Saturday 10 August 2013

Sutor Creek - cracking pizza in Cromarty

The car rolled in across an ancient fertile landscape with oats and barley ripening on the warm breeze. We passed through empty village after village undulating away towards our goal. From an otherwise empty school playground well dressed scarecrow children stared out from the trees and posts to which they'd been roped and I'd swear I heard them whispering, "Welcome to The Black Isle".

It's a wonderful name isn't it? Conjuring up sorcery and pirates galore. Yet like Harris it isn't an island at all but a butt of land adjoined to a larger proper isle, in this case Britain. We were visiting friends in Jemimaville, another name I'd conjured with that turned out to be a pretty row of houses with the sea lapping gently at their backs and the UK's smallest Post Office whose other claim to fame is that it doesn't bare the name of the postal district that it sits in. Oh and there's the scar, make sure they show you if you go, where many years before someone cut their way in to fill their boots with gummy envelopes, sellotape and stamps.

Actually you won't need to ask, they'll show you, because round these parts there's a definite sense that people are very busy talking about anything other than 'the thing' that no-one dares to mention. Nobody could recall what happened to the Postal thief, or so they said. There's a genteel haunting on this Isle that's not an isle, a constant wind-chime too high pitched for human ears but penetrating the subconscious.

After meeting up we headed off to Cromarty accompanied by a mishmash of the sort of people who board buses in Scotland's rural parts. The northern English mother with too many kids and too much shopping, excited teenagers texting to find out which bus stop they're all hanging in tonight, the token genuine local whose accent sounds like part of Cromwell's army visited and never left and of course us, the weirdos.

Cromarty lies across it's Firth from Invergorden where the mighty British Fleet would put ashore when such a thing existed. It's also where the last mass mutiny of Royal Navy sailors took place in 1931. Nowadays it's the place where oil rigs come to die and their skeletal remains loom large.

The town itself is film set beautiful, 18th century Caribbean, honestly, when Disney make Jack Sparrow XV they need look no further. The architecture appears influenced by trade. Centuries ago Scotland's east coast sea towns specialised in different products and consequently traded with different countries across the North Sea, some villages separated by no more than a burn developed different dialects or 'doric' as a result. I'd guess the Dutch weren't strangers here.

Thankfully it was Italy not Holland that influenced the menu at Sutor Creek. Particularly on Mondays and Tuesdays when chef's not in and all they serve is pizza from the wood fired oven. What an eminently sensible idea, if only more restaurants would do the same.

A young enthusiastic team delivered pizzas, wine and lovely Black Isle beer as we munched and watched ships slip by. The crayfish, spicy sausage, ricotta and coriander was particularly impressive, the ricotta tasted so good and fresh it might have been local, I forgot to ask.

We wandered off for a pint beside the Firth then through the town itself as darkness fell. The sound of singing drifted out among the streets, apparently our waitress now home and practicing for the town's next opera. The Black Isle is a magical place.

Click here for Sutor Creek's website

Sutor Creek
21 Bank Street,
IV11 8YE

tel. 01381 600 855