Published: May 2012
Pick a table close to the door of this long-established eatery and it is indeed possible to enjoy a view of the city's best-known landmark while you dine.
While a visit to the castle itself often leaves visitors rather bemused – you can't actually get inside unless you have business with the sheriff court or have recently been arrested – the same cannot be said of its humble namesake, over which it towers.
There's something reassuringly upfront about the Castle Restaurant before you even cross its threshold. Unlike many of its more upmarket competitors, it displays its menu and prices right out front for all to see. It's a simple marketing ploy and it does indeed stop people in their tracks, particularly visitors looking to stretch their budgets as far as they can.
The restaurant is right to do so too as in the value for money stakes, it's pretty hard to beat. With no pretensions to fine dining or anything too fancy, the Castle Restaurant targets a demographic looking for no-nonsense grub in decent portions at prices you can't quibble with.
So if you're browsing the afternoon and evening menu, you'll discover starters like prawn cocktail from £4.10 and soup of the day at £2.45. A big old sirloin steak with peas, tomatoes and chips comes in at the £12.45 mark while sausage, bacon and egg is £6.85. A Highland breakfast (without chips!) is £6.30 and is guaranteed to fill.
The children's menu offers smaller portions for youngsters under the age of 11. Pretty much everything is offered with chips (few children will argue with that!), ranging from chicken nuggets (£3.40) to macaroni and cheese (£3.30) to the somewhat more offbeat cold ham and peas (£3.40).
The split level restaurant is long and narrow with comfortable fixed bench booth-style seating. An array of waitresses are ranged strategically with a view of incoming diners and the service they offer is quick and courteous. We had drinks on the table within two minutes of sitting down.
While the decor is basic and dated, that is perhaps part of the place's charm. It boils down to a compact eatery with cream-coloured walls, burgundy seats and a few fairly uninspiring paintings dotted around. Tellingly though, it's often busy with plenty of repeat customers who appear to know the menu inside out.
Drawn towards the mixed grill (£10.50) – which seemed to be a fairly representative dish on the menu – I was rewarded with a gargantuan portion of liver, sausage, bacon and a fried egg. Oh yes, and crinkle cut chips. Now while it's unlikely to appear on any nutritionist's top five recommended meals, this stodgy combo, washed down with a pot of tea (a very reasonable £1.20), hit the spot.
One of the younger members in the party plumped for that evergreen children's favourite, chicken nuggets and chips. The dish was served with beans though sauce was extra – the only real demerit of the evening. And like the burger in a seeded bun served with chips, the nuggets got an unqualified thumbs up. "Better than McDonald's", opined one. "As good as the school canteen," observed another.
The gateau with cream ordered at random by one of the children was voted a big hit although the choc nut sundae was assessed "too nutty". The clue was perhaps in the name, though to be fair it did seem as though someone was trying to get rid of an awful lot of nuts in the one dish.
The Castle Restaurant is unpretentious and unashamed in the market it targets. Sandwiched between Spanish and American eateries, this may be as close to old-fashioned British dining as you'll find in the Highland capital.
It does what it does very well and at very reasonable prices. While not perhaps the first port of call for the vegetarian (vegetable lasagne £7.80), it's Ronseal – does exactly what it says on the tin – approach works well.
The waitresses there are what mark out the Castle Restaurant from the rather soulless self-serve style eatery seen in many visitor attractions. Be sure and give them a tip!
Quality of food: 7
Menu choice: 7
Value for money: 9
Summary: The Castle Restaurant does what it does very well in a tough, competitive market, attracting a diner typically looking for a filling, no-nonsense tuck in.
Tel: 01463 230925