Published: February 2011
With its history as a famous Victorian spa town, Strathpeffer has long been a popular destination for tourists. Visitors can enjoy a walk to the Eagle Stone, or explore the Highland Museum of Childhood.
I'm told many tourists also head to the RedPoppy Restaurant as part of their stay. Opened in 2006, the restaurant is nestled at the back of the Strathpeffer Pavilion.
Although I'd been there for lunch before, I'd never had dinner at the RedPoppy. I went for my first evening meal there on the eve of the Strathpuffer cycling event. The dining room was full with an interesting mix of dressed-up locals and Gore-Tex-clad mountain bikers.
My boyfriend and I were welcomed by a friendly waitress and seated at a window table. Had it been daylight, we would have enjoyed a view of the pavilion's gardens. In fact, I think diners would get a good view wherever they sat as much of the Poppy's exterior is made of glass.
The restaurant's interior is just as pleasant. It has a clean, contemporary feel with red-and-white walls, wooden furnishings and modern art.
Now on to the important stuff – the food! The Poppy's evening menu has a huge range of options, including steaks, pasta, game and fish. We were spoilt for choice and could have picked several starters and main meals.
I eventually plumped for the soup of the day to start, a flavourful broccoli and Stilton which worked a treat with my glass of red wine. My boyfriend chose scallops served with chorizo and sweet chilli sauce. He reported that the scallops were tender and went well with the spicy kick.
My boyfriend had the RedPoppy mixed grill to follow. I've never seen a plate like it; it was piled high with a selection of steak, gammon, chicken, sausage, venison, black pudding and haggis. If you include the chorizo he had with the starter, that's a total of eight meat products in one meal! Although he was in his element (even ignoring his side salad and eating his chips) I'm glad to report he couldn't finish the enormous dish. Perhaps only a ravenous Strathpuffer contestant could manage that!
Deciding to try something new, I chose pork belly for my main. The meat was exceptionally tender, but too fatty a cut for me. It came in a rich, sweet gravy with lashings of mashed potato and vegetables.
After a good rest, we finished the meal by sharing a chocolate brownie. It looked fantastic, garnished with a lattice of coulis, a chocolate straw, fruit and a dusting of cocoa. It tasted just as good. I wasn't so keen on the accompanying pistachio ice cream, though – it had an odd marzipan flavour that tasted different from the versions I remember from childhood holidays in France.
By the end of the meal, we were absolutely stuffed. When the bill arrived (£53 including our two glasses of wine) with complimentary mints, we had to laugh – we couldn't manage another thing!
It's easy to take things that you pass by regularly for granted. With a wider and more adventurous evening menu and the same good food, the Poppy is even better at dinner time than it is at lunch. It rivals many Inverness restaurants and its convenient location is also part of its beauty. Next time I'm looking to go out for a special dinner, I'll take a leaf out of the tourists' book and think of the RedPoppy.
Quality of food: 8
Menu choice: 10
Value for money: 8
Summary: Spoilt for choice by a huge range on the evening menu. Clean, contemporary feel and a lovely location.
Ross-shire IV14 9DL
Tel: 01997 423332
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 8pm; Sunday lunch 12.30pm to 3.30pm; closed Mondays.