The Dipping Lugger is the brainchild of Robert Hicks and Helen Chalmers, creating something very unique in Ullapool that as Michelin would say is ‘exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.’
If you work to the less popular but nonetheless enthusiastically defended definition, a ‘staycation’ should strictly mean a holiday you take at home. Here at Luxuriate Life we take pleasure in the journey, so this is not a definition we recognise. That said, there is something to be said about surrounding yourself with the relaxed influence of home comforts after a long journey, so we hit the road (all 626 miles of it) to discover one of the homeliest hotel experiences on the UK mainland at The Dipping Lugger.
For me, Ullapool has always been a stopover on the way somewhere else. You pass through to catch the ferry to the Outer Hebrides, or stock up on sun cream before hitting the unspoilt golden beaches of the northwest. Even its status on the much-publicised North Coast 500 route around the very top of Scotland seems to endorse this – “come for the coastline, the landmark extremities of the British mainland and the wilderness”, the materials seem to say – and, “oh yes, there are also some towns with petrol stations and supermarkets” they add. “You’ll be needing those”.
Tonight, however Ullapool is a destination in its own right. The end of a long road winding up through the dramatic scenery of the Cairngorms and the northwest Highlands. A road that rises and falls through mist and dappled sunlight – a loch or a stream round every bend – before joining what passes for rush hour in these parts; the slow road into town behind the campervans and hire cars headed for the ferry. And not forgetting the incredible sunsets at 11pm during the summer. Be sure to also stock up on Ullapool delights including Seven Crofts gin and local oysters at The Arch Inn next door.
The Dipping Lugger experience
If there’s one thing you want after a long journey, it’s a warm welcome. If there are two things, it’s a warm welcome and a bed that swallows you up in a restorative hug of fresh white sheets.
If there are three things, it’s:
- A warm welcome
- A brilliant and more than satisfying dinner
- A restorative hug of fresh linen
Lucky then, that the Dipping Lugger can offer all three in bucket loads.
A warm welcome
This warm welcome comes courtesy of manager Calum Robertson, who emerges from the whitewashed former manse to greet weary travellers and help them to their lodgings. For us, the placid surroundings of the MacInnes room, where a plump cushion rests on every seat and squirrels lurk in the arboreal wallpaper.
The room is named after the family who converted the house to one of the town’s first bed and breakfasts, and the story of their purchase and life in Ullapool is reflected in the artwork and accessories within the room. This really is a home away from home.
If you can draw yourself away from either of the windows with views of the evocative Loch Broom and the Fannich mountains, there is a large en suite bathroom with a freestanding bath, separate shower and enough floor space for some light ballroom dancing.
Before dinner, there is time to explore the top floor ‘sweet shop’ fully stocked to cater to all your Tunnock’s and pre-dinner drinking requirements, or head to the ground floor lounge where you can flick through owner Helens’ record collection, take a seat beside or on the club-fendered fireplace or watch a family of seals dine in the long evening shadow of the Caledonian MacBrayne’s evening boat to Stornoway.
The Dipping Lugger Tasting Menu dinner
This is a seven-course tasting menu inspired by the abundant larder of northern Scotland. You may consider adding the wine pairing – we strongly recommend you do. Without it, you’d miss out on the delight of the Stargazer Chardonnay which is a world away from both Ullapool and the dated view of the oft-maligned grape. This wild fermented single vineyard wine brings a pine, passionfruit and melon explosion of balanced acidity to accompany a ring box sized serving of monkfish which sits on a bed of gnocchetti with a tart smoked edge from curry spices and lemon.
The menu is seamlessly delivered by Head Chef David Smith, whose tasting menu showcases some of the fantastic produce that surrounds the area including some of the seafood that Ullapool is famous for. David delivers these detour worthy feasts alone in his one person kitchen with grace, good humour and a genuine love of cooking. David is a chef that doesn’t stop and his talent and character shines through his menu of gustatory delights.
Staying with the pairing, the Yealands Single Vineyard PGR (Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling blend) accentuates the bite of merguez in the spiced carrot with pesto, yoghurt and carrot espuma that follows.
Other dishes include halibut – served on top of celeriac and savoy cabbage drizzled in a honeyed Madeira jus and accompanied by LaOsa’s Albarín which carries blueberries, mango, the forest floor and marzipan to the table – and roe deer loin with pancetta-wrapped oxtail and chanterelles. This latter is married up to a wild fermented Shiraz from the aptly named Ladies who Shoot their Lunch which leads with cedar, black berry and redcurrant.
Towards the end of the meal, the journey turns towards dessert, but before you get there, a slither of Black Bomber from Snowdonia which is the very soft side of crumbly and served with homemade oatcakes as erosive as fresh shortbread and a glass of a demerara-rich single harvest Tawny port from Quinto do Crasto. Behind this in the queue comes the compressed strawberry dessert with a vanilla espuma, mint and basil from the garden and a strawberry tuille.
We finish at the table with coffee and sweets (buckthorn jellies and ruby chocolate) and take the short trip to the lounge for a post-prandial whisky from the tasting room cupboard, the travails of the road now long forgotten. They sink further into memory as we climb the stairs to recline in the restorative hug of fresh linen beneath a tartan blanket as the mist rolls in from the south.
Breakfast the following morning is a la carte, with all the usual Highland delicacies – porridge,, black pudding, smoked salmon and a full Scottish breakfast on offer. A couple of cups of strong black coffee also help to invigorate us for the road ahead, on across streams and through rolling hills, past lighthouses and golf courses to the slithers of golden sands and the Summer Isles beyond. All the magnetic sights that draw visitors on through Ullapool with a full cool box and a full tank.
In a nutshell
With all that still to see, you may feel the pull of the road calling you on through the town, but you now have cause to resist. A second night and a new tasting menu, perhaps? Chef David will be happy to oblige. Even if you cannot prolong your stay, there is now no reason not to linger in Ullapool. Head off the main road to the whitewashed former manse, avail yourself of one of these immaculately presented luxury rooms, an exquisite meal and a warm welcome even though you may be a long way from home.
Dinner, bed and breakfast from £390 (based on two sharing).
To discover more, visit thedippinglugger.co.uk
All imagery courtesy of The Dipping Lugger unless stated otherwise
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