“ Kyle of Lochalsh, Ross-Shire, IV40 8DH. Tel:01599 566283 „
Balmacara is a tiny village on the shore of Lochalsh, on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye. It consists of a few houses, a shop, a campsite and the Balmacara Hotel. It is the village my parents and I rented a cottage in during our recent visit to the area.
The Balmacara Hotel is, without a doubt, the most noticeable feature of the village. A large white building, it stands on the roadside just waiting for coachloads of tourists looking for their lunch. The front of the hotel has the main reception and a large conservatory dining room, while round the side of the building to the left is the public bar. I haven't stayed in the hotel so can't comment on the rooms, but we did eat there twice and partake in a few pints of Tennents lager.
The hotel was within walking distance of our cottage, but with the weather being absolutely atrocious and my mum not terribly mobile, we mostly drove round to it. My first impression of the public bar was that it was a bare place. There were about five tables, but all very large to sit around six people, a flat screen on the wall, a pool table and the bar itself. Unlike the nearby Dornie Hotel, the Balmacara Hotel hasn't lost all sense and does serve Tennent's lager for £2.90 a pint, and my mum's ginger beer and lime was only £1. It was a bit cool in the bar, which I think is down to the design and layout of the place, but I couldn't quite decide whether to keep my jacket on or not.
Our first meal there was in the public bar. I had the seafood curry (I was feeling adventurous), my dad had chasseur chicken and my mum had steak and ale, which was intriguingly named on the menu as "a marriage of steak and ale". Each main course was around £8-£10. The food was good, none of us had any complaints except me about the bones I found in my curry, but I think that's a hazard of seafood.
We went back a few times for a drink, and then one night halfway through the week I got a bit grumpy about the fact that I been promised spectacular views on this holiday and hadn't got them due to the rubbish weather, so I wanted to take advantage of the other thing I had been promised, a pub within walking distance. So I told my dad we were going for an evening pint, and off we went. We got as far as the end of the drive - the north west Highlands aren't Ealing, or even our home village in north east Scotland. It gets very dark in the Highlands. We went back inside and got some tinnies from the fridge.
The next day, we tried again, me having figured out how to work the torch on my mobile. This time we made it to the hotel, only to discover the public bar was shut. We went into the main reception area, and ordered drinks from the bar there. The girl told us that the public bar shuts on the first Friday of October until March, and although we were still a couple of days away from this, business was so slow they had shut early that evening. The main reception area was in fact a nicer place to sit than the public bar - lighter, warmer and more comfortable with a selection of squashy armchairs. I did however have issues with my pint on this occasion - there was a strong whiff of egg coming from it, although there was nothing wrong with the taste. So I stole my dads which didn't smell and gave him mine, which he said there was nothing wrong with!
On the last night of our holiday, which was the first Friday in October, we went back to the hotel for our tea at around 6pm, thinking the public bar would be open. It wasn't. Again we went to the main entrance and were told we could have a meal from the bar menu in the main dining room, although they were supposed to be residents only at this point. This conservatory was freezing when we arrived, and despite the heating being on it didn't improve. But we did feel glad to be inside given the rain lashing horizontally against the windows.
My dad and I both had the fish and chips, while my mum went for the half chicken and chips - she's not a big eater, so I don't know what she was thinking, but her face when she saw the amount of chicken on her plate was priceless. The fish and chips were very greasy. The batter was interesting and had some herbs in it, but the overall effect was grease, and it just wasn't pleasant. It's a shame, because the fish was nice, but I hate overly greasy fish - I've never had anything like this from a chipper, and you expect grease from there.
The service on every occasion was very good. The two times we ate there, the food came quickly, and the staff were all friendly and helpful.
Perhaps it is different during the summer season, but my main impression of the Balmacara Hotel was of unreliability. The food was on the whole good, aside from one whiffy pint the lager was good, the bar could have been cosier but it was ok - but at this time of year, late September/early October, you just can't rely on the public bar being open when you would expect it to be.
The Balmacara Hotel is stunningly situated on the shores of Loch Alsh, approximately 3 miles from Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge.The Hotel enjoys an outstanding location and provides an ideal leisure break destination. We look to provide traditional Highland Hospitality and accommodation.