January should be a time of austerity, frugality and shame at your overindulgence. But after a couple of days of that, it gets boring, so we booked a table at The George Hotel. We also had a debt to pay; my mother had hosted a fair few days of extended family feasting over Christmas and deserved a treat on us.
The George is the kind of place that mothers should be taken – and apparently not only mothers. Twenty years ago on our first visit to the hotel we bumped into an old work colleague of my husband’s from the north of England.
"There is a whiff of Jacobite intrigue, or it could be the aroma from the peat fires"
We greeted him enthusiastically but he didn’t reciprocate; the reason became apparent when he was joined by his companion, who was not his wife.
He must have thought that an inn in rural Argyll was as anonymous a place as they could choose, poor chap.
The hotel is a fine Georgian building that dominates Inveraray’s picture-postcard main street. The current owners’ family bought it in 1860 and it still has an air of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped about it, with beautiful dark wood panelling in the bar, flagstone floors and low ceilings.
There is a definite whiff of Jacobite intrigue about the place, or it could be the aroma from the peat fires.
Six of us trooped in from the sleety night and were seated at a large round table which included a spot tucked into a wooden alcove by the fire; a perfect place to hatch a plot against the king, or hem in a teenage boy.
The food is sourced from a rich local larder of seafood, cheeses, game and meat. The menu is full of traditional favourites, alongside more imaginative pairings, all cooked well and served by an attentive staff.
Between the six of us we ordered starters to share and chose mixed olives (£3), marinated anchovies, smoked mussels and a smoked prawn (£4.95) and a larger cold seafood plate of Bradan Rost, smoked salmon, herring rollmop and more smoked mussels (£9.95). Both seafood plates were deliciously sweet, sour and smoky, the rollmop in particular was fought over – as befits the location, Inveraray was the centre of the herring trade in these parts.
Teenage boy opted for cream of cauliflower soup (£3.95) which was smooth and flavoursome, with a hint of cumin.
Three of us chose fish and chips (£10.95) for a main course and were rewarded with fresh haddock in a light crisp batter. I had a grumble about being served salad with fish and chips, particularly in January, when of course it should be peas, but the accompanying tartare sauce was homemade, chunky and tart, so made up for it.
The husband had chargrilled salmon served on a saffron risotto, seared spinach and crayfish bisque (£15.95) which he declared delicate, perfectly cooked and a well balanced dish.
After all the adults had opted for fish – which was a type of abstemiousness if we had ignored the chips – the teenagers were not so minded. My daughter asked if she was allowed a steak in a voice which would have been pathetic coming from Oliver Twist in the poorhouse. My audible reply: “Of course, whatever you’d like, dear…” was accompanied by enough of a meaningful look that she didn’t opt for the fillet steak priced at £25.95, instead ordering the chargrilled Scottish rib-eye (£17.95) which was rare, as ordered, and tender.
My son’s homemade chargrilled burger (£9.85) was a grown-up affair with onion relish and chilli thousand island dressing, cooked pink in the middle. It was wolfed down.
Puds were shared; there was a spectacular crème brûlée and a gooey sticky toffee pudding (both £4.95).
In total the meal for six with drinks came to £155.
A wonderful Argyll institution, The George was the only restaurant open on the night we visited – even the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar down the road was shut in the week after Hogmanay festivities. But The George was busy with families, locals and visitors – all having a bar meal, a birthday treat or just a good pint of ale by the fire. There isn’t much new about the place, but when you have been a successful pub and hotel for this many centuries, why change?
ALSO ON THE MENU
Next time we’ll go for the game on the menu – the venison collops in particular sound like the best winter comfort food. A stay in the hotel would be intriguing too; DBB deals are well priced throughout the low season and spending a weekend eating this food and sleeping in a four-poster bed would brighten up anyone’s February.
Main courses £8.25-£25.95
Puddings £4.95, cheeseboard £5.50-£7.50