There’s plenty of good food to be enjoyed on a day out or during a few days stay in Burray and South Ronaldsay, the connected islands 'over the barriers’.
Many people arrive in Orkney with Pentland Ferries from Gills Bay, then drive up the hill, turn left and keep straight on to Kirkwall. If they don’t head back over the Churchill Barriers until their boat home they miss some fine opportunities for eating out during their stay. They also miss St Margaret's Hope's popular South Ronaldsay Golf Course which welcomes visitors. Nine holes and eighteen trees - you’ll need something to eat after a round there.
The Murray Arms in St Margaret’s Hope is probably Orkney’s only dedicated seafood restaurant.
Owner Gina Brown explained that the family’s main business is shellfish and that they own three boats, primarily for hand-diving scallops in Scapa Flow and around the Northern Isles. They also deal in brown crabs and lobster and, through a sister business, send their shellfish to London two or three times a week. Running a hotel with a seafood restaurant was a natural progression.
Scallops are often shucked just before they go into the pan and a favourite way of cooking them at The Murrays is simply seasoned with smoked salt and seaweed, which Gina says allows the flavour of the truly fresh fish to shine through. I’ve had Gina’s scallops and I know just how good they are. Seafood platters and tagliatelle with salmon and shellfish are popular dishes too, as well as half and whole lobsters, always a holiday treat.
Chatting to some visitors in the village one day I was told that they were staying in Kirkwall and were down for their second lunch at The Murray Arms in the week!
Another good place to eat scallops, and lots of other Islands produce too, is The Sands Hotel in Burray. Their menu proudly explains exactly who their suppliers are for all their Orkney ingredients and, as they are just a few hundred metres from the Orkney Gin Company, they have the full range of the very local spirits.
I have a particular weakness for their scallops with orange and leeks. For more home-style cooking while in Burray and South Ronaldsay, visit Robertsons Coffee Hoose and Bar in St Margaret’s Hope. A third generation family business, the cafe is in a former local grocery store and has the original counter and shelving inside, creating a very warm and friendly atmosphere.
Deciding that, with two other general stores trading in the village, a cafe and meeting place was more needed for the future of the community, the coffee hoose was born and it is always busy. Their signature lasagne is all about Orkney beef, milk and cheese and hikers with dogs will find covered seating outside.
September saw the last opportunity for lunch at The Skerries Bistro at Cleat, near Burwick, at the very southern tip of South Ronaldsay. With stunning views across the Pentland Firth this restaurant was also known for seafood and Hamish, the chef-patron, cured and smoked his own salmon. It is sad indeed to see this restaurant close after 15 successful years,
Of course, eating out is not just about ‘proper meals’ - there is coffee and cake eating out too. The Polly Kettle tearoom in Burray has a growing reputation for both its drinks and bakes and friends who live close by seem to be there almost as often as they put their own kettle on, which is a good recommendation for sure. It is run by an Egyptian couple who have become valued members of this small community and there are plenty of local crafts to tempt you while you enjoy the fine coffee.
These opportunities for eating out are just the beginning of what Orkney has to offer. Come, explore and taste for yourselves.