A per­fect meal, al­most

The Herald Magazine - - Contents - IN­VER RESTAU­RANT STRA­CH­LACHAN

NINETY min­utes from Glas­gow, the man says not long af­ter I ar­rive, and he’s right. It’s re­ally not far, es­pe­cially in this lovely weather. Sweep­ing over the Rest and Be Thank­ful be­fore wheel­ing hard left, then wind­ing from dou­ble to a sin­gle track road that even­tu­ally spits me out across from Cas­tle Lach­lan, Loch Fyne lap­ping away non­cha­lantly.

There’s a path to the cas­tle there, I’m told. I can see it just fine from here, thanks, I think, as I pick my way through fer­mented car­rots, way, way bet­ter than they sound, kind of gar­licky ac­tu­ally. And cheese puffs, crispy, melty, very righ­teously cheesy.

I don’t ask whether they raise those cheese curds them­selves (they will), the wait­ress is hav­ing a hard enough time deal­ing with my ques­tions about the Gar­dener’s World of dif­fer­ent flow­ers that ap­pear in the var­i­ous dishes. Nas­tur­tium (of course), sor­rel, sea cam­pion and tiny white wa­ter­cress blooms. I eat them all, though they are, as al­ways, more of a vis­ual treat.

Stoner, John Wil­liams’ novel on the el­e­gance of or­di­nary life, is on an au­dio­book loop in the toi­lets. Is it a mes­sage? Maybe. There’s an el­e­gant or­di­nar­i­ness about In­ver. It cer­tainly hasn’t changed much, even at all, in decor terms since the last time I was here three years ago.

Plain Jane west coast coun­try hostelry been-a-lot-of-things-in-its-time is what it mur­murs qui­etly and po­litely as I step in.

But then it’s not about the decor. And not just be­cause of that view that dom­i­nates the win­dows. It’s about the eat­ing. So I have soused her­ring to start, fish pre­pared from scratch here, of course, fil­lets shim­mer­ing and sil­ver, flesh with an un­usu­ally suc­cu­lent firm tex­ture – ab­so­lutely noth­ing like the usual pick­led her­ring of­fer­ings seared to damnation by pow­er­ful pick­ling juices. Pick­led potato too, hand­made crisps and a weird-sound­ing (but of course tra­di­tional) emul­sion of beef fat and cider vine­gar that turns out to be noth­ing at all to be scared of. Sim­ply a punchy, pleas­ant dress­ing to en­joy­ably drag all the com­po­nents through.

The last time I was at In­ver, it had just found its way onto the Lon­don Food Crit­ics Grand Tour of Scot­land route. It was, of course, lauded. And it was good. But it was also slightly un­con­vinc­ing. I re­mem­ber a baf­fling pine nee­dle con­coc­tion taken from trees right out back. Full marks for right-on for­ag­ing, nul points for flavour.

There’s none of that out-there edgi­ness this time. Take this pot­ted pork, served in a Kil­ner jar. A nutty, crusty, salty sheen over the top of it, smooth sweet pork un­der­neath.

“We’ve just bought a whole pig,” I’m told later. Good, but a fab­u­lous lit­tle side salad of sweet el­der­flower vinai­grette, soused onions and sprigs of fluffy fen­nel blows even it away with its sim­ple good­ness.

And the list of main cour­ses is no longer slightly shock­ing, but is sim­ply as­sured. Isle of Bute lamb, sum­mer onions, gar­lic scapes; Auch­in­breck Farm sausages, beans and fen­nel; burnt grain dumplings, fresh cheese and an­chovy. I want to try them all.

For this lunch, though, I’m hav­ing Gigha hal­ibut, mus­sels and coastal greens. Yes, there’s some sea­weed in there. Dulce: crisp, packed with that umami He­ston Blu­men­thal is al­ways bang­ing on about. Sam­phire too. Crisp mus­sels. Pur­ple and white sea cam­pion flow­ers.

The fish skin is even rolled and fried to a puffed and savoury crisp. But the fish it­self? Sit­ting in a salty, but­tery frothy sauce? Crikey. Per­fect, meaty white, light and in­cred­i­bly fresh. The sea­son­ing is flaw­less.

Re­cently I’ve eaten in a good few Miche­lin-starred restau­rants and yet this dish is bet­ter than any­thing I had in any of them. By far. Of course, in a meal with fault­less sea­son­ing, guess where they go un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, in­fu­ri­at­ingly, mad with the salt cel­lar?

In the dessert, of course. Wild rye dumplings, black pep­per ice cream and bone mar­row caramel. First two per­fectly fine. But the caramel sauce? Ined­i­ble. Oth­er­wise, though? A per­fect meal.

If you know a restau­rant Ron should re­view, email ron­mackenna@fast­mail.fm

PHO­TO­GRAPH: KIRSTY ANDERSON

In­ver Restau­rant of­fers imag­i­na­tive lo­cal sourc­ing, and bold top-drawer use of seafood and lo­cal meat

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