Tiny unknown Scottish restaurant beats London^s smartest eateries to be crowned the UK^s most sustainable... and it^s so remote it^s only open six months a year
Article Date: 2015-03-17
A tiny Scottish restaurant that^s open only six months a year, has been crowned the joint winner of the UK^s most sustainable venue by the 2015 Sustainable Restaurant Awards.
Beating highly acclaimed restaurant^s The Hawksmoor, The Pig and Italian chain Carluccio^s, sea-food venue The Captain^s Galley, run by husband and wife team Mary and Jim Cowie, was praised for its green credentials alongside Daylesford, which runs three organic cafes.
Situated in Scotland^s most north-eastern county of Caithness, The Captain^s Galley lies in the town of Scrabster, a 30-minute drive from the airport of Wick.
The couple renovated the town^s old Ice House and Salmon Bothy in 2001 - dating back to the early 1800s - and opened their doors in October 2002.
They worked exclusively with local tradesmen to build the 30-seat restaurant, and saved one of Caithness^smost interesting buildings from falling into ruin.
All of the restaurant^s seafood is from wild, sustainable non pressure stock species, in season, from local like minded, inshore fishermen.
^Few restaurants can boast that their supplier and best friends are all the same people,^ says Jim Cowie.^We think more of our customers than to fill them up with chemicals [from fish farms] of which nobody knows the long-term effects.^
Mr Cowie was a fish auctioneer on fish markets for 35 years. He saw the decline of the fish industry years ago and at the age of 52 decided to completelychangecareer.
He went to the North Highland College to train as a chef, and his wife Mary gave up her nursing career of 30 years to work beside her husband as front of house.
Their son Ashley, a TV host on The History Channel and recently dubbed ^Scotland^s Indiana Jones^ is also a director of the company and is as hands on as possible when he is up from London.
^From time to time, on a full moon, I go rod fishing for wild sea trout,^ he says. ^It is so delicious and Dad is thrilled when I bring some home for him to cook for the restaurant.^
An expert in local history, Ashley explains the suitability of the restaurant: ^Caithness was the first area in the UK to adopt farming as a lifestyle around 4000BC.^
^The Captains Galley maintain this tradition by selecting and serving the best veg from the richest agricultural soils in the UK.
^My father is a more a craftsman than a chef. Where most chefs spoil fish by over cooking it and smothering it with sauces, he gently cooks the fish and let^s the wild sea taste speak for itself.^
^I wake up at 6am and pick herbs and green leaves from our poly tunnel,^he says.
^I then drive around Caithness handpicking veg from organic growers, and i^m at the fish market at 10am where I buy fish and shellfish directly from fishing boats.^
Nothing is wasted at therestaurantand almost everything is grown by the couple.
^We have chickens at our cottage which provides the restaurant^s eggs,^explains Mrs Cowie, ^and we grow fennel, rosemary, thyme, raspberries, strawberries, garlic and lemongrass ourselves.^
^We aim to achieve zero waste hence recycle and reuse as much as possible,^ explains Mr Cowie.
^We reuse paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, cans, and recycle small electrical items.^
Mr Cowie smokes all of his own fish by hand outdoors on a smoke machine he built himself.
^I keep used egg cartons for my fish smoker and the centre of toilet rolls to support young plants.
^All our wild game and seafood arrive whole, we adopt the nose to tail approach using every part, using the bones for stocks,^ he says.
^When filleting I select the most suitable for my fish stock, the rest are given to my crab and lobster boats and used for baiting their creels.
^We also filter the oil in our fish and chip pans, keeping it clean and healthy, adding fresh as required,^ he says. ^I even run my car on the old oil from the restaurant!^
At certain times of year when the specific foods are in season, Mary and Jim can be found down on the shore sourcing food.
^We collect winkles, oysters and seaweed which Jim uses for his home made sushi served in the restaurant,^ says Mrs Cowie.
Open from Easter to October to accommodate the short tourist season, reduce energy expenditure and because of the seasonality of the food, The Captain^s Galley has welcomed diners from a far afield as Australia and North America through its doors.
^We always can help them find accommodation,^ says Mr Cowie. ^Our favourite spots are sustainable guesthouses Pentland House and Pennyland House in Thurso, a few minutes down the road.^