Two Dinners at the Islay Hotel, Port Ellen (Scotland)


I only have a few meal reports left from our trip to Islay in June. As I said in my review of our lunch at Royal China, Canary Wharf last week, writing these reports, and then reading them later, is a good way to relive our time in the UK. Perhaps they’re of some use as well to people who might travel to these places too? Well, even if not, here’s an account of two dinners we ate at the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen on Islay. We did not stay at the hotel, which is located bang in the middle of Port Ellen—you pass it as you come off the ferry; we only ate at the restaurant, which is open to all.

We ate here twice because there aren’t very many restaurants on Islay and because we hadn’t made reservations on the second occasion anywhere else. After we were turned away elsewhere, they were kind enough to give us a table in their main dining room on the promise that we would not dawdle. It’s worth remembering that it’s as true on Islay as anywhere else touristy in far-flung parts of Scotland, that it’s a good idea to make bookings for dinner in advance, even if Feis Ile is not in progress.

As it happens, we hadn’t made a reservation on the first night either. However, we didn’t have trouble then getting a table in their large bar area, where you can order from the restaurant’s menu (and I think you can do the same in the outside seating area as well if you’re willing to brave the chill and the likelihood of rain). I did ask on the second occasion what it’s like during Feis Ile. I was told that their meals get booked out months and months in advance and that most people eat at the food trucks that show up for the festival. Bear that in mind if you’re considering your first Feis Ile visit. Also bear in mind, again, that it’s not easy to get tables at dinner even two weeks after Feis Ile.

The dinners themselves were fine. Nothing was remarkable but by the same token nothing was terrible. After two dinners here and two lunches at the Old Kiln Cafe at Ardbeg, I can confidently say that the Old Kiln Cafe is far superior. Unfortunately, they’re not open for dinner. But as we also discovered in between—as will be detailed soon—it’s also possibly to eat very badly on Islay in a hotel restaurant. These meals were enjoyable enough.

For details on what we ate, please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for cost etc.

Service was very friendly and intermittently efficient. Oddly, though they told us on the second occasion that they’d need the table back quickly, they did not seem in any hurry to actually make that happen. We ate quickly but then waited forever to get our bill and pay it. The first dinner was about £56 and the second dinner was just short of £60. Both were quite a bit more expensive than our superior meals at Ardbeg but reasonable enough for the UK, I suppose. I do wish they had better prices for the whiskies at the bar.

There may be better places to eat elsewhere on Islay but I wouldn’t recommend against the Islay Hotel if you’re based in Port Ellen or nearby. That may seem like damning with faint praise but I don’t really mean it that way. Up next from Islay, our very not-good second night’s dinner, eaten between these two. But first I might have another recipe.

2 thoughts on “Two Dinners at the Islay Hotel, Port Ellen (Scotland)

  1. Traveling in October, I’ve always been happy not to have to worry about booking tables in advance. Alas, the shoulder season is getting ever broader. I was stunned to walk into the bar at the Plockton Inn one night last October to find all the tables reserved–in previous years, we’d never had a problem simply walking in and sitting down. I’ve had it in mind to travel more in the summer after I retire (an event that is rapidly approaching), but I really wouldn’t want to see Islay like this. It’s just contrary to what the island is supposed to be all about. I’d rather visit in midwinter.

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    • October is a brilliant time to be in Scotland, but as you say it would seem others are realising this, too.

      The voices decrying mass international tourism have grown louder in 2017 with new laws in Venice and protests in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Not long after MAO visited Skye, police effectively barred entry to people hoping to get on to the island without confirmed accommodation. Broadford, Portree and the Fairy Pools were simply overrun.

      As you say, so many tourists destroy the idyll they have travelled so far to find, while often being the economic stimulus those places depend on. It’s not a easy balance to strike, especially if in the case of Islay you boast several iconic and adored distilleries on a small land mass.

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