Secret Drinker reviews MacGregor's gastro-pub in Inverness – so what did the musical mecca offer?
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MacGregor’s gastro-pub may be the most rebellious hostelry in Inverness and it was set up to be one of the most Scottish too in case patrons did not think rebelliousness and Scottishness were synonymous.
Its rebelliousness stems from the often noticed slogan adorning the gable of the building – “Despite Them” – which can perhaps be taken as a reference to any doubters.
Both the current proprietor Bruce MacGregor, and his father Brian, may have weathered storms in the past, some in relation to these premises but that brings resilience.
From that comes comes a definitively Scottish or Highland gastro-pub, opened in 2017, described as “in the truest form; the Ceilidh house and most definitely #morethanabar”.
Before I go any further, I must confess to a prejudice: I hate gastro-pubs, they tend to add a tenner to the cost of your main course that you wash down with booze that is a little fussy.
So how does MacGregor’s fare? This G-pub, as I will annoyingly refer to it, is a resounding success and has been since it opened and prices are not a tenner more at all but the food is superior quality, so becalming my fevered brow.
I think the chief reason for this is the partnership between Bruce and his wife Jo De Silva.
Bruce must have spent years on the road with Blazin' Fiddles – another rebellious reference – and in that time must have been in a pub or two and noted what is and is not good.
The concept appears to be very much in his image though the promise of a ceilidh house is to a degree overstated as the bar is not huge and dancing is near impossible, though some have tried.
But there are musicians there a lot of the time and these are not the musicians that come with a pink guitar and a massive amp for the Tina Turner backing track.
No, these are musicians playing traditional music and why oh why do we not have more places like that in Inverness?
I can think of a handful off the top of my head, including MacGregor’s, yet there should be more.
There are sessions booked for the whole of April for starters with barely a day missed so the accent on music is not a gimmick – it's part of the furniture.
That Bruce is taking part in many of these sessions illustrates that it is probably the best place to hear traditional music, perhaps anywhere in the north though I hear there is one near Glenfinnan that was also good.
The food is good and it is named at the least with that spirit of rebelliousness that comes with just enough vim, vigour and spite to ward off accusations of corporate branding.
The Fish and Chips are £15 but they are McLeod’s in Grant Street's award-winning fish and chips, I am applauding internally here until I reach: “Recommended – Cromarty Lager, Whiteout IPA or Lunetta Prosecco.” G-pubbed.
The Noble Savage Highlander Burger clocks in at £15. And this is the spiel that goes with it: “In 1822, King George IV became the first monarch to visit Scotland since the Battle of Culloden (1746).
"Sir Walter Scott was involved in creating a pageant which would romanticise the Highlanders (referred to as ‘Noble savages’) to the world. Tartan was the key, and enough was found to drape the rather portly king. We think this double beef mountain is rather fitting.”
The Burns Burger at £14 comes with lines from A Man's A Man for A' That and the vegetarian Sawney Bean Burger (£13) is ironically inspired by “Sawney Bean, and his infamous family of cannibals” from Ayrshire.
I would add that the additional restaurant-style eating area is well set out and welcoming with a nice lodge-style atmosphere.
The fussy booze will put some people off but I have to say that it will draw probably a lot more people in and no-one ever said that a pub, even a g-pub, has to be all things to all people.
Certainly Inverness did not need another Keg or Gellions – nothing wrong with either – but MacGregor's has added to what is available and that is only a good thing.
I would LOVE to buy local but I dare not from a physiological and neurological perspective. Sometimes I try it, sometimes I like it, sometimes I like it too much.
But that is for me to deal with, not the G-pub, maybe it is a question of volume but you have to be sure don't you!?
The collections of gins and malt whiskies are imperious. There are at least 40 on the menu for Mother’s Ruin and just under 50 for amber nectar and they are a good selection.
But here is where you may, and I certainly know I did, find myself G-pubbed again: There are only two blends on the menu.
Blends are not a cheap alternative to malts. Only the ignorant or the snobbish cannot recognise their value. Ask any whisky connoisseur and they will tell you they can be surprising, infectious, entertaining and wonderful.
Some have argued that achieving a good blend is harder than achieving a good malt – more than 30 whiskies create Johnnie Walker Black – in other words it is really hard so you would have thought a bar paying ample and abundant homage to Scottish culture would have more.
The staff are generally polished and professional. They know what they are selling and are happy to advise, particularly when it comes to the minefield of craft beer (“closest you have to Guinness please”).
My one issue came when I sought out a blend – I have tried all the whiskies and I know what I like – and the nice young man kindly asked if he could interest me in a malt.
That he was a genuinely nice young man stopped me from saying anything less than polite.
You would think being situated close to the end of Academy Street that the beer garden would be a nightmare – it isn’t and works superbly well.
It can be cosy, spacious and relatively well sheltered.
It is a fantastic G-pub that really brought something that was badly needed to the city in its live music offering.
Others, prominently Hootananny, have been doing similar for a number of years but more is welcome.
The relaxed, smart-casual atmosphere fairly captures a lively crowd and the more folk in the better.
I had doubts beforehand but "despite them" there is a lot to love about MacGregor's.