I’ve been to a lot of glossy city-centre chains recently.
You know, the bling ones where you feel obliged to take pics for social media and it’s all a bit American Psycho.
I’ve left those places feeling very full, but also a bit empty. (Don’t feel sorry for me, it’s okay, I know I have the best job in town).
The antidote might be a trip to Ardkinglas Estate, where Welsh chef William Hamer - whose experience includes a stage at Hisa Franko, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Slovenia - is doing his soul food thing with Wild Kabn Kitchen.
He’s set up in the grounds, in a romantically addled-looking greenhouse.
They do pop-up communal Sunday lunches and private dining (£95pp), and offer an organic, local, and sustainable menu that involves cooking over fire. Some of the produce has been grown by his partner, Penelope Rushin, in the Polytunnel and grounds.
If you’re staying over, you can holiday in one of the two Kabn Company cabins, on the shore of Loch Fyne, and a trip to the Wild Kabn Kitchen is part of the experience.
We met William, who should change his name to Willm to suit the vowel-dropping theme, on a Monday night at 7.30pm.
He led us along a winding route across springy grass and through gaps in an old stone wall, to our private dining destination. We only wished we’d brought some breadcrumbs.
You can eat in a space that’s strung with vines, but we scored The Fig Room, which was full of the earthy-sweet smell of these plants and their hand-sized leaves. I suppose this is fine-dining of sorts, though there’s no white linen and, if nature calls, they’ve got a Portaloo along the path.
William goes off and does his thing in the makeshift kitchen, poking at the fire, and you can get romantic (or not) with your plus one and only see the chef whenever he delivers the five successive plates.
After a portion of pleasingly charred warm flatbreads, we started with the scallop a la plancha.
It was such a delicate thing, in the shell that was balanced on a bowl of coals. The lemon, yeast and fig sauce was subtly fresh and balmy.
Next was the piece-de-resistance. William told us he’s had this on his menu for a while. It was half a head of cauliflower (each) that had been cooked on embers for aeons.
The textures were so interesting - sticky and sweet on the bottom, then creamy in the middle, and crispy on the outer edges. It was served in a bowl of salted yoghurt, with a few raspberries in lieu of the billed redcurrants, which had been pilfered by the local avian community. I blame those blackbird reprobates.
Round three involved summer courgettes and smoked tomato. The latter fruit was whole, and had been cooking, like the cauli, all day. Thus, it had been transformed by flaming alchemy into something almost unrecognisable - sweet, slightly smokey and delicate.
It was almost ready to collapse, as if it was only held together by the membrane on a raindrop. This came with William’s homemade ricotta, lemon aioli, and more of the glow-stick-bright nasturtiums.
Our final savoury course was a charred fillet of chrome-coloured mackerel, with a juicy sweet puree of beetroot and redcurrant, which had a nasturtium leaf on top like a lily pad on a pond. There were also petal-like and burnished whorls of chapa potato,
You know a meal is good, when you get a bit emosh at the end.
Our sweet thing was a panna cotta. It was dusted with the fig powder that had also been on the scallop, and came with a beetroot syrup that had been made with the water used to boil these veggies for the fish course’s puree.
After finishing our own bottle of vino, we visited the haunted Portaloo and walked home along the edge of Loch Fyne, peeking through the wall at the estate house, which was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer.
We skimmed stones, and spotted what we thought was a seal, though it strangely turned out to be a banana pool inflatable that must’ve drifted off course.
Weird, but another unforgettable moment to add to the evening’s events.
It made a change to be full, but in more ways than one.
Argyll & Bute