This is one of four stories about what to drink, eat and do and where to stay on the Scottish island of Islay. Want to know all the tips? Liquor.com's Everything Guide to Visiting Islay has you covered.
In most major cities in the USA, restaurants that use local ingredients wear it like a badge of pride. On Islay, however, local products are axiomatic. And necessary. Wherever you go, whether it’s the local pub or a more formal eatery (though take note that “formal” is relative), you’ll find a welcoming vibe, classic fare, and, of course, a remarkable malt collection.
A sprawling high-ceilinged space, formerly a room for grain storage, sits in one of the buildings off the seaside courtyard at the enduring Ardbeg distillery. It houses a gift shop with an impressive book selection and Old Kiln Café, a super-mellow eatery that offers fresh-baked breads and pastries, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and toasties, as well as heartier dishes like steak and, of course, haggis. It’s a popular spot for locals as well as the many visitors fueling up for a distillery visit.
Power move: From time to time, the restaurant serves rolls made with the distillery’s spent grain from the distillery. They’re not available regularly, so ask if they have any in-house.
+44 (0)1496 302 244
The pub/restaurant connected to Bowmore Hotel is a genuine family affair. Linda helms the kitchen, fixing up a vast array of dishes with local ingredients. Her husband, Peter, a former pro football player who favors dapper suits, roams the premises pulling pints and chatting with anyone interested in fancy Italian cars, which he collects. Their son, also Peter, has curated the bar’s malt collection—about 1,100 bottles and counting—and it’s heavy on special releases. You’d be well served to take his recommendations seriously.
Power move: One wall is adorned with a expansive painting by noted Scottish muralist Sean O’Leary. There’s a devil hidden in the mesmerizing Bruegel-esque scene. Reserve time to solve the puzzle.
Jamieson Street, Bowmore
+44 (0)1496 810 416
With its minimalist dining room awash in natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, an open kitchen and a small wood-paneled bar, the vibe at SeaSalt Bistro, one of the island’s newest eateries, strikes a balance between Nordic sleek and Islay cozy. It’s open morning, noon and night every day, so you can pop in for a cappuccino in the morning, pizza in the afternoon or an indulgent seafood dinner—or all of the above. Reservations are recommended for dinner. It’s also a popular option for takeout.
Power move: Got little ones? SeaSalt Bistro offers many options for kids’ meals.
57 Frederick Crescent, Port Ellen
+44 (0)1496 300 300
Lunch: $5–$25, dinner: £5.50–$60
Fourth-generation owner Iain MacLellan helms the kitchen at this historic joint, which consists of an eatery adorned with his family photos, memorabilia from the long-shuttered Port Charlotte distillery and maritime décor and of a pub that’s popular with locals getting off work at the distilleries. Food runs the gamut from fish and chips to curries and a seafood platter that puts New England’s finest to shame. In the pub, there’s football on the telly, a steady flow of lager and Dolly Parton on the jukebox. The malt collection includes lots of rare treasures.
Power move: The seafood platter’s langoustines, scallops, lobster and more are caught fresh each morning. So you must call 24 hours ahead to order.
Main Street, Port Charlotte
+44 (0)1496 850 202
Bridgend Hotel, which was built more than 150 years ago, features an unfussy pub-like bar as well as a more swish, yet still laid-back, restaurant that overlooks a private garden that will put your squarely in the mind of an English estate. The focus here is uber-local, what with herbs grown on-site, vegetables from the Islay House Community Garden, and game, lamb and seafood sourced from Islay Estates, which owns the hotel. It’s the only hotel on Islay to source lamb and game from its own property. Talk about terroir.
Power move: The restaurant offers access to the gardens, so get there early, kick back and work up an appetite while taking in the island tranquility.
+44 (0)1496 810 221