With Scotland’s reputation for great food and drink growing year on year, we were keen to try and find out what makes a great eating experience. You might be forgiven in thinking to find great local produce, cooked really imaginatively and skilfully, you would need to go to high-end, budget busting restaurants, however we spoke to Lisa Matheson from the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore, as a prime example, to try and dispel that myth.
Firstly, can you give us a bit of the background of the Mountain Cafe?
Owner and Head Chef, Kirsten (originally from New Zealand), started the Mountain Cafe with a copy of her Granny’s recipe book in her back pocket and a determination to never, ever buy in pre-made mixes, par-baked pastries or breads. Everything is baked from scratch using fresh, locally sourced ingredients wherever possible. Within a few short years Kirsten’s knowledge, passion and customer demand had grown to the extent that the cake counter had to be re-built to accommodate the truly amazing variety of home baking! The Mountain Cafe celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in December 2014 and has won several awards including Best Cafe in Scotland at the 2014 Scottish Baking Awards and Best Informal Eating Experience at the 2015 Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards.
You provide pretty hearty food and a great cake range. Do you consider yourself a comfort food cafe?
A lot of our food, such as the amazing range of home baking, could be classed as comfort food but we have a good balance between that and healthier, lighter options available on our menu. So yes, you could come and have a warming bowl of soup and a slice of red velvet or you could just as easily have our chicken salad and a vegan flapjack. We feel it’s important to give customers the choice.
Local produce and provenance seem to be at the fore these days, how does that fit with Mountain Cafe’s philosophy?
Yes absolutely, we source as much quality local produce as we can. We use the local dairy, butchers and brewery and try to cook in season as much as possible. We often have local producers drop in the latest apple fall or rhubarb pull for us and our inventive kitchen team will then incorporate them into our daily specials.
You cater very well for varied diets. Have you noticed increased demand for the likes of Gluten Free, Dairy Free or Vegan options?
Definitely! At the Mountain Cafe we are determined that no-one should miss out, so there is a great selection for people with special dietary needs. We want customers to walk in and be overwhelmed with quality, choice and freshness in all our menus and to be confident in the knowledge that their food will be prepared carefully for them. We are also noticing that, as well as there being a greater awareness of food allergies and intolerances, people choose these options as a healthier alternative.
How heavily would you say your food influenced by your surroundings?
Our seasonally changing menus are very much influenced and inspired by our glorious surroundings. The Mountain Cafe sits in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park and is a staple of the local community, celebrating the beauty of its natural environment and the activities enjoyed by people living in and visiting the area. Whilst having a faithful local following, our reputation keeps tourists flooding through the doors and returning again and again. In summer, customers can take in the views from the balcony whilst sipping refreshing home-made lemonade. In winter months, Skiiers, boarders and climbers coming off the mountain, are rewarded with warming mulled drinks which they can enjoy in front of a cosy log fire.
Do you think that there has been a shift in Scotland’s food and drink offering over the last decade or so?
The food industry seems to be going from strength to strength in Scotland. There are so many good quality establishments and local produce on offer. Service has improved too and things seem to be a lot more customer focused. There’s a lot more choice out there now which keeps us on our toes and we’re delighted that the Mountain Cafe remains consistently busy even as the competition grows around us.