I was really surprised at how long the trip was to get to this lovely island. I left home at 8.40 am and was in my guest house at 3 pm. This included a 1-hour car ride to Gatwick then 2 hours on a plane to Glasgow. 20 minutes waiting for the hire car, then a 20-minute drive and a piece to camera at Greenock.
Next was a 20-minute ferry ride to Dunoon, then a lovely 40-minute drive over the mountains to another Ferry, less than 5 minutes (where Ali made us a cup of tea), then a further 30-minute drive to Rothesay, the main town on The Isle Of Bute.
We stayed at the Ivybank Villa and were very well looked after by Tom & Tina, who both cook a fabulous breakfast. They even let us do a piece to camera in a bath full of seaweed. Apparently, it’s good for your skin…
The next day we set off to explore the island, looking for lovely scenic shots and the occasional piece to camera. The island is beautiful and very unspoilt once you get out of Rothsay. We were looking for a farm called Plan farm, to the south of the island and a couple who left Somerset twenty years ago to pursue a farmers dream. Brian & Janet Hill sold a publishing business in Frome and moved the whole family north to become farmers (although both had farming blood in them by way of parents). They have been very successful, and whilst Janet looks after the sheep and lambs, Brian looks after the cattle and the new arm of the business, sausage making and smoking.
We filmed Brian in his smoker and tasted his award-winning and very famous ‘Sleeping Warrior’ sausage, named after a range of mountains Brian can see from his office. Meanwhile, Janet rounded up her sheep with the aid of 2 fabulous sheepdogs and a handy quad bike.
I was here not only to film but also to attend and also cook at the world-famous Eat Bute food festival. A celebration of all the island produces from chilli relishes to local vegetables and edible seaweed products. I even bumped into fellow chef Jeremy Lee who was cooking for the Marquis Of Bute on a Friday evening.
I was also given the challenge of cooking seaweed, yes seaweed. I have only ever used the stuff to garnish plates of oysters. Then the only real reason was the fact that plunged into boiling water certain varieties such as Bladderwrack and Spirol Wrack turn the most amazing green colour.
I met Ian Mckellar, a seaweed gatherer on a stretch of amazing coastline to harvest some of the edible varieties of seaweed.
I decided to cook with Spirol Wrack, top left and sea noodles, a type of seagrass that can grow up to 30 feet in length.
So off to the Eat Bute Fair and to the Mount Stewart House, where I took a little of Brian’s sausage and sautéed with a little chilli, ginger, red onions, and garlic. Added sliced sausages, cooked langoustine and blanched Spirol Wrack and cooked for a couple of minutes. Then finished with soy sauce and fresh coriander. I did cook a separate dish but added the sea noodles (grass) instead of the Spirol Wrack. The assembled group of people seemed to enjoy it very much, and I have to say it was pretty good and a dish I will cook again, perhaps for the family.
Back to the seaweed bath. Well, against my better judgement, I was press-ganged into trying out the bath by the director Janice. As you can see, it was an experience, something that I will remember for many a year. In fact, I did feel really good after, whether it was because it was different or just weird, but I can recommend it. Ian sells packs of air-dried seaweed by mail order, dried at his beachside camp seaweed.
Eating out in Rothesay is rather limited. There is, of course, the run of the mill Chinese and Indian fare. But we did find two pretty good restaurants. The Waterfront Bistro, simple local ingredients cooked well and the Brechins Bistro, again simple well-cooked food by a husband and wife team, both nice and friendly.
After another good nights sleep and another gut-busting breakfast, we headed off on the ferry to Greenock, then back to Glasgow and home. Another interesting trip and the food and island is very interesting, the people really friendly. I will definitely be back if it’s only for breakfast at the Ivybank…
My special thanks to all the staff and organisers at the Eat Bute festival for all the help and sorting out when a film crew arrives, also Johnny Bute for allowing us to use his stunning home. Also sorry to the lady and gentleman who I accidently spilt coffee over in Glasgow airport and the incredible nice Starbuck’s girls who gave me a new coffee for free.