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Inver, Scotland – luscious crab on the shores of Loch Fyne

Inver, Scotland – luscious crab on the shores of Loch Fyne

October 19
05:59 2018

“Living up here you get used to the changeable weather. In fact, we only start to worry when the weather doesn’t change.” So we were told by Rob Latimer, who runs Inver, a restaurant on the south-west coast of Scotland, where his partner Pam Brunton cooks so memorably well.

This chimed with what we had witnessed during our lunch. Out of the restaurant’s many windows, we watched bright sunshine give way in an instant to dramatically heavy downpours as the tide came in on Loch Fyne, just a few feet away. The rainbow that formed a perfect arch over Castle Lachlan across the loch was the seventh we were to see in the 24 hours we spent in this part of the world, less than two hours’ scenic drive from Glasgow.

So when is the best time to eat at Inver? The four-course set dinner with an overnight stay and breakfast in one of their comfortably stylish bothies? Or lunch, when one can enjoy Brunton’s freer style of cooking? My advice would be to go for Sunday lunch but go early.

We were among the first to arrive for one such affair at the end of last month but had already missed the Loch Creran oysters. Our three orders for whole cooked crab prompted Latimer to announce that that was all the kitchen had left, while my order for the grilled halibut head led our waitress to wipe this particular dish off the specials board.

Serving the freshest fish and shellfish by the sea might seem rather commonplace nowadays. But what distinguished Brunton’s cooking was what accompanied these ingredients. The combination of the tender, sweet crab with its rich sauce, which had been mixed with some of the brown meat, was luscious. So too the liquor in a bowl of mussels, which was in fact no more than a reduction of fino sherry and the cooking juices with a touch of butter.

Even better was the starter described simply as beetroot soup with horseradish and brambles. A white bowl was almost full of diced, cooked beetroot and salad leaves from a nearby grower. The contents of a jug of deliciously comforting beetroot soup served at the perfect temperature was poured on top, the whole swirled with fresh horseradish cream.

These considered combinations continued. Tender young leeks and a thin spreading of ’nduja (the Calabrian pork and chilli paste) on top of my halibut head; mussels and coastal greens with the fillet of halibut from the nearby island of Gigha; and the winter chanterelles that covered a precisely grilled piece of brill.

© Mockford & Bonetti

The precision of tastes and textures progressed with an almond cake paired with a plum sorbet and rye doughnuts served alongside a wild pepper ice cream. This is not crazed foraging but a thoughtful use of the best local ingredients. With a bottle of white Quinta das Maias 2017 Dão and a juicy red Unculin 2016 Bierzo, our bill for five came to £275.50 without service.

It is the co-operation between a thoughtful landlord and this highly talented couple that has made the restaurant possible. The restaurant building, originally an 18th-century fisherman’s cottage, sits on the 1,500-acre estate of Euan Maclachlan of Maclachlan, chief of Clan Maclachlan. After years of renting it out as a café that failed to make a profit, he was left wondering what to do with it.

Enter Brunton and Latimer who, having cooked in Belgium, were looking to open somewhere in their homeland. The day they came to visit was “dreich” (miserable), but they have, in their own words, “very good imaginations”. Maclachlan was impressed by their enthusiasm and professional experience and negotiated a 10-year lease with them.

The final layer of charm is provided by the restaurant’s interior. The couple drove to Inver four years ago in a Citroën Berlingo crammed with their personal possessions. They had six weeks until opening and no budget for decoration, so they put all that they owned into the restaurant: their books, their posters, their taxidermy, a complete blue picnic hamper set, a record player and a record collection that plays The Band, The Rolling Stones and Etta James.

What Brunton and Latimer have achieved in the past three and a half years is extraordinarily impressive. I can only hope that the weather keeps on changing.

Inver restaurant

Strathlachlan, Strachur, Argyll & Bute PA27 8BU; 01369 860 537;
A la carte dishes £5-£22
Four-course set dinner menu £49

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