OUR TOP FIVE ARRAN EATERIES
The Happy Family is on holiday — hooray, hooray!
Even better than being on holiday is doing it in the best place in the known universe. Yes, Majorca is lovely, but it can get a bit warm and burny at this time of year (and also — mini disco). Yes, the Maldives look idyllic, but cabin fever tends to set in around day five, as does the guilt about their human rights record and how little those super-obliging staff members are actually being paid. And when you’ve got a kid in tow, a nine-to-five job and a limited budget, it’s just not possible to visit all those other exotic places that were on your hit list when you were footloose and fancy free. So what’s the answer? One word: Arran.
Full disclosure: I’m completely and utterly biased. I’ve been coming to Arran my entire life. Technically, that should’ve put me off it. My early holidays here were camping in a farmer’s field in a quiet part of the island, with no actual camping facilities — the water supply was the burn that ran through the field, we provided our own rudimentary toilet facilities (use your imagination) and the only evening entertainment was the lounge bars at the two nearby hotels (strictly in the mode of the 1970s — entirely fair, as initially it was actually the 1970s). And let’s not even start on the midges.
When I was three, I thought all of this was marvellous — camping adventures by day, and then at night, hanging out with the grown ups, the smell of McEwan’s Export and Woodbines heavy in the air, and being taught how to play pool by a nice ten-year-old and her dad. By the time I was eight, I was beginning to realise that other people were going to Benalmadena and staying in actual hotels, with actual swimming pools. It lost its sheen a bit after that, and I suffered through until my parents graduated to renting a static caravan in one of the larger towns on the island. I began to appreciate Arran again — but then I hit the age where it’s much more attractive to stay at home with an empty house while your folks go on holiday, so Arran and I parted company for a few years.
In my early twenties, during a very stressful period where I needed a break but absolutely couldn’t afford to go abroad, I remembered dear old Arran. I suddenly felt a strong urge to go back, and so I rented a static caravan in the very same park I used to visit with my parents — and it gave me back my sanity.
The ferry ride over does something magical; it’s as if it finds the end of your stress thread and starts to pull it the moment you set off from Ardrossan. By the time you reach Brodick, it’s completely unwound. That week, I explored parts of the island I never knew existed (even though they’d been right in front of my nose before), experienced the warmth and kindness of the islanders, enjoyed wonderful local food and drink, and received a call offering me a job interview that changed the course of my career. Since then, I can’t get enough of the place.
Luckily for me, everything about Arran has moved on to precisely the vibe I’m looking for — contemporary, family friendly and high quality. Much of this change was driven by the expansion of the Auchrannie resort, from its original offering of a quaint country house hotel to the development of the award-winning Auchrannie Spa Resort, replete with The Play Barn, the saviour of many parents’ sanity since it opened a few years ago. Other local accommodation and services have upped their game accordingly, making this one of the best family destinations in the UK. Read on to find out our favourite Arran eating places (in no particular order) to enjoy as a family, as we show you a very small part of what Arran has to offer families looking for the best holiday possible.
THE ORMIDALE HOTEL
Brodick, KA27 8BQ
This place has the franchise on rustic charm in Arran. The main bar and conservatory haven’t changed much in the last 20 years and more (although to be fair, the Arran Blonde on draught does make my earlier recollections somewhat unreliable), but it’s ace — beautiful individually carved little tables in the bar, a contemporary lounge with comfy leather couches, and a huge conservatory that serves as the main dining area and event space. I’d been here quite a bit in my pre-child days, and the Saturday night disco is something of a legend — especially round about Highland Games time, when there’s an inordinate number of young, single mainland types over getting up to all sorts. Ah, those were the days!
Even though we’ve been to Arran a lot as a family in the last six years, I’d always avoided taking Happy Boy to The Ormi, as in my head it was for grown ups. Happily, when we were over at Easter, we took a chance — and he loved it! That says something, as he’s usually all about Auchrannie’s Cruize Bar (with its soft play room off the main bar), and nothing else will do. But at The Ormi, he got some great unpatronising chat from staff and punters alike, met lots of friendly dogs, and generally began to see himself as a person, and one capable of holding a conversation that wasn’t entirely about Pokemon (although admittedly there was a lot of Star Wars and Doctor Who instead). So this time, staying at the same accommodation as we did at Easter, a mere stone’s throw away, his first choice for dinner was The Ormi. He was gutted to discover that the Saturday disco is over 21s only, but I predict he’ll be in like Flynn as soon as he’s allowed…!
