Gavin, GA-VIN, what do you want to drink? I’m getting a ROUND IN,” the man shouts, spraying spittle onto my forehead.
Ah, the joys of eating in a gastropub.
Still, this four-star hotel and restaurant makes up for the few drawbacks (Gavin’s loud friend, and the noisy buzz when, on our visit, the bar area goes from almost empty to suddenly three rows deep) in charm.
For one thing, it has the best ever log fire, which intersects the two dining spaces and features a mantelpiece topped by a pair of ginger Staffordshire dogs and a case of taxidermied garden birds on branches. As Christmas approaches, I bet tourists and locals will be drawn to this former coaching inn, which sits in the lovely village of Luss (aka Glendarroch of Take the High Road set fame) like the moths that fluttered towards our headlights on the twisty and dark main road.
"My darne of Argyll salmon was beautiful, with nibbly sweetness"
The menu looks amazing – comforting and stodgy enough, but sophisticated and imaginative too. It certainly makes use of the produce they grow in their own garden, nearby on the banks of the loch. I went for the salad of scorched peaches with honey ricotta, marinated courgettes and savoury granola (£6.50).
Sounds beautiful, but was slightly disappointing, with singed and slightly furry-tasting peachy segments, fine strips of honey-doused raw courgette, smears of pale milky cheese and a tangled excess of spindly pea shoots. There had obviously been a bit of artistic licence granted when it came to writing the menu, as the granola turned out to be a handful of toasted pumpkin and poppy seeds.
Not granola. Pleasant, but the plate needed something saltier, nuttier or a cheesier cheese. This was a healthy dessert.
The specials board’s potted pheasant (£5), which consisted of a Kilner jar stuffed with pulped game bird, was better. It was laced with tiny orange snippets of apricot and carrot and topped by a handful of cress. On the side was a tarry coloured tile of rough and sweet treacle bread, and there was a dollop of punchy wholegrain mustard. Good stuff.
My darne of Argyll salmon (£14) was beautiful, with nibbly charred sweetness along the oily inside edges of the skin. It came with “crème fraîche potatoes” – crushed tatties with a blob of the creamy stuff and finely scissored chives mixed in. There was also some springy cavolo nero, and a huge coaster of caper-less “tartare butter”, which also mainly featured chives.
Despite the absence of crackling, we were pretty happy with the slow-roasted Clentrie Farm pork belly offering (£14.50), which featured loads of decent soft meat, a block of non-cheesy tasting fried “Parmesan” polenta, chunks of tart caramelised pineapple and some crisp pot-pourri-esque leaves of fried sage.
Post-meat feast, and there was much excitement when it came to testing out their “famous warm and sticky treacle tart” (£6). Sadly, it’ll have to be relegated to B-lister, as they’d forgotten to heat it up. A shame, as it was a goodie despite its temperature, with loads of lemony sweetness, a thick crumbly pastry and a large blob of resolutely unmelting Luvians clotted cream ice-cream.
My huge bowlful of honey crème brûlée (£7) had a sugary topping as thick as the Princes Street Gardens ice rink and erred on the side of being over blow-torched. Lucky I like carbon, and have strong enamel.
It came with some fruity raspberry sorbet and was sprinkled with clusters of what they’d called “oat brittle”, which was more like a sweet version of the granola that should have come with the starter.
Sorry, I’ve been very Grinchy about this place, when it’s actually quite magical. The problem is that the food looks so wonderful on the menu, but frustratingly, doesn’t quite deliver.
Never mind, a few tweaks, and we can celebrate. It’s Gavin’s round.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £53