If you were looking for accommodation in Dumfries and Galloway and saw the Thistle Inn in Crossmichael, you could be forgiven for driving right by. Even its greatest fans would admit it’s not the prettiest pub in the world, but we’d been told about it by a local friend who urged us to visit for one reason – the food. The Thistle Inn has a Greek chef whose food, we were assured, was amazing. As we’ve visited Greece many times and must have eaten a few thousand Greek meals between us, we were keen to check out the claim.
Our friend was right. It’s worth staying at the Thistle Inn just to eat the food of Nikos Apostolakis (right), who was born on Crete but came to Dumfries and Galloway and fell in love with the area. He fell in love with Crossmichael in particular, and if you travel around here you’ll understand why. Dumfries and Galloway is that region of southern Scotland which visitors from England often overlook in their rush to get to the Highlands. Instead, if you drive to Scotland up the M6 you should turn left at Gretna Green and explore one of the loveliest parts of Scotland.
The Thistle Inn
The Thistle Inn has two twin bedrooms and one double bedroom, all with their own private bathrooms, flat screen TVs, hairdryers, and tea and coffee making facilities. We had one of the twin rooms at the front of the inn, but we had no problem with traffic noise – Crossmichael is a pretty quiet place.
The rooms are fairly standard pub-type accommodation – nothing fancy but perfectly comfortable and with everything you might need. We spent very little time in our room anyway, as we wandered down to the lovely old-fashioned bar for a drink. It was an entertaining hour or so as we waited for dinner and listened to the local gossip – it was everything a pub should be: full of good beer (and whisky), and local people socialising.
All Photos (c) Donna Dailey
Then our friends arrived and we sat down to sample Niko's authentic Greek food. The menu at the Thistle Inn isn’t exclusively Greek, as your starter could be haggis or humus. Nikos is adept at making both, but you can have haggis anywhere in Scotland – so take the chance to sample Niko's authentic and home-made humus or tzatziki, both deliciously creamy.
You could have haggis as a main course too, or steak and Guinness pie, or even chicken tikka. There’s a vegetarian dish of the day as well, and other specials that make full use of the fresh local ingredients: pheasant casserole with apple wine, or spicy slow-cooked wild goat in a tomato sauce, the wild goats being from just up the road. However, Nikos served us a beautifully tender rabbit stifado, a moussaka that melted in your mouth, fresh bread baked in his oven in the garden, and of course a Greek salad with his own delicious home-made feta cheese.
If you really want a big fat Greek meal we were told by our local friends that you had to be there for one of Niko's regular Greek Mezze Nights. Then he really does like to show off in style, serving up several starters, and a range of main courses to taste including such delights as prawn saganaki, fish stew, or a casserole of mushrooms, chestnuts, shallots and tomatoes slow-cooked in Niko’s home-made apple wine. And, of course, lots of ouzo! On our next visit – and there will definitely be one – we will time it so we can be there for one of those Greek nights to remember.
This is why you need to book your accommodation at the Thistle Inn if you’re planning to eat there. Nikos is a talented chef but also one who believes in hearty Greek helpings. We staggered upstairs and had to agree with what the local magazine, Dumfries and Galloway Life, said when reviewing the Thistle Inn. It has “the best Greek food this side of Athens.”
Crossmichael is about 360 miles from the centre of London, and roughly a 7-hour drive, travelling almost all the way on the M1 and then the M6 motorways. The last stretch will then take you through some of the most attractive rolling green hills in southern Scotland.
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