An Tigh Seinnse, Portnahaven (Scotland)


I have been trying to construct a hilarious joke about “An Tigh Seinnse” being the Gaelic name for Bruichladdich’s wine experiments but have failed. In fact, as far as I can make out, it translates as “the public house” or something along those lines (some sources say “the house of singing”), and that is in fact what An Tigh Seinnse is: a cozy pub in Portnahaven, a tiny town at the southwestern end (or one of the southwestern ends) of Islay, all the way at the opposite end of Loch Indaal from the American Monument (a few miles west from Port Ellen). We went to Portnahaven after my tour at Bowmore. We didn’t have anything particular in mind. We knew we were unlikely to see the seals that often lie on the rocks around the bay there—it was a grey and rainy day—but we did want to drive around more of Islay. So we went anyway, enjoying the scenery, and when we got there we happened upon An Tigh Seinnse, just as we were beginning to wonder what we should do for lunch. Herewith a brief account of this meal.

We had no expectations and so they were exceeded. This is not to say that the meal was anything amazing, but it was far better than we’d expected at lunch at a small pub in an out of the way corner of Islay. The menu is not extensive and is written on a chalkboard. You order at the bar—behind which is the kitchen—and it’s brought to you when ready. There’s some local stuff on the menu—seafood mostly, but also a platter of smoked meats when we were there. We got that platter of smoked meats and a pint of local prawn tails to share and the boys split their chicken burger with fries. All were decent. The prawn tails—indeed served in a pint glass—might have been a bit more enjoyable if I hadn’t pricked my fingers so many times trying to de-shell them. I also had one of the local beers (though I can’t remember now which it was).

But more than the food, the space is really evocative. It doesn’t seem to have changed much—I could imagine walking into a very similar space 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. At lunch on a grey, rainy day there weren’t very many locals but I imagine it’s a different story at night. If we’d been there sans kids, we probably would have come back in the evening.

Here are some pictures of the pub, the food and the harbour. Scroll down after for parting thoughts on Islay eating.

Service was friendly and the food came out fast. It’s not a cheap place per se (prices on par with Ardbeg’s far superior Old Kiln Cafe) but it’s not outrageous for the amount of food you get. And the atmosphere is very nice. I’d recommend it if you drive that way on Islay—and I’d also recommend that you drive that way on Islay: there aren’t any distilleries there but it’s beautiful.

So this is my last Islay meal report. On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of meals on Islay—the Lochside Hotel misadventure notwithstanding. The food was much better on Skye, but Skye also gets far more visitors. Islay is altogether more laid back. Perhaps if we’d made it to meals at the Port Charlotte Hotel our estimation would have been higher still (and perhaps if we’d eaten at the Indian and Chinese places in Bowmore it would have been lower). Of the places we did eat at, Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Cafe was the best. I assume they can’t open at dinner because they’re connected to a distillery but Ardbeg could do worse than open a standalone restaurant. Even as things currently are, though, our experience suggests it’s quite easy to eat decently there.

Okay, next up: our lunch in Tarbert, after getting off the ferry from Port Ellen; and then I might be done with Scotland food reports (unless I’m moved to write up a Thai dinner in Glasgow). And if I have the energy I might put up a gallery of non-food and whisky-related things in Scotland.

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