This blog post will cover the eating choices we made on our recent 10 night Scottish driving holiday. Our first stop was Glasgow (for lunch!) and over the course of the holiday we visited Loch Lomond, Oban, Isle of Mull, Iona, Fort William, Mallaig, Isle of Skye, Pitlochry, Edinburgh and Durham (our stop to break the journey home).
As always, my blog is about food rather than anything else. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the sheer beauty we saw during our time away. The scenery in the Scottish Highlands and Islands is incredible, and we were blessed to have glorious weather for almost the whole time we were away (in fact it was hotter in Scotland than it was at home!) I will forever associate our trip with all the S’s – scenery, sunsets, seals, sea, Sugar Daddy’s bakery and a non S but probably the absolute highlight; dolphins!
We stayed in a variety of places, from a gorgeous castle on the Isle of Mull to a youth hostel in Pitlochry, and everything in between! I spent way too many hours to count up researching places to eat in the areas we were going to be staying. Three of our nights were spent in Airbnbs, where we had some access to self catering facilities (these varied from a kettle and microwave, to having those plus toaster and hob) which was useful. We also packed quite a lot of food which proved to be very useful.
There were some amazing highs for food, and also some disappointments, all of which I’ll cover. Perhaps the most disappointing thing I found was the number of places who simply didn’t get back to me when I sent messages/emails enquiring about their gluten-free menu. This left quite a gap in some places, and we made good use of our stash of food!
Just in case this is the first post you’ve read on my blog I’ll mention that both my husband and I need to eat gluten free and I am also a vegetarian.
I won’t be covering places that we didn’t eat at, as this wouldn’t be fair.
Our very first stop in Scotland, and when I was researching it seemed like their were loads of places offering gluten-free food. For us it was literally just a lunch stop, as we were carrying on to Loch Lomond, and so I looked for something that would be fairly quick, and settled on Topolabamba.
Topolabamba describes itself as serving authentic Mexican street food. What I really like is that on the menu, so much of their food is gluten free, they only highlight the items that aren’t (link to menu). That meant that there were loads of GF options – always great to have lots of choice! It was also good for me as a gluten-free vegetarian.
I have linked to the menu above, you can also download the allergen matrix from there which shows that there are a few may contains to be careful of if you are coeliac. We were also handed the allergen folder in the restaurant.
There is an express lunch menu which is a total of 3 dishes for £9.95. You choose a dish from column A, a dish from column B, then cilantro rice or salt and chilli fries. The dishes in column B are NOT gluten free, however, you can choose a second dish from column A, which are all GF, and still get the deal.
Food is brought out once it is ready, rather than all in one go, and service was quick. Food was hot and delicious, and overall it was the ideal place for a quick lunch spot. If you want a slow, relaxed leisurely lunch, then this isn’t the place to go! Overall, I would highly recommend Topolabamba and felt completely safe eating there.
I did change our booking at the last minute for our stay here. Originally I had booked Duck Bay, which has great reviews and a lengthy gluten-free menu. However, I came across another place that had a really good review, and it was 5 minutes drive from where we we staying. The restaurant is called The Slanj, and is in an old church building.
I only discovered The Slanj from reading another gluten-free blog (which happened to come up on Facebook as a sponsored post for me), but the review was so good it made me change our original booking to there. I called them to confirm they could safely cater for coeliacs, and was reassured on speaking to them that they could.
The gluten-free menu was handwritten, and the options change daily. There were plenty of options available for all dietary requirements, and they confirmed that the gluten-free food was cooked separately and safely. The waitress was very knowledgeable, and was more than happy to go and ask the chef when she didn’t know the answer. Nothing was too much trouble, and she even told us that if places weren’t willing to answer questions about their GF food and how it was cooked, then people should leave, as it is so important.
The Slanj is also dog friendly, and even serves doggy dinners! Ours was probably one of the few tables that didn’t have a dog with them.
Desserts are not written on the list above, however both of the vegan desserts are also GF. These are currently a blackcurant slice served with ice cream, or a chocolate orange cake served with ice-cream. We both went for the chocolate orange cake, which I would describe as more like a torte, and tasted absolutely amazing.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Loch Lomond (close to Tarbet) and this had a microwave and kettle, so we were able to make our own breakfast with food we had taken with us.
We stopped here on our way from Loch Lomond to Oban, and thought it worth a quick mention. There is no hot food served at all, but they do have a variety of hot and cold drinks, plus cakes, one of which is a gluten-free chocolate loaf cake. Separate tongs are used for the cake, and it was very tasty. There are also picnic tables so you can take your own food.
