City dwellers tend to marvel at the ingenuity of islander cooks who feed guests without the convenience of streets of shops open 24/7, so a recent visit to Islay infused a bit of realism into this townie. Driving from distillery to distillery – even in November – you see what a lot of cattle, sheep and game the island has plus realise the potential of the sea. But most enlightening was a visit to the Islay House Community Garden where they grow many of the vegetables that help the island chefs keep serving up such exciting food. At the Port Charlotte Hotel, the chef and owners all told me how the community garden supplies much of their seasonal produce. And even in November there was garden-grown golden beetroot teasing me on my plate of tender venison, butternut squash and the prettiest potato duchess I’ve seen in years.
Meanwhile at the Harbour Inn, recently taken over by the Bowmore distillery, the executive chef David Kinnes – formerly of Rufflets in St Andrews – talked of the plans he’s hatching with the garden for specific ingredients to be grown next year. At the garden, the temptation to load up with autumn veg and some of their vibrant chillies was only resisted because of an airline ticket waiting to take me home.