the weather! I've pulled together a summary of beer gardens in the city centre - there may well be more - let me know and I'll add them. Some are large and fully covered, others are small - perhaps only a couple of tables - with or without umbrellas so choose wisely and dress warmly!




In Level 3 alcohol is only permitted outside and a maximum of six people from six households can book and be present on any one table. Venues will have to close by 10pm.

Please check directly whether pre booking is required and/or if walk ins are accepted and what each individual venue allows with regards to table numbers as it may not be the same as what the legal limit is. Please follow all social distancing measures, only visit if you are feeling well, stay safe and be respectful of all staff and customers.



The Chester Hotel


No. 10 Botanic Garden

Food From Fife #ScotlandLovesLocal

Wednesday, 7 April 2021
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Post in collaboration with Food From Fife

The past twelve months has shown us with absolute clarity that it's more important than ever to shop locally wherever we live. Food from Fife in conjunction with the Scotland Loves Local campaign are working to raise awareness of the fantastic foodie business in the Kingdom of Fife that need our support more than ever as lockdown restrictions ease and Scotland moves toward recovery. With its fertile farmlands, bustling towns and rich coastal waters, Fife is home to a huge range of world-class produce and amazing food and drink businesses. 


#foodfromfife
#scotlandloveslocal

In my recent post where I shared 20 awesome things about 2020, something that came up repeatedly was that Covid has changed our relationship with food and how we shop for it forever. When the usual supply chain broke down across the country leaving supermarket shelves bare, it was local food and drink producers and retailers who stepped up to the mark and adapted their business models to keep us all fed and watered.

If truth be told we've always known that where possible, we should try and shop local for our food, but 2020 has given us a big nudge to continue this vital connection and support going forward. Covid has caused significant challenges for local businesses who have lost out on trade whilst at the same time going to enormous lengths to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.

One of the practical ways in which I tried to help at the height of the initial lockdown was by creating a regularly updated blog post sharing details of local producers and food businesses in Aberdeen City and Shire who were providing doorstep delivery services. Today I'm going slightly further afield to work with Food From Fife and raise awareness of those business in the Kingdom of Fife that need our support more than ever as lockdown restrictions ease and Scotland moves toward recovery.

Sadly due to current travel restrictions I can't go to Fife, so instead Food From Fife came to me via a bumper delivery from Balgove larder. What a fantastic selection of products which showcased much of what makes the area a foodies paradise. With its fertile farmlands, bustling towns and rich coastal waters, Fife is home to a huge range of world-class produce. What I received is only the tip of the iceberg as to what available to Fifers to purchase direct, via farm and local shops and online. 

20 awesome things about 2020

Friday, 26 March 2021
Pandemic anniversary reflections from a Scottish food and travel blogger. Aberdeenshire based content creator Foodie Quine reflects on 20 awesome things about 2020. The UK’s lockdown forced us all to change the way we shop, cook, eat and travel. With supermarket shortages, restaurant closures, stay at home edicts and travel restrictions our relationship with food and travel have undoubtedly changed forever.


When I first started pulling together this post in December I was optimistic that 2021 would be a fresh start and that all that was bad about 2020 could be put behind me. Alas 2021 had other ideas so I'm only getting around to completing it now as we've hit the one year anniversary of lockdown. Fingers crossed that brighter days are now on the horizon both physically and metaphorically. Apologies for the self indulgent nature of these ramblings. I guess I just wanted a permanent reminder for myself that not everything about 2020 was a complete disaster and that there were some positives that will hopefully continue. 



1. SUNDAY LUNCH WITH MICHEL ROUX JR.

As part of a campaign with Albert Bartlett potatoes I hosted a lockdown dinner party with a difference - with one of the guests being none other than Michel Roux Jnr. In addition to the Michelin starred chef were fellow Aberdeenshire foodies Kerry of Documenting My Dinner, Nikki of Nikki Eats the World and Paul Morrison of Tall Pauls Food Life.

We all cooked up a Sunday Roast and sat down together via Zoom where we were somewhat starstruck to have none other than Michel zoombomb us and judge our efforts as part of the Lock-in Cook-off. Our worthy winner as judged by Michel was Paul who scored a perfect 10. Joint second place for the rest of us with none too shabby 9's. A fantastic lockdown experience that I'm not likely to forget in a hurry.

Grandma Monearn's Scotch Pancakes

Monday, 15 February 2021
My granny’s failsafe and prize winning Scotch Pancake recipe. Also known as dropped scones or bannocks. Ideal for pancake day, breakfast, brunch and afternoon tea.


