These notes are based on a soggy summer holiday taken in 1997. Apologies that this is now rather out of date; see the Good Food Guide for more current reviews. When I get a bigger umbrella I’ll return one day.
Airds Hotel, Port Appin Saturday June 28th
A pretty setting overlooking Loch Linnhe with a lighthouse visible in the distance, and a nice little garden overlooking the water. The place itself is quite small, as was the room, though it was cosy enough. Staff were friendly, including one girl who used to be at Gidleigh Park. There is a little conservatory at the front of the house which is quite a sun trap. The dining room is on the ground floor and also overlooks the water.
Amuse gueles were 7/10 standard, with a subtle salmon mousse on a slightly chewy crouton base, a sun-dried tomato similarly, and a little cup of chicken liver pate that was stunningly smooth and full of rich flavour. My starter was chicken liver parfait. An unlikely sounding soup of pea and mint with cream was in fact delightful, the flavours in perfect balance, with lots of concentration (7/10). For main course I had venison, four slices cooked perfectly, timed beautifully, tender and pink, on a bed of celeriac puree and also parsnip puree, which were both excellent. This was served with a reduced sauce of the cooking juices. There was a cheese course, a selection of six British cheeses, all in excellent condition. Dessert was a fine apple tart (made with British cooking apples and not too sweet), served with vanilla ice cream.
Stella had goat’s cheese, toasted and served on a crisp crouton, with salad leaves in vinaigrette, very finely diced apple, and caramelised onions (8/10). The main course was cod, on a bed of slightly tough spinach, with a butter sauce (4/10). Dessert was an iced chocolate parfait, which could have been slightly more chocolatey. It was served with a good orange sauce, not too sweet and not too sharp, and thin strips of caramelised orange peel (7/10). Bread was a choice of white or brown rolls (5/10). Petit fours were excellent, although the individual items were unusually large: a magnificent lemon meringue “pie”, a strawberry tart with creme patisserie, chocolate truffles and almond and coconut tuiles (8/10). Wine prices were very fair and the list excellent. We had a bottle of La Mouline 1981 that was hardly above retail price, followed by a half bottle of Climens 1985. Last visited June 1997.
Inverlochy Castle, Fort William Sunday June 29th
A beautiful place, with very luxurious room and wonderful grounds with spectacular rhododendrons which tower to tree height in the rich peat soil. A starter of Isle of Skye crab was done as a series of layers between little potato crisps, resting on a bed of potato salad with a horseradish mayonnaise, and surrounded by 3 scoops of avocado puree with far too much pepper in it. This was pleasant enough, the crab nicely tender, though the crispy layers rather too much like crisps (3/10). Bread was a choice of dry, uninspiring brown, white or black olive (1/10). Basil and tomato soup was adequate, with a clean taste, but it lacked any real intensity, though the basil was in reasonable balance – 3/10 only. Breast of Gressingham duck was again pleasant rather than anything more- the duck was pink enough and tender, but the sauce with it was just a few cooking juices - not really a sauce at all. A potato cake with it had bee rather overdone and was barely 1/10. Some strips of vegetables (carrot, courgette) were severely overcooked and were consequently lacking in any real texture. Stella had halibut verging on dryness, on some rather disappointing spinach, with well cooked asparagus spears and a few wild mushrooms – 3/10. We didn’t have cheese though we had tried the selection for lunch (5/10).
For dessert I had a poor lemon tart - this had very chewy pastry, was unevenly caramelised on top (so the effect was patchy) and the filling rather over-acidic. It was accompanied by some tasteless cherries with some cherry juice. This was only just 1/10. Stella had chocolate “truffe” a light, bland chocolate cake, served with vanilla ice-cream (definitely the best part of the dish) in a tuile basket and with two sticks of dark chocolate caraque. Coffee was satisfactory (4/10) but the petit fours were very ordinary - hardly better than ones you might buy (a hard Madeleine, a hard macaroon) (1/10).
Breakfast was excellent - two Loch Fyne kippers or a whole plate of the best smoked salmon with hot creamy scrambled eggs were the two dishes we tried. Last visited June 1197.