We spent two nights in Kilchrenan House B&B in Oban. Before booking I messaged them to check they could serve gluten-free breakfast. On arrival we chatted through this, and they were very aware of cross contamination and confirmed they had a separate toaster for GF toast. They have a niece who is coeliac so fully understand how important it is.
On the first morning we had a full cooked breakfast (sadly no vegetarian GF sausages for me, although they were going to try and get me some for the second morning but we were leaving too early for a cooked breakfast). The second morning we needed to leave before they started serving cooked breakfasts, however they offer a packed breakfast for anyone needing to leave early. We were given gluten-free brioche rolls with cheese (me) and ham and cheese (my husband), fruit, water, capri suns and a pack of Mrs Crimbles macaroons. Brilliant breakfast, which we ate in the car while waiting in line for the ferry over to the Isle of Mull!
For dinner in Oban we ate at the same place both evenings and chose Cuan Mor. I confirmed with them prior to our holiday that they have a separate fryer for GF food, and re-confirmed this when we were there. The menu is fairly varied, although as a vegetarian there were only two options available for me.
I went for the vegan chilli burger on the first night. It came with no chilli and when I queried this, apparently the chilli isn’t gluten free! Great that the chef knew that and didn’t serve it, but poor that it has been printed on the menu like that. The second night I went for the butternut gobi dhansak, and I have to say that was really good. My husband was equally enthusiastic about the wild argyll venison, red wine and pancetta ragu, which he had on the second night.
Isle of Mull
We got the ferry over to Mull from Oban, and if you’re feeling peckish they have the obligatory GF brownie for sale in the coffee shop!
Mull was the place where I had found it the hardest to find somewhere safe to eat. A couple of places didn’t get back to my messages which was disappointing, and there just seemed to be a general lack of places that serve gluten-free food.
Luckily The Pier Cafe in Tobermory (or Balamory for those of you that remember the children’s show!) came to the rescue. A couple of months before our holiday I sent them a message on their Facebook page asking if they used a separate fryer for their gluten-free fish and chips (I found mention of GF batter on FB). A lovely lady replied to the message stating they didn’t, but when I explained the issue she said that she would be happy to keep a fryer available for us, complete with fresh oil so that we could visit and be able to eat safely. I kept in touch with her in the run up to our holiday, just to double (and triple!) check that this was ok.
We visited on Monday 31st August, and although the lady I had been messaging wasn’t there, she had briefed the person taking orders, who knew who I was, and obviously the chef was fully aware. We had a delicious meal of chips, vegetable pakora (me), fish (my husband) and mushy peas. I am so grateful to The Pier Cafe for going to the trouble that they did, and would recommend any coeliac to contact them and see if they can help you out if you’re visiting there.
We stayed at Glengorm Castle overnight on the Isle of Mull. Really imposing against the skyline as you get close, and perfectly placed for amazing sunsets, Glengorm Castle was a beautiful place to stay. Although I had messaged beforehand to check we could be catered for, they had us down as one gluten free and one vegan. No idea how that happened, but these things do so it’s always good to be prepared.
Discussion about breakfast was interesting. Having been assured they could cater for gluten free, they seemed somewhat flummoxed when I asked if they had a separate toaster for gluten-free toast. Apparently they had never been asked that before, which I’m surprised about. Even more surprising, the castle owner has a brother who is coeliac (but who doesn’t use a separate toaster and also drinks normal beer then just suffers the consequences of being ill, so not a great example of safe eating and drinking practice!). Anyway, we had plenty of toaster bags with us, so donated a set to them to use for us and keep for future guests who might require it.
It just goes to show that even when you do all you can beforehand to make sure that a place can cater for you, you still need to be prepared for them not actually understanding what a coeliac requires.
Anyway, that aside, we had a wonderful stay at Glengorm. Gorgeous room, incredible sunset, free whiskey (the owner has a whiskey library set up with many local whiskeys which is free for all guests) and lovely shared rooms downstairs where you can sit and relax, play games, chat and just enjoy the general ambiance.
On our second day on Mull we popped to The Coffee Pot in Salen. With Covid restrictions, this is currently operating as takeaway only, so we grabbed some goodies to eat overlooking the water. No pictures taken unfortunately, but they had gluten-free rolls (which were kept separately) and also some baked goods. I had messaged on Facebook before we visited, and was very reassured by the owner as to her processes regarding gluten-free bakes.
Due to timings, we weren’t due to be in Fort William long enough to have a proper meal. Fortunately, they have a McDonalds, so veggie dippers and fries it was! Both are gluten free, and are cooked together with no other gluten containing food.