This pancake recipe which was handed down to me by my Grandma appears in various shapes and forms across by blog but really does deserve a post of its own especially with Shrove Tuesday on the horizon. I've written previously about my Granny Jean Benzie, her baking prowess and her involvement as a stalwart of the SWRI. Hush a bye don't you cry, Mammy’s off to the WRI and I've previously shared her failsafe and prizewinning recipes for ShortbreadMinisters Slices and Cornflake Biscuits.


The basic recipe below can easily be doubled and/or adapted to a variety of pancakey creations. I've never seen the need to convert it from imperial to metric measurements - if it ain't broke don't fix it. A wee word on Cream of Tartar. This is a raising agent which seems to have somewhat fallen off the radar. It is NOT Tartare Sauce! That would be a different recipe entirely. 


GRANDMA MONEARN'S SCOTCH PANCAKES
4oz Plain Flour
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
1/2 tsp Bicarb of Soda
Pinch of salt
1 beaten egg
Milk

Sieve together all the dry ingredients and make a well. Add beaten egg and mix. Gradually add milk whisking well until you reach a dropping consistency. 
Preheat a buttered griddle or frying pan on the hob. 
Spoon on the batter to the desired size. 
Once the pancake starts to bubble turn over with a palette knife to cook the other side. 
Put in between a folded tea towel on a cooling rack to keep warm. 
Eat and enjoy! 



Bacon in Pancakes
Dip a cooked bacon rasher into the pancake mixture until well coated, allow any excess batter to drip off before placing in the pan. 


Pancake Pops
Simply place a lolly stick on the pancake as it cooks.


Haggis, Neeps and Tatties TikTok Wrap

Thursday, 11 February 2021
Now that's what I call serious Burns! Jumping firmly on the tik tok wrap hack bandwagon with a Haggis, Neeps and Tatties version for Burns Night. Instead of rolling all the fillings up, the tortilla is folded into quarters making a compact triangle shaped wrap where nothing can escape. Genius!


It had to be done. A Scottish version of the wrap hack that's taken TikTok by storm. I used a ready meal but this would work equally well with leftovers. Haggis (veggie or traditional), Neep (swede) and Tatties (potatoes) with plenty of Scottish Cheddar. Surely the ultimate Scottish toastie for Burns Supper and beyond. Some awesome serving suggestions from my followers included the addition of a whisky cream or peppercorn dipping sauce.

Haggis are of course small four legged creatures that live in the Highlands. They have two legs shorter than the others so they can run around the mountains without toppling over. Catch one yourself by chasing it the opposite way round the mountain or buy a free range one from your butcher.
Scottish Neeps are Turnips, but not wee white new Turnips but rather the large purple skinned yellow/orange Swede.
Tatties are potatoes and must be of the mashed variety.


Haggis, Neeps and Tatties TikTok Wrap
Wrap
Haggis
Mashed Neeps
Mashed Tatties
Scottish Cheddar (grated)

Place your wrap on a chopping board. Take a knife and make a cut from the top to the centre point.
Heat through your haggis, neeps and tatties in the microwave.
Imagine the wrap being divided up into four quarters (like a 4 seasons pizza)
Put haggis in the top left, neeps in the bottom left, tatties bottom right and finally grated scottish cheddar top right.
Fold the wrap starting from the top left left quarter, folding it down over the bottom left, over to the bottom right and finally up to the top right.
Toast in a frying/griddle pan or in a panini press or health grill until the cheese has melted and the wrap is crispy.

Some awesome serving suggestions from my followers included the addition of a whisky cream or peppercorn dipping sauce.


♥ Pin me for later...
The ultimate Scottish version of the TikTok wrap hack. Haggis, Neeps, Tatties and Scottish Cheddar for Burns Night.

Three Ingredient Mincemeat Fudge

Sunday, 13 December 2020
With only three ingredients, no tricky temperatures or boiling hot sugar required, this festive microwave Mincemeat Fudge is quick and easy to make. Add a slug of your favourite alcoholic spirit for a boozy kick. Ideal for a last minute edible Christmas gift.


It's the countdown to Christmas and time to roll out the festive fudge. Lots of you have already been making the previous recipes that I've shared and coming up with your own variations. Today's version is even simpler with only three ingredients. Chocolate, Condensed Milk and Mincemeat. For an extra boozy twist I used my own homemade Gin Mincemeat. You could easily pimp up a jar of supermarket ready made mincemeat with a good slug of something boozy. Whisky, gin, port or brandy would all work well. 

Orcadian Christmas Gift Guide for Foodies

Thursday, 26 November 2020
Post in collaboration with Orkney.com

This Christmas why not shop for a Taste of Orkney online? Treat yourself or someone special to something from the Orcadian larder (or drinks cabinet!) all from the comfort of your own home. Foodie gifts from the Island's many artisan producers and retailers include beer, cheese, gin, oatcakes, fudge, fish, coffee, whisky and more. Or why not combine them all in a Christmas Hamper that's sure to bring festive joy to any recipient. 


