It’s a good job, as you are unlikely to be passing down the single-track road on the shores of Loch Fyne unless you are heading for the small communities down this way, past Strachur on the way to Kilfinan and Otter Ferry, an hour and a half from Glasgow.
Those who make the drive will find the location astounding, with panoramic views of the loch and over to the Kintyre peninsula. There is not one but two castles in view – the new and old Castle Lachlans, proving names are all relative.
The restaurant here has changed hands recently, after years as everyone’s favourite eaterie. Inver Cottage, as it was then called, was the place where we locals took weekend visitors, celebrated birthdays or called in for afternoon tea. So the general feeling was one of regret when that era came to an end.
Which might all point to an uphill struggle for the new incumbents, particularly when rumours that they had completely changed things began circulating. There was even a review which, while praising the restaurant, seemed to suggest that the regulars here might not “get” the food at Inver, as if we were some kind of remnant Pictish tribe confused by modern ways.
So we decided to check out what the fuss was all about. The converted croft which houses the restaurant has not changed hugely – the interior is homely and pleasingly sparse, although those who are squeamish about stuffed animals might have to choose their seat by the fire carefully.
We went for the four-course taster menu, which needs to be booked in advance, although bar meals are available too. The four courses are a set menu priced at £35 – which turned out to be very good value indeed, especially as you actually end up having six courses including pre-starters and petits fours.
Inver is now run by Pam Brunton and Rob Latimer, who have racked up an impressive level of experience in renowned restaurants across Europe. The cuisine here could be described as a modern Scandinavian take on Scottish produce and it is excellent.
"The first of the main courses stepped up the skill to a level where I was no longer thinking that I could give this a go at home."
We started with an appetiser of purple sprouting broccoli, simply grilled and dipped into anchovy cream, accompanied by a cocktail in the bar. It looked simple but was a delicious morsel; a basic ingredient elevated by imagination and skill, which soon became the theme of the evening.
Taken to our table, the next course was rustic earthenware bowls filled with cream of garlic soup with a whole pheasant’s egg, just set, and wild garlic flowers sprinkled on top. The potatoes at the bottom made it richly satisfying and moreish, and the chewy homemade bread made me forget to pace myself.
Service here is relaxed and friendly, but very much unhurried so you can cogitate and discuss each course, if you are that sort – and we are – before the next arrives.
The first of the main courses stepped up the skill to a level where I was no longer thinking that I could give this a go at home. Isle of Gigha halibut was cured rather than smoked and served with pickled spaghetti potato, horseradish cream, herb stems and leek oil. The essentially raw potatoes were a revelation – the sharpness and crunch offsetting the buttery texture of the halibut. The other half said his horseradish threatened what was a delicately balanced dish, but I pointed out that perhaps he shouldn’t have put the whole lot in his mouth at once.
The roast chicken with chicken liver sauce, hazelnuts and baby asparagus was the highlight, and as good a plate of food as I’ve ever had, with a beautifully moist piece of poultry oozing an intense roast chicken flavour, which hinted at the sort of sous-vide witchcraft people get run out of town for in these parts.
Rhubarb with whipkull and ginger crunch was the pud. We steeled ourselves for something inedible, but whipkull turns out to be a Shetland egg nog, tasting like a cross between whipped cream and custard. I’m not usually a pudding eater, but this one had me surreptitiously running my finger round the bowl long after forensics could have found a trace.
Inver food is wonderfully balanced and perfectly presented, with original takes on favourites, but in no way outlandish or unfamiliar. A week later we flew to Copenhagen and sampled the same type of dishes in the sometimes eye-wateringly expensive restaurants where this type of cuisine originated, but the cooking at Inver was never eclipsed.
They may lose the odd regular still expecting a more traditional menu, but Inver deserves to gain a huge following for its delicate and delicious treatment of the best Scottish ingredients.
Set menu £35 for four courses, plus appetiser and petits fours
ALSO ON THE MENU:
As it is a set menu, it changes daily or weekly, so we’ll go back soon to experience whatever the new season brings. I’d also like to try the bar meals – carrot and lovage soup and homemade corned beef hash were on the menu the night we dined. Inver has special wine pairing nights and menus are created to partner local Loch Fyne ales too.