By Iain A MacSween
A special ‘Eat Drink Hebrides Trail’ launched in March this year with the aim of highlighting the best food and drink experiences available throughout the Outer Hebrides. Local businesses are listed as either being producers, places to eat or places to buy local produce.
Brothers Allan and Ewen MacLean, from North Uist, run three highlights of the food and drink trail: The Stepping Stone Restaurant and MacLean’s Bakery, both in Benbecula, and Bayhead Shop, in North Uist.
Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of MacLean’s Bakery and the business has grown over the years with the opening of the Stepping Stone Restaurant in 1997, and Bayhead Shop in 2009, and is now one of the larger private employers in the islands.
Evident to visitors to these three stops on the food trail is the MacLean brothers’ passion for local produce. Allan said: “The reason we started the bakery in the first place was in response to demand for fresh, locally produced bread. We now prepare and serve much more besides bread, but our original aim to serve quality local produce is still central to our business.’”
In the bakery, Allan continues to work alongside the highly skilled team, baking everything by hand using traditional methods. Together, they create an amazing array of breads, rolls, pastries and savouries, freshly baked every day, and delivered throughout the Western Isles and to the Isle of Skye.
Allan maintains that the traditional methods used in the bakery benefit the community. “On the face of it, baking using these methods doesn’t make sense anymore,” he said. “As a business, it would be cheaper and more efficient for us to make our products using more technology and automated processes. But by doing so, we would be doing our customers and colleagues – our community, a disservice.
“Our customers wouldn’t get a product truly made in Uist, with the skill and care they rightly expect. And our bakers would be robbed of the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have built up over many years. We take that bit more time and care and I feel our products are all the better for it.”
Extending their range to create a delicious selection of biscuits, shortbreads and oatcakes (including an organic variety) MacLean’s Bakery products are now shipped all over the UK, and have a loyal following with customers for whom distance is no object when it comes to fine food.
After expanding their main premises, located in Uachdar, the bakery shop now includes a butchery department, bringing together some of the excellent local produce found from around the islands. The butchery serves up a full range of meats, including local goose and rabbit, venison, and lamb reared on the family croft.
Located in the main village of Balivanich, with its unique split level café and restaurant, The Stepping Stone is the perfect place to enjoy some of the finest food available locally, ranging from a quick coffee and a cake from MacLean’s bakery, to a full evening meal, and everything in between.
The excellent menu showcases dishes featuring delicious local meats and fresh seafood. Diners at the Stepping Stone Restaurant over the summer season will be treated to their Friday and Saturday evening’s menu centred around local produce.
Allan’s brother Ewen, who works as Head Chef in the restaurant, says: “These evenings in particular will be an excellent opportunity for us to highlight the best in Hebridean produce. The menu will vary, so every weekend there will be something new to try.”
Ready for another busy season, The Stepping Stone Restaurant recently launched an online facility for customers to check availability and book a table directly from their computer, tablet or smart phone via www.eatdrinkhebrides.co.uk.
Ewen adds: “We are the first restaurant on the Eat Drink Hebrides Trail to offer online booking, and hope customers will enjoy the added convenience it brings.”
Completing the MacLean’s family business in Balivanich, are the Takeaway Shop at 41 Winfield Way, offering convenient options for breakfasts and lunches on-the-go, and the Benbecula Airport Café.
Continuing on the Food trail, heading up to the Isle of North Uist you will find Bayhead Shop, on the west side of the island.
The licensed store is an essential stop for daily papers and groceries, as well for the Post Office and Filling Station. The hand-picked range offers the perfect fusion of day-to-day grocery essentials and the very best in local produce. Speaking in English or Gaelic, the knowledgeable and friendly staff can help guide you around the packed shelves, highlighting the extensive range of local products on offer, including those from Salar Smokehouse, Kallin Shellfish, Hebridean Smokehouse, MacLean’s Bakery, Barra Atlantic, Hebridean Brewery and the local meats prepared in the store’s own butchery.
Project Manager Fraser MacCorquodale is delighted the business is part of the Eat Drink Hebrides Trail. “Being listed on Trail conveys our commitment to using local produce across our whole business,” he said.
“It’s an excellent project as in the Western Isles, we are lucky enough to have so many great products made right on our doorstep. As a business, our unique set-up as a producer, place to eat and place to buy Hebridean products means we truly do offer our customers a taste of the islands.”
For more details about the Eat Drink Hebrides Trail, MacLean’s Bakery, The Stepping Stone Restaurant and Bayhead Shop, visit www.eatdrinkhebrides.co.uk.