Are you sure we're going the right way? I've seen nothing but sheep for the past five miles. Don't worry. The Three Chimneys is one of the more remote top-class restaurant-hotels, down a single-track road alongside a beautiful loch on a peninsula on Skye, an island off Scotland's northwest coast. It's a five-to-six-hour drive from Glasgow or Edinburgh. With an area nearly 50 per cent larger than that of Hong Kong, but a population of just 10,000, Skye is one of the world's most beautifully empty places, dominated by the jagged peaks of the Cuillin mountain range and vast expanses of moorland.
So it should be easy to get a reservation, right? Er, no. The Three Chimneys has gained a worldwide reputation as one of the best restaurants in Britain - and Skye is one of Scotland's most popular tourist destinations. Book months in advance.
Wait, is this a restaurant or a hotel? Primarily a restaurant. Owners Shirley and Eddie Spear opened a boutique hotel next door, called The House Over-By, in 1999, with six beautifully decorated luxury suites. Looking out over Loch Dunvegan (where much of the restaurant's seafood is caught), you can see clear across to the Isle of Harris, on the Outer Hebrides, on clear days (sometimes rare with Skye's comically changeable weather). A room that is no more than stumbling distance from the restaurant certainly helps make the well-curated wine flight an attractive option with dinner.
So why open a restaurant in the middle of nowhere? The Spears fell in love with the place and moved from London with their family when what was then a small tearoom in a 19th-century croft house came on the market, in 1984 (a croft is a subsistence farm, once the typical way of life in Scotland's highlands and islands). "I was very concerned about Scotland's poor reputation for good food, knowing that there was no restaurant scene to speak of, generally, but that good cooking happened in people's homes mostly by women cooks, not professional chefs," says Shirley Spear. "Scotland has an amazing culinary heritage and this seemed to have been all but forgotten. It seemed that no one took any pride in Scottish food and drink, our traditional recipes and cooking methods. I wanted to change that, but also wanted a building that would reflect the historic side of Scottish life."
So what's on the menu? A lot of seafood, much of it caught metres from the front door - scallops, haddock, lobster, salmon and oysters all feature on the tasting menu, paired with other local and seasonal ingredients such as black pudding, quail eggs, Isle of Mull cheddar, etc. Those sheep aren't spared either - the hardy local black-face breed are a regular meat option, served up after an organic, free-range life on the moors and mountains. In fact, the restaurant helps a host of local fishermen and farmers make a living. The cuisine under new chef Scott Davies is fairly traditional and restrained, the emphasis being on the quality and freshness of the produce, but with the odd excursion into more experimental techniques. Finnish sommelier Petri Pentikainen used to be a high-flying management consultant and finance guy before deciding, like many of the hotel's staff, to make a switch to the simple life (there was also a former rocket scientist working there when we visited).
Is there anything to do except stuff your face? Skye's an outdoor paradise, with some of the best hiking and mountaineering in the world. The stunning peaks of the Cuillins are like something out of Lord of the Rings. Cycling, fishing, kayaking are all popular, too. For those less action-inclined, the island is packed with history - bloody landmarks of Scotland's clan wars, medieval castles - and just driving around enjoying the scenery is rewarding in itself.
What's the bottom line? Dinner at the Three Chimneys will cost between HK$700 and HK$1,500 per person. Rooms at The House Over-By (above) are about HK$4,000 per night, including breakfast but not dinner. For more details, go to threechimneys.co.uk.