When the term ‘hidden gem’ really is worth using
The term ‘hidden gem’ is bandied about far too often these days, usually by those who have only just discovered a restaurant that’s been operating successfully for the past decade. In the case of An Cala Ciùin in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, which opened in Autumn last year, this is, for the moment at least, a true hidden gem but we don’t think that will be the case for too much longer.
An Cala Ciùin looks set to mark itself as the top dining destination in Mull, perhaps indeed Argyll, and definitely somewhere worth travelling to from Glasgow, Edinburgh, or further afield.
An Cala Ciùin is Gaelic for ‘calm harbour’ and the evidence from our visit in December suggests that this is indeed the case. You can think of it as a restaurant with rooms as it’s actually located within The Mishnish Hotel, one of the many famous brightly coloured buildings on the seafront (it’s the yellow one).
An Cala Ciùin is hidden away on the first floor, enter from the hotel reception and go up the stairs through the dining room door. There is also a separate seafood restaurant (The Mishdish) and bar with bar menu at street level, so if you’re staying for a few nights you can try them all.
Inside, it’s cosy, intimate and relaxed and feels more like someone’s home than a restaurant. We were greeted by Jamie, who literally is front of house, and we could see Ross cooking away.
There was a tasting menu (£90), a la carte (£38 – £45), and a special festive menu on our visit. We opted for the tasting menu to get the full experience. You can have paired wines for an additional £50pp. As we only had to stagger upstairs afterwards we were easily cajoled…
A la carte menu at An Cala Ciùin
Tasting Menu at An Cala Ciùin
What we ate and drank
The first drink was a cocktail, made with Il Mille, a sparkling wine from Italy with meadowsweet sorbet and apricot liqueur, imparting a honey aroma and apricot taste.
Snacks to start included crystal bread topped with Isle of Mull crab and dehydrated sea herbs. This is inspired by the crystal bread of the famous Catalan restaurant El Builli. It takes hours to make but is devoured in seconds! Think of it like a crisp puff pastry which shatters. The other snack was a truffle and buttermilk ice cream with port and caviar. A cold, sweet and salty savoury ice cream cone.
The first course proper was Isle of Mull langoustine with caviar, shellfish consommé, and dehydrated heritage tomatoes. The spots on the plate are concentrated basil gel, which always compliments tomato, and there are edible flower petals too.
This was a light, refreshing dish reminiscent of summer. The balance of seafood and herby flavours was delicious, with the dehydrated heritage tomato skin bringing an earthiness to the dish.
Our first wine pairing was L’empreinte de Saint-Mont 2019, a pale golden wine with a rich, creamy peachy aroma. Good body and a peach taste.
Next up was hand-dived scallop with butternut squash, pumpkin seed, burnt orange, and dehydrated scallop dust. Before diving in, we dipped a pinkie into the scallop dust and it was so sweet. The scallop was plump and perfectly cooked, served alongside two styles of butternut squash. The pumpkin seed balanced the sweetness of the scallop and squash.
The next wine pairing was a Domaine Leflaive Chardonnay 2020 from Macon-villages, which was pale lemon in colour with a bit of an ash aroma. It was creamy and full-bodied with high acidity, and a lemon taste.
Dish number three was steamed cod with squid ink, octopus, celeriac, black olive tapenade and squid ink tuile. The styling here reminded us of Kaiseki dishes that we‘d experienced in Japan (see here and here). The delicate, moist cod was enhanced by the bold olive and squid ink flavours.
Course four was roast partridge with a confit leg, parsnip, and salsify. Melt in the mouth partridge with a perfectly salty jus. This was served with a Vignamaggio Chianti Classico 2017 from Italy. This had a really leathery aroma and smooth taste.
Number five was Isle of Mull venison from Glengorm, Jerusalem artichoke with lemon breadcrumb, baby turnip, crispy kale. Even boring kale tastes amazing here! The venison had been browned and roasted to pink perfection so was lovely and tender.
This was accompanied by Beringer Founders’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 from California.
This had aromas of tobacco, cedar, violet and incense, with a blackcurrant and bramble taste.
Next a ‘Ledaig Sour’ palate cleanser before dessert. This is the peaty whisky made on the same street at the other side of the bay turned into a sorbet. It was zingy and refreshing considering the peat flavour.
A taste of the brandy apple mousse with a mulled wine sorbet from the a la carte menu. . Look at that presentation. Tart apple pieces surrounded by mousse atop a buttery crumb. Superb.
The last dish of the day, course number seven was milk chocolate mille-feuille with almond cream and popcorn ice cream. This was a perfect multi-layered pudding with creaminess, good crunch, caramelised flavours and of course, milk chocolate and who doesn’t love chocolate to end a meal? For dessert, we had a choice of wine so had one of each: a ruby reserve port, and a Saint-Albert Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2016 from France. Both were lovely and sweet.
But – there was still space for a petit four. Tempered chocolate with basil-infused cream and strawberry gel (we said earlier that basil always goes well with tomatoes but it’s also equally good with strawberry).
The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides group of islands, is well known for seafood. Accompany this with nearby Glengorm meats; Isle of Mull Cheese and Spirit; Tobermory Fish; and other local suppliers, and you have provenance alongside produce that shines. Ross was lured back to Mull by this local larder and has put it to good use. Our food was astounding, and our second-best meal of 2023, just below the Cellar in Fife but more enjoyable than the three-Michelin started Helen Darroze at the Connaught. We would highly recommend a visit.
This was shamefully our first visit to Tobermory and Mull but we have vowed to return, hopefully later this year. If you decide to go, it’s a foodie paradise with Tobermory Distillery, Tobermory Fish, The Island Bakery and Isle of Mull Cheese and spirits all within walking distance.
We were invited to review on a complimentary basis and reviewed as if visiting independently.
An Cala Ciùin, Mishnish Hotel, Main St, Isle of Mull PA75 6NU
We used public transport to get there. You can take the train or bus from Glasgow to Oban (2-3 hours) then catch a ferry to Craignure (1 hour). When we visited in December there were three buses per day to and from the ferry terminal, each taking around an hour (stay on until the last stop). In summer there will probably be a bus waiting for every ferry.
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Wednesday – Saturday
12:00 – 14:30
17:30 – 22:00