Generally, things stay the same in Arran and that’s how I like it.
Every holiday, we get our caramel tarts from Wooleys, go for fish pie at Creelers in Brodick, and freeload on cheese samples at The Arran Cheese Shop. One year blends into the next, which diffuses into the next decade, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to a shock – I mean, nice surprise – or two.
Along with the amazing bread from the new-ish Blackwater Bakehouse, just across the road, this restaurant was one of those.
The menu, pinned up by the entrance, sounded fancy, though the dining room is pretty casual, with painted wooden furniture. The kitchen here has recently been taken over by the sons of the lodge’s owners, according to the waiter (one of the two offspring).
We went for three of their à la carte starters, the best of which was the curried leek risotto (£6.50). My other half had cycled round the island that day, and this dish scratched the low blood sugar itch that an entire pack of Jelly Babies couldn’t reach. There was a rice cairn ringed by a zingy sweet pea and lime purée topped by a buttery hunk of Creelers’ smoked haddock and a perfect slick yolked poached egg sprinkled with a garam masala ash. He LOVED it.
"We all liked the crunchy topped apple and cinnamon soufflé"
Apart from being a bit too salty overall, my cauliflower spring roll (£6) dish was also fab, with the clever additions of crispy mint leaves, and capers. The consistencies of this cruciferous vegetable were as follows: a cumin spiced mulch (inside the tightly swaddled crust of a spring roll), some dinky roasted florets and a creamy slick of velvety purée.
Our eight hour braised pork belly (£7) was a sea salted and crackling topped mobile phone sized piece of pig, which came with a large dollop of apple chutney, a breadcrumbed smoked potato croquette and a smear of thin date chutney on the side. Another winner.
My main was also lovely, though its saltiness means it could also work as an effective slug repellent. I blame the brandade, which came with a piece of crispy skinned pollock (£19), spinach purée, sauce vierge and a “potato crisp”, which formed a lattice-like creel over the whole dish.
This was impressive, but the cyclist won again with his amazing haunch of Arran venison (£21). As well as the perfect slices of pink meat, it was a peloton of other delicious things – a squat little minced venison pie with a bronzed crust, sweet roasted parsnips, wilted savoy cabbage and an arc of thyme infused gravy. Joy.
From the specials menu, our pan seared cod fillet with curried mussel broth (£14) featured a bowl full of bright red coconutty and gently spiced sauce, with inky shelled mussels and two fat wads of cod in the mix. So, far, so impressive, though their sweets don’t quite match up to the savouries.
A deconstructed take on a deep fried Mars bar (£7) consisted of a fallen standing stone of stiff “malted marshmallow” that was dotted with some blobs of caramel and chocolate, and there was a huge pile of the deep fried dough that resembles the sand case of lugworms but is actually US style funnel cake. This came with a ball of Irn-Bru sorbet that was a bit lumpy with ice and quickly made the funnel cake wet.
We all liked the crunchy topped apple and cinnamon soufflé (£6.50), which came with a lush caramel-ish ice cream. However, the crumble scattered rhubarb and vanilla panna cotta (£7.50) was a bit too firm and gelatinous, though its accompaniments of ginger ice-cream, poached rhubarb, and pear and ginger purée were pleasant. Despite the slight sugar fail, this place is a new favourite.
I shall add it to my regular schedule for Holiday 2017 (and try not to eat too many free cheese samples that day). Change CAN be a good thing.
Black Grouse Restaurant
Isle of Arran
(01770 860202, www.blackwaterfoot-lodge.co.uk)
Dinner for three, excluding drinks - £94.50