Sadly for most of us a trip to Orkney hasn't been possible this year however you can still spread some Orcadian joy this Christmas by sending a gift from the islands to a loved one or by treating yourself. If you have visited Orkney in the past or are planning to visit next year once travel restrictions are lifted why not shop for a taste of Orkney online and support the local businesses that are still producing and creating products in what has been a tough year for the Islands and their inhabitants.

To provide some inspiration I've chosen 10 Orcadian foodie goodies that I would love to find in my stocking on December 25th from the listings within the Food & Drink section of the Orkney.com website. Please do take the time to browse all that these artisan producers and retailers have on offer as there is so much more than my own personal favourites. (Although I have been told - only this morning - that I am the best gift giver ever and missed my calling as a personal shopper!)

Sandman Signature Hotel & Spa Aberdeen

Thursday, 12 November 2020
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Review post in collaboration with Sandman Signature Hotel & Spa Aberdeen

Relax and escape to an oasis of calm in Aberdeen city centre at the newly opened Spa in the Sandman Signature Hotel. Rest, recovery and pampering in stylish surroundings with the full range of Ishga face and body treatments plus a steam room, sauna and relaxation room. Open 7 days a week to residents and non residents.


I promise I am both smiling and relaxed behind my mask. After a week of the stresses and strains of covid, the US election and a house sale falling through it was a delight to escape to the stylish tranquility of the Sandman Aberdeen Hotel and their new Signature Spa. In what is a tough time for hospitality the new Spa facilities provide a much needed boost to the city centre hotel’s offering. 

Have you even been to The Sandman if you don't take a photo of the brollies?!

I'd previously visited, eat and drunk in the hotel but this was my first stay and as with everything in 2020 things were a bit unusual. With a friend as my plus one we each had separate rooms as per current restrictions. Masks were worn unless sat at a table eating or drinking, only one household in the lift at a time, plenty of hand sanitizer throughout, sneeze guards at reception, limited housekeeping, track and trace upon entry to the restaurant with reservations essential for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's just how the new normal is, for now. We felt safe throughout our visit with all precautions in place, the public areas are ideal for social distancing, large and open and very stylish even with some non essential items removed.


I’m no stranger to The Sandman building having studied there during its previous role as Robert Gordons University School of Computing. Whilst the majority of my Business Studies degree was based within the Hilton Campus we matriculated and picked up our grant cheques (remember those?!) at St Andrews Street and had Quantitative Business Methods classes and exams there. It certainly looked nothing like this on the inside in the 90's. For this stay we both had king suites with kitchenettes and shower rooms on the third floor overlooking the centre courtyard car park. They were a touch stark due to the removal of cushions and soft furnishings, but spacious, practical and comfortable.


Just along the corridor from us on the third floor is the new Signature Spa where were were welcomed by manager Liam Downie and team. Alas covid prevents the use of the fitness facilities, sauna and steam room for now along with facial treatments that would require the removal of masks. But there’s still plenty on offer featuring product from Ishga Skincare - organic seaweed from the Hebrides. Sandman are the only spa or salon in the city to offer the product which in addition to smelling divine, contains a powerful seaweed extract renowned for anti-ageing and antioxidant properties.



The spa space is stylish and relaxing with reception, treatment rooms, nail room, relaxation room and changing rooms. Alas for now the sauna and steam rooms remain closed. I enjoyed a relaxing massage and my friend had an indulgent hand recovery treatment, the perfect antidote to all that hand sanitizer! My therapist Gaby was fully kitted out in PPE and I was required to keep my mask on throughout the treatment. In my mind there is nothing worse than a wishy washy massage but this was the real deal with firm pressure and divine product. Following our treatments we headed to the relaxation room. The stylish wavy loungers were a bit tricky to get in and out of but super comfy to chill in prior the obligatory photos at the flower wall before padding back to our rooms in robe and slippers. 


There are some fantastic welcome offers for the Spa in November and December which can also be bought on gift cards with a 12 month validity so you can treat someone - or even better treat yourself. (go on, you deserve it!) There are also excellent room rates available if you fancy a wee staycation. It was so nice to be able to escape for real life for a short while even with restrictions in place, I highly recommend it.

To book Sandman signature spa call 01224 945554 (during office hours) or email them spa_aberdeen@sandmanhotels.co.uk. Either way - be sure to tell them I sent you.

Dinner and Drinks at CHOP Bar & Grill


Disclosure: This is not a paid post. We stayed, relaxed, ate and drank as guests of Sandman Signature Aberdeen.
As always, all views expressed are my own. 
Thank you for supporting the brands who make it possible for me as a passionate Scottish Food Blogger to continue to share my Edible Food and Travel Adventures with you. I’m super choosy who I work with and promise to bring you only the cream of the crop.

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