We meet Jeanette and Jack in their newly restored Croft and restaurant on the Island of Mull.
Croft 3 describes itself as a “Community dining room”. Tucked away on the North West side of the Isle of Mull, this is a story of a long-desired restoration (in collaboration with architectural practice Fardaa), of family, heartache and necessity as much as it is a story about Mull, the land, the sea and the food.
We meet Jeanette and Jack in the morning after a long day in the restaurant. Behind them, I can see the sea views behind their expansive windows opening out onto the sea beyond. They are expecting a baby together at the end of this, their first season. Jeanette already has two sons, Sam and Bruce, and Jack has a daughter, Flora and all of whom are involved in the family business in some way.
As well as growing a restaurant and family, the couple have taken on their first flock of sheep, and are formulating plans to grow the Croft to be self-sufficient too. Helen & Matt visited earlier in the year and loved it.
"We visited Mull for our third time last Easter and luckily had spotted Croft3 in an article on Dezeen and thought we must take a look. We had driven past it on our previous visits to Mull and admired the beautiful building from the road. The exterior and interior of Croft3 is absolutely stunning, the views out to the landscape are spectcular and the food is just as good! Harry loved the lobster and Bao buns and my favourites were the roasted cauliflower and coconut rice pudding. We are planning our next trip to Mull for October and we will definitely be booking up to go again"
What was your background before this?
Jeanette: ”I was renting at Ballygown before. It was an old farmhouse that I got planning permission to change its use to a pop-up restaurant from the spare bedroom. It was separated from the old house and had its own entrance and toilet but was limited in space. I guess we became a destination restaurant. We could only seat eighteen. I definitely didn’t expect people to drive from all over to come to us. I still find it baffling, as it was just me and a saucepan!
I really wanted to own my own place and I heard through the grapevine that the croft was up for sale.
More than anything, I didn’t want to leave Mull. It was never about showing off my skills.
Ultimately it was about finding a job that I could do from home that would keep me living in this location. That was paramount.
I was a community car driver taking older people to appointments, and it was there I heard the owner of the Croft was selling up.I had savings put to one side from the years running my restaurant at Ballygown and I was looking to potentially buy somewhere, I asked her one day in the. car and she said yes. That was in May 2018 and it’s been a very long journey since then, impacted by the Pandemic and so much more.”
Can you tell us a bit about you both?
Jeanette: “I’m from Brighton originally. I moved to Mull in 2008 with my ex. I had my first child at 21 - he’s 20 now. We split up and my reasons for staying were entirely practical. I wanted to stay here on Mull and keep the family together. “
Jack: “I'm from Newcastle originally and was previously based in Glasgow. I’m a graphic designer. We met when I was doing the branding for Croft3, and we’ve been together since then! ”
The renovation project was punctuated with heartache, both Jeanette's parents died during the build.
“They were both bed-bound and living in a nursing home. It was such bittersweet timing and a strange domino effect where everything fell into place afterwards. I can’t take the credit and it's important to stress that they left me with the money to be able to realise my dream of owning a restaurant.”
The Croft came with 50 acres of land so it was a big project. How did you transform your vision into reality?
“I think it's just about tackling every problem as it comes really and having the determination to kind of carry on! That’s all it is. There have been many times when I’ve thought “I can’t do this” or “I don’t deserve this” but ultimately you just tackle everything one bit at a time and take it from there. Including financially! It’s like a marathon, we’re in it for the long run, we take it mile by mile.
I guess the next part was working with Ed, from Fardaa architects. Ed and I met while working for an arthouse cinema in Brighton when we were eighteen.
In the summer of 2018, I told him about my plans and he came straight up. Ed was great. He was so enthusiastic about it and he guided me through the process in many ways. He project-managed it as well and wrote a brilliant essay for the planning application.”
The build brief was to be as low carbon as possible, is that right?
“Yes. It’s about reusing as much as we could. The ruin had four walls but no roof. We’ve reused the stone and kept the structure as it was. It’s expensive to bring anything onto the Island so we didn’t want to do that. We also wanted to highlight the view and use the South-facing aspect to bring in the light and heat.”
You say you connect locals and those visiting. How does this work?
“In theory, the restaurant will make enough money in the summer for us to take a lot of the winter off. But it is also important to provide space for locals. We did a day a week in the winter - just Sunday lunches - because nobody wants to drive here in the dark in winter. I’m so grateful for local support. We’ve done curry nights and things like that too.”
The menu obviously reflects the tastes of both.
On the menu for July are homemade haggis on local lovage and potato cake, Kakiage don (a vegetable tempura rice bowl with donburi sauce), Ulva landed cold shellfish platter and Venison loin steak with potato gratin and bordelaise sauce.
Can you describe the experience that people get?
“We are selling it as a destination because it needs to be, where we are but it’s also relaxed and accessible. So it's quite a delicate balancing act alot of the time. We aren’t too highbrow but quality is very important. This typically comes from ingredients and supplies we use, weather they be local or from further a field.”
It’s a family affair with Jeanette’s two children Sam and Bruce (20 and 12 respectively) waiting on tables as well as help from Eilidh from the farm nextdoor.
“Everyone asks for a table with a view when they book - but they all have this incredible view! The connection the restaurant has with the outside is so important.
We are growing as much produce as we can and this year we bought some sheep. The lambs will be on the menu next year. Again, it comes back to necessity and what we can produce here. The Ulva ferry is just three miles away, so they bring in crab and lobster and prawns. It makes sense to go there rather than fifteen miles down the road in Tobermory.
The outside is so important. People come and go straight round to the front and take photos of the view, even though the entrance is round the back. Watching people interact with the space is so interesting.
We’ve started opening the windows to connect the inside and outside. We’ve put a bench around there and created a fire pit area too. We are creating more firepit areas, but we haven’t advertised them yet, but they will feature in our future plans for the Croft.”
What influences you?
We are influenced by Asia, especially when it comes to food; the locals love to eat Asian-inspired choices. My friend Banjo (Beale), recently won the BBC Interior Design Masters and hosts Scotland’s Home of the Year- he suggested Japanese -style curtains and Korean Pojagi tapestries for the walls, which we hope to source soon.
I mean with food, it's just about what's around me. So it starts with the ingredients and then I'll try and add something to it. That's kind of, trendy, I suppose. Like with the bowls, we wanted to do something people in Glasgow were doing.
We lapped up Stanley Tuuci’s programme on Italy. And, I love French cooking. In both, regional food is based on what's available.
We love France too. The chairs here are all reclaimed from a French school and the tables from a French brewery, they’ve got French graffiti on them. I love French cooking too. We really enjoyed watching Keith Floyd over the winter.
And what’s in store for the future of Croft 3?
We want to be self-sufficient. We will live here as well as work. That’s really important to us both, the Croft and what we can grow here. As well, weddings and events.
Croft 3is open Sunday 1-4pm and Monday - Friday from 6pm - 10.30pm. The restaurant is closed on Saturdays. Reserve online.
If you feel inspired by Croft3s beautiful interior and furniture then take a look at our Croft3 edit to recreate it in your own home.