We stayed at a lovely B&B called Highland Croft just outside Fort William. As always, prior to booking, I checked with them that they were able to cater for us. On arrival it was another surprising conversation regarding the fact a separate toaster is needed for coeliacs, but again, we gave them some toaster bags and all was well. They had also gone to the trouble of getting me some vegetarian GF sausages, which was really appreciated, and also agreed to cook us breakfast earlier than normal, as we had plans the following morning that meant we had to leave early (getting the train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which any Harry Potter fan will instantly recognise!).
We actually arrived earlier than anticipated at the B&B due to ferry issues (had to go a different route), and rather than McDonalds (which was planned for the following day) we ate a rather eclectic combination of food that we had with us. This included a Mugshot jalfrezi rice pot (actually very nice!), some falafels we had bought before the holiday (we took an electric coolbox on our trip) and some crisps. As you’ll see from the picture, the very friendly chicken was keen to steal our food, and we had to shoo it off the table a couple of times!
I struggled to find anywhere that could cater for us in Mallaig. We stayed in an Airbnb and cooked our own food using the microwave. Packets of mexican style rice and a tin of vegetable chilli hit the spot, while breakfast was beans on toast (making use of our toaster bags). It was nice to just relax, enjoy the wonderful view from our pod, and listen to the sheep!
Isle of Skye
Another day, another ferry! This one wasn’t quite such an early start, and is only about a 45 minute crossing. We were lucky enough to have a dolphin alongside us near the end of the crossing, always an amazing sight.
Because of the route we planned to take, we weren’t sure we’d be able to find anywhere to eat, so prior to leaving our Airbnb we heated up some soup and popped it in a food flask. We later ate this with some gluten-free bread rolls we’d taken, and on a holiday like this, I’d definitely recommend buying some kind of food flask to give you some hot options for out and about. The one I bought is this one.
Again, we had booked an Airbnb for our night on Skye, and when chatting to the host it turned out she was also coeliac. As part of the booking she provides a breakfast hamper, and we were left a loaf of GF bread, GF porridge sachets, fruit, milk, fresh juice and eggs from her hens. There were also toaster bags left for us. It was lovely to be so well catered for. Kitchen facilities included a 2 ring hob, microwave, toaster and kettle, so for our dinner we cooked a simple meal of pasta and sauce (both taken with us).
Day 2 on Skye, and we had plans for a late lunch on the way back to the ferry at Cafe Sia. I’d seen some good reviews of the place when researching, and they looked as if they had a great GF menu including pizza. Unfortunately we got there just after 3pm, and the cafe is closed 3-4pm. However, there is a wooden hut outside which cooks all the same food as the cafe does. I don’t know if we were just unlucky with staff, but a quick chat with the two young guys cooking the food left us sadly not very confident about eating there.
We headed off down the road to their sister premises, Siaway Fish and Chip shop (they are literally a couple of hundred metres away from each other). Siaway has a separate fryer for gluten free. They weren’t particularly forthcoming about what else could be gluten free, referring us to the menu. I was going to have a vegan sausage, as on the menu it doesn’t have a G by it, thereby suggesting it is gluten free. However, apparently I couldn’t have it as it contained gluten, so we both ended up just having chips and mushy peas. I did have to specify that we wanted the chips cooked in sunflower oil rather than beef dripping, so just a tip for anyone visiting that has a preference. The chips were quite greasy, but they were hot and tasty. We had taken our own vinegar and brown sauce with us (I’m a big fan of chips drowning in vinegar, can never have enough in my opinion!).
The car needed diesel before heading back to the ferry, and there is a petrol station opposite Siaway. I went in to pay and was surprised to find a gluten-free sandwich on offer in there. The petrol station is also attached to a large Co-op store, I didn’t go in so I can’t comment on what kind of options were available to buy inside.
It was a long drive from the ferry (Mallaig) to Pitlochry, and stopping for a meal anywhere would have made us too late for checking in (had to be at the youth hostel before 9.30pm), so we grabbed a trusty McDonalds en route, as we had to go through Fort William.
Due to Covid restrictions, the self catering facilities in the hostel were closed, so we went out for breakfast. I found a couple of places with good reviews, but settled on Cafe Biba, as there was a menu available online, and it looked like it had plentiful GF options. Unfortunately, not all the GF items were suitable for coeliacs – for example the pancakes on there (which I was really looking forward to) are cooked on the same griddle as the non GF pancakes. It was good that the waitress was knowledgeable enough to know the specifics of whether an item was suitable or not, but a little disheartening to find that what you thought you might be able to eat, you actually couldn’t. It would be nice to see a little bit more detail on the menu to let customers know this.
