Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Inver, Loch Fyne

There is an awful lot to like about Inver. I thought I'd better say that up front, because, in the end, with so many different bits to cover and with the negatives easier (and, let's face it, more entertaining) to write about than the positives, I'm afraid this post may end up looking like one big whinge. But the point is, I don't regret booking a weekend here, we didn't have an awful time, and it was almost worth the journey itself (very pleasant actually; a flight to Glasgow and then an hour and a half's drive) just to gaze out over Loch Fyne of an evening with a glass of Caol Isla in my hand, as the sillouette of Castle Lachlan broods across the bay.

That whisky on the terrace was just the first night though. On the second evening, thanks to a combination of rain showers and a biblical plague of miniscule biting culicoides impunctatus (midges), the terrace, and the lovely highland outdoors more generally, was out of bounds, and the only way to appreciate the stunning vistas were via the relative safety - if not comfort - of our own personal hot boxes- sorry, bothies.

Look, I'm sure for much of the year the bothy concept works marvellously well. These super-insulated eco-lodges with their floor-to-ceiling windows and large en-suite bathrooms are clearly lovely places in which to hole up when it's blowing a blizzard outside, and only an idiot would build any kind of accommodation in this part of the world without making pretty damn sure they were winter-ready. The problem is that Scotland has summers too, and when it's 26C during the day, the bothies (we discovered) soak up the sun like tropical greenhouses, and thanks to the aforementioned plague of midges keeping either the front door or the bathroom window open just isn't an option. Why don't Inver fit mosquito screens over their windows and/or doors? Why don't they even have standing fans to use in the rooms? Well, you'll have to ask them. All I can tell you is that across two nights we had the choice of sleeping or being bitten alive, and in the end settled for a rather unpleasant combination of both.

But anyway, dinner. Snacks are taken in the bar, and got things off to a very promising start. There was a kind of cockles en gélée thing, featuring plump little beasties in a take on the East End classic eel jelly...

...cute litte carrots with spectacular plumes of leaves attached came with a lovely salty tarama, topped with thyme buds which gave it an interesting extra colour (flavour-wise)...

...asparagus mousse, perhaps a little underpowered but clean and fresh tasting and served on cute wooden spoons...

...and the most successful of all, these wild mushroom and parmesan tarts which had a fantastic funky, earthy flavour and dissolved beautifully in the mouth. These were a set of snacks, perfectly pitched, tastefully presented, showcasing a mastery of different cooking techniques and with top-quality ingredients, that you'd be happy to be served at any Modern British fine dining restaurant in the country. I was utterly convinced, after these, that we'd made the right decision coming to Inver.

And then we were reseated in the charming, bright dining room, and served a peach melba. It wasn't a peach melba of course, it was heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella ice cream, but because it looked so much like a peach melba, with the thickly-sliced and peeled orange tomatoes very much resembling tinned peaches, and the frozen mozzarella on top looking for all the world like a scoop of vanilla, the disconnect between eating what my eyes and brain told me was a dessert and the strange cold salad my tastebuds were receiving, resulted in a deeply unnerving experience. With tomatoes that looked a little more like tomatoes, and perhaps normal mozzarella instead of frozen, maybe some crunch or other texture to balance it out, this could have perhaps been quite a nice starter, but I'm afraid I didn't enjoy this at all.

Next was cured trout and pickled green strawberries, which suffered from a similar lack of, for want of a better word, textural balance. There was plenty of trout - four or five thick slices of it - and though on one level you have to admire their generosity, there's really only so much cured fish it's comfortable to eat without any carbs or crunch or sauce to make it a bit more interesting. The pickled strawberries were nice enough, but sat alongside rather than complimented the fish, and an advertised "broth" was scarce to the point of invisibility. Again, it was a bit hard to eat.

In the interests of objectivity, I have to ignore both the fact that Friday night's guests at Inver had been served lamb as their main course, and also that I'd heard from various sources, not least a couple of people on the terrace while I was drinking my whisky the day before, that said lamb is world class. I have to ignore this - or at least try - because the crushing disappointment of not being served it is unfair to all concerned. The pork was decent - good, even - with a very tasty little sausage element and some neat slices of just-pink loin, but suffered, like the trout, from a tendency to under-sauce (barely a tiny puddle under the sausage) and accompanying raw greens were clumsy and chewy.

I didn't get to try the fish (halibut) alternative to the pork, but was told it was overcooked to mushy, and there's no excuse for that really. Seems like it came with plenty of sauce though, so that's something.

There was a pre-dessert of an incredibly concentrated summer berry granita over some kind of ice cream, which performed well enough...

...and then dessert proper was this "burnt strawberry & elderflower" tart thing, which had all sorts of different textures and techniques going on (including a lovely custard and I always appreciate a good custard) and a very nice summer fruit sorbet element. It was good, you know. Maybe I'd have appreciated it even more if I'd had a better night's sleep.

But you know, there's always that view. And searching through the rockpools in the bay for crabs and whelks (when the midges aren't biting). And drinking a whisky on the terrace when the sun's out (ditto). Oh, and the breakfasts are lovely. There is, despite my whingeing, a lot to like about Inver - Lord knows enough people have sung its praises that all of the above could be dismissed as an anomaly, an unfortunate by-product of unrealistic expectations, a mini-heatwave and a short supply of lamb. In the end, though, all I can do is report as I find, then slink off back to London ready to whinge about something else. So I think I'll do just that.


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