With a population of just 600, it is perhaps a surprise that Lochinver is described as the second-largest fishing port in Scotland. It’s the busiest harbour in the Highlands, certainly, and as a result the picturesque village is never going to be sleepy hollow.
Refrigerated trucks wait at industrial units to receive the latest haul, transporting the precious cargo to far-flung destinations. The number of foreign boats using Lochinver outstrips the tally of native vessels, as almost 60 per cent of those using the port hail from other European countries.
"For such a small place, in the remote but beautiful north-west of the country, Lochinver has a fabulous range of dining options"
It comes then as a disappointment but not a complete shock to find that there is nowhere in the village to buy fresh fish, with locals served instead by a van from Scrabster every Wednesday. It turned out to be a similar story at one of the area’s best restaurants, Chez Roux, which sits high above the village and offers diners a panoramic view of the bay.
For such a small place, in the remote but beautiful north-west of the country, Lochinver has a fabulous range of dining options. The Albannach is Britain’s most northerly Michelin-star restaurant, and we might have tried it during our stay in the area if it had offered lunch.
There is also Peet’s Restaurant, a recent addition to the scene in 2014, which is a popular choice for those not looking for fine dining, and at the other end of the village, the famous Lochinver Larder, which specialises in pies – a local delicacy so tasty that it even won the approval of the effortlessly rude Michael Winner on a visit a few years back, but don’t let that put you off.
We headed instead to Inver Lodge Hotel, home of Chez Roux. An establishment in the name of such a legendary restaurateur in an outpost like Lochinver is another surprise, given that Albert Roux’s other Scottish ventures are Greywalls at Muirfield and the Andy Murray-owned Cromlix Hotel at Dunblane, although the great man’s twin passions of fishing and the Scottish Highlands might have something to do with it.
He keeps an eye on how the Lochinver branch of his brand is faring with a couple of visits each year.
On the whole, he would have found that standards were up to scratch had he joined us on our visit, although he might have had something to say about the wine list. A request for prosecco brought disappointment, as did a follow-up for a glass of Sancerre.
It was just the start of the season, we were told by way of explanation. That didn’t sound convincing – this was Easter, and there had been all winter to ensure the wine cellar was properly stocked.
Any genuine disappointment more or less ended there, and a Scottish smoked salmon platter, with crème fraîche, confit lemon and shallots (£12) put to rest any concerns we had that we might have turned up too early in the season. This kind of dish is frequently accompanied by capers, but shallots beat that combination hands down. And it was a picture.
The charcuterie and antipasti with toasted sourdough (£12.50), included salami, Parma ham and chorizo of the highest quality, and again the presentation was immaculate. Both starters were offered as “snacks” on the lunch menu and would be a suitable main course for some diners. Chez Roux also offers a lunch special, RouXpress, where three courses are all served at once, to “compromise on time not on taste”. It’s a nice idea, although the demand for power lunches can’t be high in Lochinver.
For our main courses, it seemed daft not to try the Scottish seafood pie with rooster potato purée (£11.50), even if the contents had travelled 120 miles from Scrabster rather than a couple of hundred yards from Lochinver harbour. Although the dish was short on imagination – for seafood pie, read fish pie – its simplicity was well executed, with the purée neither too rich nor too creamy.
The duo of Aberdeen Angus mini burgers with pommes Pont Neuf (£11) should have been better, with the beef more tough than tender. “On the dry side,” was the verdict.
Desserts also brought a mix of opinions, although one was down to personal preference. Albert Roux’s caramelised lemon tart (£8) was a must for me, but there was no mention on the menu of the accompanying raspberry coulis and sorbet, which I didn’t much care for. With hindsight, the crème brûlée (£7.50) should have been my first choice. “Best I’ve ever tasted,” reported my companion. After insisting that sharing would be necessary, in the interests of research, I can concur with the verdict.
By the time we left, two pleasant hours had slipped by. Meanwhile, a couple of lorries at the harbour were preparing for journeys to France and Spain, taking Lochinver’s reputation to the continent. If you don’t know that story already, it’s one that is well worth learning.
Inver Lodge Hotel