Peat Inn, Cupar (Thursday 2nd July)
Near the tiny village of Pittscottie. The Peat Inn has a cosy lounge as you enter with a low ceiling (accommodation is in a separate building at the back of the restaurant). The dining room has three parts, each with around four tables. The amuse guele was a onion quiche, which was pleasant but entirely ordinary in terms of taste and texture (3/10 maximum). As we sat down we were given a second amuse bouche, a slice of sole terrine, which had a slightly crumbly texture and a fairly subtle taste of sole; this was also fine but nothing special (3/10). The wine list is excellent here, with very carefully chosen growers, considerable depth across a number of countries, and very fair markups, often less than twice retail. We had Puligny Montrachet Etienne Sauzet 1993 at just £36. Service was rather amateurish throughout, with hardly any attempt to top up water or wine (galling when the water is whisked to a distant part of the room), long gaps between anyone looking into our dining area, and difficulty getting attention when there was someone there. When I left quite a bit of my main course (see later) the waiter asked whether there was anything wrong, I explained that the vegetables were inedible, to which he shrugged and walked off with the plate - no chat with the maitre d’, no “oh dear”, no reaction at all - a fast food restaurant would manage better.
My starter turned out to be the best dish - a slightly oddly conceived dish, with two scallops and a few pieces of monkfish stir fried, but accompanied by some minced spiced pork, which was cooked well enough but did not seem to complement the seafood at all - indeed the spicy pork is a strong flavour which tends to overshadow that of the scallops. Still, everything was cooked well enough, so 3/10. Stella’s starter was “smoked fish” - which we think was cod but was not identified by either the menu or the waiter - there were two slabs of rather grey fish sitting on a bed of potatoes and leeks which were a complete mush; dreadful (1/10 for the fish, 0/10 for the vegetables).
My main course was saddle of venison, three pieces of venison topped with a herb crust and with some diced wild mushrooms (and allegedly truffle, but this was vanishingly small if present at all). The venison was cooked tenderly enough, but sitting in a pool of sauce which was heavily over-reduced and so just had become a salty, over-thick juice. There was also a pile of quite inedible red cabbage, which had been grossly undercooked (just for variety) and was too vinegary. The venison on its own would have been 4/10, but with all the other errors it is hard to give this more than 1/10. Stella had halibut (the fish timed quite well, 5/10 for the fish alone) sitting on a bed of allegedly fried vegetables, which had in fact been deep-fried, were grossly overcooked and with the oil still clinging to the remains of the vegetable strips. This was accompanied by a potato gnocchi, which had a burnt exterior and a tasteless interior. Overall this dish would have to be 1/10 again given the gross errors on the vegetables.
Cheeses were an improvement, just five cheeses - Lanark Blue, Waterloo, a triple cream French cheese and another English blue cheese, plus a hard cheese from England. These were in generally good condition (5/10) though they were accompanied by some exceedingly stale water biscuits (to get water biscuits to be stale, they must have been around a very long time indeed). For dessert Stella had a trio of caramel deserts: creme caramel, a mini version of an apple tart in a pool of caramel, and a caramel ice cream on a tuile, garnished with a Chinese gooseberry and garnished, rather oddly, with a slice of unpeeled kiwi fruit, which hardly added anything to the composition. The creme caramel was fine, with good consistency and flavour, as was the ice-cream, but the apple tart was a min version of what I had for dessert, which was unfortunate. The apple tart I had featured decent pastry but just with slabs of apple plonked on the pastry - no glazing, no caramelising, nothing at all, like a child’s first attempt at an apple tart (0/10). The apple tart was accompanied by a decent tuile on which was some cinnamon ice cream, and this was fine (3/10). Coffee was rather ordinary, both n cafetiere and espresso form, without any strong flavour (2/10). Petit fours were: a chocolate cup filled with rich chocolate, topped with a blueberry (pleasant, 5/10), a chocolate truffle (rather lacking in richness, 1/10), and a couple of others not sampled. Breads were just brown and white rolls (3/10), ordinary but pleasant enough. Overall this was a deeply disappointing meal, and I feel this was the most mis-marked Good Food Guide entry I have been to for years. The chef was in this evening, so this level of performance simply cannot be excused in my view. Last visited July 1997.