Aye Eat, Inverness

Quite what the Americans who are occupying all the tables due west of us today are making of the stovies I can’t rightly say. They’re too far away to overhear. I think, anyway, the stovies are okay if a little uninspired on the flavour and seasoning front; like I imagine a mountain of beef-flavoured mash to taste like. There are a couple of oatcakes on the top, some generic-looking gravy, there’s a beetroot under here somewhere.

The Highland cow beef (strands really) is 12-hour cooked, the spuds are Maris Piper. The price is £17. What those same Americans, there are four separate tables in now (maybe from a cruise liner at Invergordon) make of the decor I really do know. They like it.

The family with the kids keep turning to watch the train going over (I think) the Glenfinnan Viaduct on the TV and I’ve seen them pointing at the nick-nacks and gee-jaws framed around the walls. Chandeliers and dangling lights made out of whisky bottles, sporrans in frames, you get the drift.

The good thing about Aye Eat is it all feels a little tongue in cheek. And, actually, the tartan wallpapering, the whisky barrel tables, the Nae Bother sign, the framed kilt even, though probably not the Nessie, don’t come across as tacky.

The Herald: Aye Eat, InvernessAye Eat, Inverness (Image: free)

Seriously, I really like the wallpaper and also like those mind-bending floor-to-ceiling murals all the way up the stairs to the unisex loo.

And why not have a totally Scottish restaurant? It’s what people always look for when they visit, isn’t it? Makes genuine sense.

Well, here’s a potential reason. And Debs and I only realise this after I moan that there aren’t that many Scottish dishes on the menu. Stovies yes, Cranachan yawn, Haggis Black Pudding and Cheddar Cheese Croquettes, a spoof dessert. But no mince and tatties, I mutter, and no skirlie even. Hoots mon, tattie scone.

What else though is actually particularly Scottish? Ooh. Good question. Scottish ingredients yes. Uniquely Scottish dishes? Answers on a postcard from Urquhart Castle please.

There are burgers, and steaks (£42) from the Josper Grill. But burgers and steak the Highlands do not have a shortage of. Those croquettes then. They taste, I later realise, a bit like the stovies. But with cheddar.

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We have a Cullen Skink, which is super creamy but also reasonably haddocky. And we have a Highland Coo Surf and Turf - or chunks of grilled beef and prawns and peppers on skewers (two), the portions being pretty American. This is generally fine but the texture of the beef is hit or miss. Some hunks crisp and tender. Others definitely not.

The most fun is with the Irn-Bru Ice cream and deep-fried Mars Bar. I’ve never had, I don’t think anyway, a deep-fried Mars Bar. I don’t even like Mars Bars. Too sweet. Somehow though when the batter is breached, and the gooey, slightly salty, melty interior tasted I realise: Jings this is much better than expected.


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As for the overall restaurant experience? There are some early-days problems. Every table has a brass plaque with a QR code to be scanned and ordered from but it doesn’t seem to work. Though you’ll have to log on to the wi-fi to discover that (apparently, there's no mobile signal in this former electronic shop).

When I eventually get there it announces: everything sold out. Unlikely on a Sunday lunchtime.We revert to human service.

Also…the booth we are put into is pleasant, high sided, but did somebody forget to tell the joiners how big the tables were going to be? Result: I stretch like a baboon over a too-far gap between me and my plate.

We move to one of the two seaters at the side. Then burst out laughing when we sit down and realise the chairs on one side are too low for the tables. Those joiners again? Or somebody bought tables and chairs without measuring?

Here’s the real question about Aye Eat. Will locals come here? Or is it just a tourist trap? Only time will tell.

Aye Eat, 16 High Street, Inverness, Tel: 07549 008232

Menu: A Scottish themed restaurant in Scotland. Stovies, Irn-Bru ice cream, deep-fried Mars Bars plus steaks. Could be more adventurous. 3/5

Service: Early days in here and it shows. Service mixed between shy youngsters to more experienced staff. Pleasant when engaged. 4/5

Price: It’s Inverness. In the season. The place had plenty of Americans in too. Stovies £16, surf and turf £25, desserts from £6. 3/5

Atmosphere: It’s kitsch but I liked the tartan walls, the relatively restrained knick-knacks, and the Scottish-ish bands on the sound system. 4/5

Food: Stovies were fine, the beef and prawn skewer was okay, even the croquettes were eaten. Competent if not particularly memorable cooking. 6/10