Just like Glasgow, we needed a pitstop somewhere for lunch, and Edinburgh was around halfway between Pitlochry and Washington, where we had a hotel booked for the night.
I’d seen a lot of posts on various Facebook groups singing the praises of Sugar Daddy’s bakery in Edinburgh, and knew that it was THE place for lunch! Sugar Daddy’s is a 100% gluten free bakery, and the pictures I had seen left me salivating. I told my husband that we needed to go there to sample the goodies, and fortunately he was in full agreement!
Sugar Daddy’s is a little slice of heaven for anyone who is coeliac, gluten intolerant or just avoiding gluten for any other reason. To be able to choose from anything is amazing, and the choices didn’t disappoint!
Everything is labelled up clearly, so as well as being gluten free, it will tell you if it is dairy free, vegan, egg free, soya free and nut free. There is plenty of choice for vegetarians like myself, as well as vegans, so no-one needs to miss out.
I wanted one of everything, but that just wasn’t practical (although I could have given it a good go eating them all I’m sure!). We did buy a fair amount, which we ate over the course of two days (I can tell you that a veggie sausage roll and a couple of shared cakes is the perfect breakfast before travelling home!)
Between the two of us, we sampled the following: onion bhaji toastie, cheese and onion pasty, veggie sausage roll, pork sausage roll, the triple threat bar, brookie bar, chocolate orange cookie sandwich, millionaires cookie pie, and a mini baked doughnut. I’d go as far as to say it was all heavenly! My personal favourites were the millionaires cookie pie and chocolate orange cookie sandwich, but everything really was lush. The bakery has really perfected the perfect cookie in my opinion, the combination of soft and chewy was spot on.
We chatted to the owner while in there, who was a lovely guy and told us that he has four coeliacs who work there. One of them was serving us, and told us she used to be a huge fan of the bakery before getting a job there, and basically begged them in her interview to employ her as she loved the bakery so much! I can truly understand why, our visit is actually one of my holiday highlights.
If you live anywhere near, or are heading that way on holiday or for work, I would definitely recommend paying a visit. Everyone who is gluten free needs to experience the pleasure of Sugar Daddy’s bakery!
Not Scotland I know, but our last meal of the holiday and definitely worth a mention as it was great. We went to Tia’s Mexican Restaurant, which I found on a gluten-free blog via a google search. They state they can cater for all dietary requirements, and have an extensive gluten-free menu.
We let the waitress know we were coeliac, and asked questions regarding the additional info at the bottom of their menu (checking whether the chips had been par fried). We were then sent another waitress, who is coeliac herself and could give us the correct information about everything.
The garlic bread with cheese was just sublime, I’m not sure I’ve tasted one as nice anywhere else. We also shared the crispy Moroccan style cauliflower bites which were very enjoyable. For mains, I had the chargrilled vegetable fajitas, and my husband had the chicken hanging kebab. My portion of chargrilled vegetables was so huge I couldn’t finish it (although I gave it a good go!), and the food was delicious. The hanging kebab was also amazing according to my husband. Sadly, we were both too full for dessert, and both rolled out of there in a food coma!
Overall our impressions of Tias were that they were great in catering for coeliacs. Having a coeliac waitress working there really helped us feel secure, as we could trust what she was saying in relation to how food was prepared. She also brought all of our food over to us, ensuring she washed her hands before serving us. It was a real gem of a restaurant, and we wouldn’t hesitate to return if we were in that area again.
Bit of a random section I know, but with a 3.5 hour journey home from Washington, we needed to stop. We were fully prepared to hang on for lunch until we got home if necessary, but the services we stopped at had a fair few options, and we were pleasantly surprised to be able to buy a GF meal deal in M&S. There were two different sandwich options in their ‘Made Without Wheat’ section, the egg salad was included in the meal deal and the roast chicken and bacon wasn’t. There was also a salad option (and possibly more, but I picked one up to look at the ingredients and it exploded all over me onto the floor, so I gave up after that!). The M&S own-brand salt and vinegar crisps were also marked as gluten free, a bonus as that’s my favourite flavour! Altogether a pleasant surprise to actually be able to eat on our way home.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my meandering round various places in Scotland, and that if you are heading that way, it gives you some ideas on where you can eat. I mentioned at the start of the post that my absolute highlight of the holiday was the dolphins we saw, so it seems only fitting to end with a video of them from our rib boat trip on the Isle of Skye. This was right at the end of the boat trip, as we were heading in, and a whole pod appeared and started leading our boat. It was an incredible spectacle, and every time I watch this video I can’t help but smile. I hope it makes you smile too!