Just like every year for the last few decades, dad came on our annual holiday to the Isle of Arran.
This time, though, he wasn’t coming home.
His ashes swirled in the greeny blue water of Corrie, then trailed off into the deep, like smoke. The flowers that we chucked in drifted off slower, lagging behind him reluctantly.
It was about time we let him go, nine months on, including a few days in the limbo of mum’s car boot.
And, as with everything significant, the remaining Soutars felt that this moment should be punctuated by some sort of eating ritual.
I wished we’d brought some of his favourites – fig rolls, liquorice, very dark chocolate, or tomatoes, which he ate like apples – though that would make for an odd lunch.
Instead we stopped at a new-ish place, Mara, Gaelic for “the sea”. Apt. Formerly The Rock Pool, it’s lively, casual and hoaching with a contingent of walkers and their windswept dogs, including the resident Westie, Mac.
There are no funereal sausage rolls, stewed tea or triangular sandwiches, thank goodness.
However, as it’s officially a takeaway, you can’t make bookings and there isn’t a toilet, so you may have to pop into the hotel down the road (they didn’t seem to mind) or brace your pelvic floor.
There is seating outside, under parasols, or at the bar that lines the cerulean blue walls. Thankfully, just as it started spitting, we bagged the only low down indoor table.
Choose something from the list chalked up on the blackboard, then give your order at the counter. This place is a two person operation, with Kirsty Decaestecker as front of house and her co-owner chef husband, Gordon, out back.
He has cooking experience at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Restaurant Mark Greenaway, as well as the Black Grouse in Blackwaterfoot (now closed down, sadly).
Order at the counter and things come as they’re ready, served in eco-friendly boxes. The best of our lot was the fillet of ling (£10), which was sloshed in a rich iron red tomatoey and coconut milk sauce, with a little pep of lime, lemongrass and chopped coriander, as well as a bank of sticky coconut rice.
Also lovely was the fillet of coley on top of their homemade Arran venison chorizo and pea risotto (£10.50). The hunk of fish had a burnished sea-salted skin, and the rice was stocky and nutty, dotted with peas and nibs of the dense and gamey sausage.
The pair of golf-ball-sized Skipness smoked mackerel croquettes (£5.50) were coated in a dense crumb and featured a pleasingly paste-like centre of this mashed oily fish.
They were dotted with emulsion-like blobs of butter yellow and clinging-ly thick lemon mayo and served on a huge dollop of garlicky kale chimichurri. We mopped up the sauce with steamy-centred hand cut chips (£3).
Next up was the Skipness hot smoked salmon mac and cheese (£7). We were undeserving in our lack of exercise, but this robust pasta dish would have been the perfect carb-heavy reward for those who’d tackled Goat Fell, with its layer of sandy, salty and crunchy cheddar and bacon crumb.
Our smaller portion of fish tacos (£6.50) featured folded tortillas, each cupping chunks of chilli-spiked white fish as well as a handful of fresh mint, a smudge of guacamole, raw red onion and rocket.
And, for pudding, we shared two white chocolate cookies (£2 each) and a gummy-centred chocolate brownie (£3). There was a discovery too – the best coffee on Arran (and, my goodness, how we have searched) in their flat whites (£2.40).
These are probably brewed from Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee Roaster’s wares, since Mara sells bags of these on their deli shelves, along with a basket of Blackwater Bakehouse bread and this restaurant’s own cookbook.
Lots of celebratory treats. I’m sure dad would have enjoyed these, and our lunch, but he’s not missing out.
Wherever he is – and a more spiritual person than me might say it’s not the Firth of Clyde – I’m sure there are unlimited fig rolls. n
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