Room with a view

Port Ap­pin is a small vil­lage on Scot­land’s craggy west coast, and it’s home to a ho­tel and restau­rant which has been keep­ing guests well fed for many a year Cheshire Life: De­cem­ber 2018 Cheshire Life: De­cem­ber 2018

Cheshire Life - - Leisure -

We’ve ar­ranged a rain­bow for you’, says gen­eral man­ager Robert Tem­ple­ton-mckay, show­ing us to a win­dow seat in the restau­rant at The Airds Ho­tel.

Sure enough, as we gaze across Loch Linnhe, to the is­land of Lis­more and, be­yond that, to the hills ris­ing sharply from the far shore of the loch, a vivid rain­bow arcs through the scene.

What a pretty pic­ture to en­joy over a break­fast of por­ridge with ‘a wee dram, per­haps’, a full Scot­tish, or Mal­laig smoked kip­pers.

This be­ing Scot­land - a land carved by ice and made green by rain - that scene changes by the minute, that moun­tain­ous far shore of the loch bathed in sun, then ob­scured by clouds.

In the porch of The Airds Ho­tel and Restau­rant, a se­lec­tion of large um­brel­las are pro­vided for guests, along with a long line of wel­lies of ev­ery size. Epic land­scapes have a habit of de­liv­er­ing epic weather.

We set out on the short walk around Port Ap­pin’s head­land in the teeth of one of the first au­tumn storms. The lit­tle ferry from Port Ap­pin to Lis­more bobs like a cork at its an­chor, the grey, churn­ing sea too fierce for the boat to make the five-minute cross­ing. At the more ex­posed sec­tions of the coastal path, the wind whips so strong that we are al­most blown off our feet.

When Scot­land con­jures its full el­e­men­tal beauty, some­times all you can do is re­treat in­doors, get comfy and watch it blow. Airds Ho­tel has been a place of refuge for cen­turies - a coach­ing inn for trav­ellers en route to Lis­more at least as far back as 1723. To­day, with 42 years in the Good Food Guide be­hind it, Airds jug­gles the com­fort and home­li­ness of a small coun­try house ho­tel with the 21st cen­tury am­bi­tion of a mod­ern AA 3-rosettes restau­rant. The young and in­ven­tive chef, Chris Stan­ley, goes by the mod­ern Bri­tish mantra - ‘let the in­gre­di­ents speak for them­selves’ - but in­evitably he gives them a good deal of help to do so.

On our first night, we choose the £78-per head tast­ing menu, each course de­scribed only by its con­stituent parts. So, haggis tomato and aubergine turns out to be an in­trigu­ing mix of soft tex­tures and fruity dabs. Pump­kin sage and choco­late fea­tures a pump­kin purée and seeds, liq­uid choco­late and a kind of gra­nola. Lob­ster, oys­ter, bri­oche and chervil sets the lob­ster atop toasted bread with a lush green chervil purée. Next comes one of the finest beef dishes I’ve ever had: a rare slice of fil­let with a crusty bon bon of braised beef, a lit­tle mound of spinach, onion caramelised to the point of ex­ud­ing sweet­ness and burn­ing, and pommes Anna, cooked dark and very salty.

Two desserts fol­low: a choco­late and cof­fee con­fec­tion with mas­car­pone, and a feather-light pas­sion fruit souf­flée.

Next night, we try the £58-per­head din­ner menu. Shell­fish con­sommé is a dark, com­plex broth with lob­ster tortellini. Pan-roasted monk­fish comes with tartare sauce, a pile of pommes galettes like poker chips and fine din­ing’s an­swer to mushy peas. A main of lemon and basil-crusted brill is a de­li­cious hunk of fish in a creamy, le­mony, herb-in­fused sauce. Desserts of banof­fee souf­flé and lemon meringue tart are both pleas­ant, but even more im­pres­sive is the pre-dessert of lemon pos­set and berries.

It’s a long way to Port Ap­pin - 25 miles up the west coast be­yond Oban. But af­ter the mo­tor­way slog to Glas­gow, the jour­ney north be­comes pure plea­sure, skirt­ing the enor­mity of Loch Lomond, tak­ing the A82 through the ma­jes­tic Glen­coe, then head­ing south, hug­ging the coast, try­ing to keep your eyes on the road while the beauty of Loch Linnhe threat­ens at ev­ery turn to tear them away.

Across the wa­ter from Port Ap­pin stands Cas­tle Stalker, a 14th cen­tury for­ti­fied home on a tiny is­land which has a blood­thirsty his­tory, and a claim to fame as the set­ting for the fi­nal scene of the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Then, that short ferry ride away, is Lis­more - 10 miles long and a mile wide - with a rich his­tory of Celtic Chris­tian­ity, in­trigu­ing ru­ins and a rare tran­quil­lity.

When the sun’s shin­ing, or the heav­ens are open­ing, this re­mains one of the most beau­ti­ful land­scapes on earth.

‘Airds’ young, in­ven­tive chef, Chris Stan­ley, lets the in­gre­di­ents speak for them­selves’ eatcheshire

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