After being closed all winter, I'm finally getting ready for the new season at Cote du Nord, opening the restaurant again at the end of the month.
Hopefully by then the weather will have turned a little warmer as March has been remarkably cold and much of the local produce I use is behind. Even the gutweed (a type of seaweed that I chop finely and use to flavour one of the types of bread roll) has barely made an appearance yet in Kirtomy bay.
The menu for the season will be completely new, to keep everything interesting and so returning customers will eat something different from last year. Some of the dishes will be replaced by others between now and October as ingredients come and go out of season.
I also like to have a few dishes up my sleeve in reserve. I serve a set menu, but adapt it as needed for any guests with special dietary requirements.
Innovation this year
One innovation that has taken a lot of preparatory work to get right is the little appetiser of the free-range egg yolk which is cooked inside out. Served on a canape spoon to be eaten in one mouthful, the trick is that as the diner bites into the egg yolk dusted with lightly fried rye breadcrumbs, they find it is full of warm wild mushroom soup, so that in effect, it explodes in the mouth.
The preparation (which has to be done at the last minute) involves removing the liquid centre of a raw egg yolk with a syringe and then quickly replacing it via another syringe with the hot mushroom soup. If the soup is not warm enough the remaining egg yolk will not cook, if too hot, the diner risks being scalded.
Another new dish is the potato baked in peat. Although this may sound quite unusual, it works well. For each person, peel a small potato, toss lightly in Highland rapeseed oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Now wrap tightly in wet muslin and place in a large casserole, covering all around with damp peat. Make sure the lid is tightly applied and bake in a warm oven for four hours.
At service, the casserole is shown to the customers and the potatoes carefully removed. Served with crowdie cheese and nettle, the potatoes will have acquired a wonderful, slightly smoky flavour and an incomparable creamy texture.
In the Scottish Highlands it is of course traditional to serve a broth and this year's version will be based on a richly flavoured mackerel stock and finished at the table in front of the guests by further infusing it with dried onion and dried kelp seaweed, with the aid of an old-fashioned glass coffee siphon. The final touch to this is a light creamy espuma, flavoured subtly with haggis.
Aside from the menu there have been new wines to taste for the wine list and some new serving ware to sort out, some of which Carol, a local glass artist, has fashioned for the restaurant from old bottles of Caorunn Highland Gin.
Add to those the large pebbles from the shingle beach especially adapted with holes for the cod brandade course and even the plates are unusual this year.
Cöte du Nord in Kirtomy, Sutherland, is open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 27 April to 5 October 2013. Visit cotedunord.co.uk