After a 15-year tenure at the prestigious Skibo Castle, chef Lindsay Mackay has taken on a role new at Torrish, where he hopes to honour the ancient tradition of Scottish storytelling, one plate at a time. 

After almost a month at the Ness Walk Hotel restaurant, he said: “It’s great to have served my time at Skibo Castle, but also lovely to have moved out of a 110-year-old building and member’s club with an expected type of service. 

“At Torrish it’s still pots, pans, delicious food and the best of local ingredients. 

“But here there’s a lot more room for expression, and a bit more craic actually.” 

The Herald: Pictured: Lindsay Mackay, executive chef at TorrishPictured: Lindsay Mackay, executive chef at Torrish (Image: supplied)

A creative and hands-on approach to cooking comes naturally to Mr Mackay, who was born in Lerwick before moving to Helmsdale, a scenic village on the east coast of Sutherland known for its salmon fishing and bountiful seas. 

“I grew up during the 80s,”, Mr Mackay continued, “and at that point, everyone who was out on the ocean was making a fair bit of coin. 

“When the fishing went well, the village did well and when people had money to spend, they would be out at the pubs and hotels. 

“My mother used to do the cooking in a wee pub called the Bannockburn Inn and I would spend my Saturday mornings peeling prawns, although nowadays I suppose you would call them langoustines. 

“I was lucky enough to know the taste of produce like wild salmon that would now be considered a prestigious menu item. 

“But, back then, then it was just food.” 

The Herald:

Although not afraid to admit that hours of shelling prawns hadn’t fully prepared him for coming face to face with a “17-kilo monkfish – still alive” in his first full-time kitchen role, these formative experiences inspired a reverence for locally sourced treasures that would follow Mr Mackay throughout his career. 

From a stint at his fisherman uncle Jim’s seafood restaurant, The Captain’s Gallery, to Michelin-starred establishments such as Nairn’s Boath House, he has witnessed many a food trend come and go but says that Scotland’s small-scale producers are at last experiencing a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. 

He said: “In the past ten or twenty years, there’s been a real shift in mindset. 

“It used to be that serving someone a piece of expensive French cheese or imported duck would make them feel like they were eating something special. 

“Now it’s all about, ‘have you tried this butter from Tain or cheese from Ardesie?’. 

“The market has become more conscious of how good our local produce is, and the relationship that restaurants and innkeepers have with the larder these days is fantastic. 

“Because that was how my cooking was honed, it all suits me just fine.” 

The Herald:

It’s not just the incredible quality of his ingredients that fuels Mr Mackay’s new menu at the Torrish restaurant on the leafy banks of the River Ness. 

“When I travel, I try to be environmentally present, and spend some time getting to know the place,” he said. 

“Eating Cape Wrath oysters and looking out over the Atlantic feels like standing at the edge of the world which puts me in the mind of a Sorley Maclean poem. 

“Or, if I’m out walking through the drizzle in the Cairngorms, I think of game or roe deer. 

“All I’m trying to do is give that same experience to anyone who eats at here, and put a bit of a story behind the dishes.” 

One such example of this philosophy is the roe deer & chicory at Torrish, inspired by the Camps coffee chicory extract made for Gordon’s highlanders and the soldier still depicted on the bottle’s label. 

The Herald:

Elsewhere is a lemon sole & langoustine dish dubbed ‘the roller coaster’, in honour of the undulations of the seabed found at a fishing ground in the Minch. 

“You hear so much romanticism when people are talking about gastronomic destinations like Tuscany," Mr Mackay said.

“I don’t know if it’s simply not in the character of the Scots, but we don’t tend to shout about ourselves as much. 

“Or maybe, the history is just waiting to be told through plates of food. 

“What I really want to achieve is a sense of identity rather than just relying on generic ‘fine dining’. 

“I’d rather we were getting a wee bit more noise and I think that ties in with the way that Scottish inns would traditionally welcome all kinds of gossip, stories, and mischief. 

“Scotland has produced many great poets and artists, and I don’t pretend to be either of those things, but I like to give a nod towards their spirit.” 

Torrish is located within the five-star Ness Walk hotel in Inverness. 

For more information, find their website here.