We have already waxed lyrical about the stupendous golf experience at The Machrie, but that’s only part of what makes any trip special – where you eat, and drink is important too.
The good news is that once you finish up your round on the 18th green overlooking Laggan Bay at The Machrie, you’re a matter of steps away from one of the best restaurants in Islay.
The aptly named, 18 overlooks the golf course and the ocean beyond. The restaurant itself is bright, modern and beautifully laid out with light flooding in thanks to the vaulted glass ceiling, sliding doors and stunning glass-fronted balcony which offers unforgettable views.
During our stay we ate breakfast and dinner here, as well as enjoying a post-round drink or two as the sun gradually fell out of the sky one evening. It’s hard to think of a better way to finish up a day of golf than with a few stories shared here over drinks, the stories growing more fanciful with each drink which passes the lips. It’s just a fantastic place to take it all in.
The atmosphere is relaxed rather than formal or stuffy and the menu is inventive, creative and full of produce that is both locally sourced and, because of that, fabulously fresh. On the night we ate dinner at 18, the sun was flooding into the restaurant and the sliding doors were pulled back to allow a gentle ocean breeze to cool us as we ate.
We chose the homemade Smoked Mackerel Pate and the Islay Scallops with celeriac puree to start but the specials board often displays dishes such as octopus and halibut for those feeling just a little more adventurous. Both dishes were not only beautifully presented but wonderfully zesty and fresh. There is nothing quite like eating seafood in sight of the water from whence it came. The chefs at 18 are committed to using local produce but also seasonal ingredients.
For the main event, it was a toss-up between the Highland Beef, which is sourced from Octomore Farm, just across Laggan Bay near Port Charlotte or the Islay Ales Battered Haddock with chips and mushy peas. The fish won out, but it was a close call. My companion chose the free-range chicken breast with wild mushrooms and Bowmore whisky sauce.
The service was considered and careful, attentive but not obtrusive and the whole experience reflected the surroundings – calm, refreshing, inspiring and relaxing. It isn’t easy to put together really good food in a place so remote but at 18, it is done with class, precision and elegance. A few recommendations for the best seats in the house – if the weather is set fair then the balcony is impossible to beat, get out there, breathe in that see air and watch the golfers come up 18 and get nervy as they putt out in front of an audience.
If you would rather eat inside, go to the very far end of the restaurant, to a little room which sits slightly apart from the main dining room itself. In that far, front corner is a table which is embraced by floor to ceiling windows. Dinner there at the right time of year will provide you with a view of the sunset that will stay with you as long as live and breathe. It’s spectacular.
The setting would win most people over, regardless of the quality of the food. But 18 goes further and must be in the conversation when talk turns to the very best restaurants in Islay.