Review: An Cala Ciùin on the Isle of Mull – A tranquil and serene experience

Estimated read time 5 min read

In 2022, Isle of Mull hoteliers Les and Meg MacLeod decided it was time to sail off into retirement. Only the second family to own the historic Mishnish Hotel in Tobermory, they had spent eight years at the helm after buying the iconic waterfront business in 2014. But their plans to sell the hotel and bar, which has been a watering hole for sailors, musicians, and rally drivers all over the world since it opened in 1869, were quickly shelved when they met chef Ross Caithness. Instead, the pair decided to strike up a partnership with the fine dining chef, who has worked under some of the biggest names in the Scottish food scene – Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart – to create An Cala Ciùin. Nestled in an unused part of the hotel, Ross has transformed the space into an intimate 20 cover restaurant which is already attracting critical acclaim. Chef Ross Caithness has worked under some of the biggest names in the industry. You could be forgiven for mistaking An Cala Ciùin (which translates from Gaelic as The Calm Harbour) for just another room inside the The Mishnish Hotel. It’s just a hop, skip and a step across the hall from the room I am staying in for the weekend. We are shown to our table by host Jamie, an Englishman who has been on the island since 2005 so considers himself institutionalised now. The decor is simple and uniform, nautical napkins and a few candles to set the mood, a conscious decision Jamie tells me, so the focus can be fully on the food. Him and Ross are the two-man driving force behind the restaurant and they are gearing up for the summer season. We are having the eight course tasting menu which reads like a tour around the island, from the local distillery to Tobermory Fish Company and Glengorm estate. We start with the ‘snacks’ – a puff of white crystal bread topped with Isle of Mull crab and dehydrated sea herbs, which delicately dissolves in one mouthful. It sits alongside a smoked salmon tart with light, crispy pastry and a hit of pickled radish. Snacks: Crystal bread and a salmon tart. Then we get to the guts of our meal, starting with a sublime Isle of Mull langoustine thermidor sitting perfectly atop a chunk of duck fat roasted brioche (as divine as it sounds), with caviar, and a shellfish consommé. It could not have been any fresher or more perfectly cooked. This was followed by the star of the show for me. Succulent braised squid, with fennel and chilli, swimming in an exquisite shellfish bisque. The rich, almost meaty squid, was perfectly balanced by the sweet bisque and a hit of chilli on the back of your throat. It’s a dish that will live long in my memory. We finished the fish dishes off with a slab of butter soft cod. It was light and refreshing, with a squid ink tuile for some added texture, a tangy buttermilk sauce and barbequed muscles. Isle of Mull langoustine. Cod with BBQ muscles and a squid ink tuile. Melt in the mouth partridge arrives at the table next and Jamie tells us about nearby Glengorm estate where Ross sources all his meat from. (We visited the following day and would highly recommend a spot of lunch at their excellent cafe.) Although not the most memorable part of the meal, it’s rich and packs a punch, alongside a perfectly salty jus. All good nights out end with a kebab in my opinion, so I am delighted to tuck into a venison version of one (again from Glengorm) which is accompanied by tangy pickled veg, a take on a mushroom ketchup and the most incredible burnt onion powder. I have eaten my fair share of pointless powder dustings, but I am glad to say, this was not one of them. It’s hard to imagine the work that goes into making a smattering of onion so flavorsome. It’s the perfect end to our savory courses. Then it’s a Ledaig Sour palate cleanser before dessert. The peaty whisky made on the same street as An Cala Ciùin has been transformed into a lip smacking sorbet. It’s zingy and refreshing, and a welcomed way to break up the meal. Partridge from Glengorm Estate. An Cala Ciùin’s take on a kebab. We finish with a comforting bowl of rhubarb crumble. Sweet with white chocolate which is cut through with hints of ginger. It’s not a revolutionary dessert, but I am not sold on wacky, challenging puds. Give me the classics done exceptionally well, like this, and I’ll be happy any day. From start to finish the food is the perfect mix of precision and simplicity. We hear about provenance a lot, but on an island like Mull, it feels truly important. And it’s hard not to discern that when you see how deeply passionate Ross is about promoting Scotland’s natural larder. There is something so special about sitting, looking out over the bay where the fish you are eating was caught, and seeing the distillery where the whisky in your sorbet was made, and being able to visit the estate where your meat came from just down the road. I can’t imagine it will be long before the accolades follow Ross to Mull and when they do it will be thoroughly deserved. For now, I am just incredibly grateful Les and Meg put their retirement plans on hold. Read more Reviews here. Subscribe to read the latest issue of Scottish Field.

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