We arrived at 5.45pm for dinner on the first Saturday of the Scottish school summer holidays — and we were the first ones there. But we were glad we were, as 15 minutes later, every table in the large conservatory was full! Dinner was delicious — scampi for me (as usual!), a lamb burger for Happy Daddy and a beef burger for Happy Boy, washed down with an obligatory pint of Arran Blonde for the adults and an apple juice for the Boy Wonder. We could see that tables were in demand, so we took ourselves off to the lounge for a couple of drams of Arran 10yo (and another apple juice for the wean), with our tab following seamlessly. The staff were fantastic, even enquiring about Happy Boy’s specific salad preferences (“tomato and cucumber only, please”), whether he might like a sneaky bit of bacon on that beef burger (<delighted face> “Yes, please!”), and just how many ice cubes he would like in his apple juice.
So to summarise — fantastic staff, excellent service, tasty grub, great prices, lovely atmosphere, and a good drinks selection, including lots of local stuff. We love The Ormidale!
Shore Road, Brodick KA27 8BA
Little Rock is the bee’s knees, pure and simple. Serving gorgeous food at very reasonable prices, including one of the finest (all day) full Scottish breakfasts you will ever taste, Little Rock has established itself as the place to go for breakfast, brunch, lunch and snacks in Brodick, and there are often queues for tables reflecting its popularity.
With a dog friendly picnic table set-up outside (including water bowls for thirsty pooches), and an accessible and spacious nautical-themed interior (with a dog friendly area in there too), it’s a place that welcomes everyone, from pets to babes in arms to your great-great-gran. Follow your main course with a huge and delicious cake from their vast selection (it’s all about balance, after all), or one of their jaw-dropping milkshakes.
Handy tip: lunch service starts at 11.45am. It’s a good time to arrive to avoid the queue.
If you’re only in Arran for a day trip, make sure you go here. You won’t regret it!
Eden Lodge Hotel, Whiting Bay KA27 8QH
“Felicity, Felicity, you fill me with electricity!” So declared Rik in The Young Ones — and while he was talking about Felicity Kendall, we’re happy to transfer his sentiment to this gorgeous bar/restaurant in Whiting Bay.
Now, I’m old enough to remember this particular space in its former incarnation. I’m not going to tell you just how far back I can go, but suffice to say we’re talking more than one decade, back to when it was very much of the veneer/formica/vinyl seating oeuvre. But what a change! Felicity’s is a contemporary, bright, airy and welcoming bar and restaurant, with food to die for, a great wine list and an impressive cocktail menu to boot. And not only that — they also serve two decent non-alcoholic beers for those of us who are always the designated driver (it’s these little things that make a big difference!).
We’ve been here quite a few times over the last year, and the food is consistently excellent — a wide and varied menu, supplemented by an impressive specials board and a dedicated kids’ selection. The standard is so high, and we’ve never, ever had a dish that we haven’t raved about. We’ve reached the point that no visit to Arran is complete without at least one meal at Felicity’s. It’s LUSH!
The Old Byre, Machrie KA27 8EB
Situated in Machrie, right round on the west coast of the island, Cafe Thyme is a bit special. Part of the Old Byre Showroom (a local family business since 1967), it really does have something for everyone, from snacks and cakes to full-blown lunches, speciality teas and coffees to a good selection of wine and beer. The piece de resistance of the menu (for us, anyway) are the pides. “The what?” I hear you ask. Pides — Turkish pizzas, made by chef owner Hamza in a hand-built wood burning oven just like you’d find in Turkey. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, but to be honest, I can’t even begin to tell you how gorgeous the pides are! And there’s such a selection of toppings too. You just need to try one — trust me. And while you’re enjoying it (or any of the other delicious offerings), you can gaze out of the window across the water to the Mull of Kintyre, and try not to start singing *that* song.
So far, so grown up — so what’s in it for the kids? Well, if you can tear your eyes away from the view and focus on the foreground at the field immediately outside the cafe, you’ll see a brilliant playground. A sandpit, slide, trampoline, swing ball, ride-ons, a climbing wall, balls to kick about — this is the playground of your childhood imaginings! The cafe has outside seating too, so if the kids can’t wait until the end of lunch to get started on their play adventure, grab an outside seat and you can eat while they play. This play area is offered free to patrons, so make sure you pop some coins in the donation box on the fence before you go.
Cladach, Brodick KA27 8DE
This little gem is situated at Cladach, just past Home Farm in Brodick. With a large outside dining area and a cosy seating area inside, the grub is gorgeous! The menu is listed on two separate blackboards, so when you’re inside trying to decide what to order, do not miss the dedicated pizza board — IT’S BEHIND YOU! And the pizzas are scrumptious, so it would be a crime to miss them.
This is the perfect spot for lunch for those energetic types who’ve just climbed Goatfell, or who’ve spent the morning enjoying the new adventure playground at Brodick Castle. Arran Aromatics is just along the road at Home Farm, so there’s the option of some postprandial retail therapy too!
So there you have it: our current favourite eateries on Arran. There are lots of other really great places to eat across the island, and it’s pretty hard to make a bad choice these days. That’s one of the reasons why we as foodiphiles adore this island! If you get the chance to visit, whether for the day or a longer break, take it — you absolutely will not regret it!