Lochgoilhead, in Argyll, is not easy to get to. Approached from the Glasgow side down a winding single-track road leading from the Rest and Be Thankful, or via an equally hair-raising route from Strachur, visitors must have a solid reason for making the journey.
Fortunately, the Lodge on Loch Goil, an event and wedding venue which has this year opened up to the public as a fine dining restaurant, makes the trek worthwhile.
Fiona and I wound our way down the latter route in search of the place on a Friday night.
Driving past the holiday homes to the more picturesque end of the village we kept going, long after the sat nav had given up the ghost. But just as we began to panic that we were lost, we spotted the imposing entrance. It is only when the electric gates swung slowly open and we turned down the precipitous driveway that the lodge came into view – and what a house it is.
"An excellent shared chocolate torte, with crackle and croquant – I wasn’t sure which was which – should have been the end, but we carried on to sample the fine cheeses"
Designed by Scottish arts and crafts architect William Leiper in 1865, it has a Swiss chalet feel, with balconies and terraces facing on to Loch Goil.
The gardens are spectacular, and the stunning treehouse used for intimate dinners and ceremonies overlooking the beach convinced us that this would be the most romantic of wedding settings.
The interior of the house has grand formal rooms filled with stained glass, period furnishings and wood panelling, but the dining room in a modern conservatory with loch views makes the most of the location. I did worry that a place set up for catering events might produce food that was a bit weddingy – think dull chicken in white wine – but the menu suggested otherwise.
It was short, just three choices for each course, and as Fiona is pescatarian, there wasn’t much quibbling between us.
While we waited we were brought an amuse bouche of a squid ink cracker topped with jewels of cod’s roe, caviar and vibrant shades of pickled golden beetroot, which was quite the best thing I have eaten this year.
If I could have ordered more of the same crunch, piquancy and intense fishiness for the whole meal, I would have done.
Usually getting an order wrong is not a great move for a restaurant, particularly when being reviewed, but the mix-up over our starters turned out well. It was probably my own fault. Dithering while the chap took our order, I talked longingly about the langoustine, before finally plumping for the 36-hour pork, with scratchings.
I’m a sucker for crackling. But when my starter came, it was langoustine. I briefly opened my mouth to correct the mistake, but the sight of such a beautifully put-together dish shut it very quickly.
The plump ravioli burst with juiciness and as well as the accompanying tuile the dish was topped with crispy skin of sea bream. There is more than one way to get that crackling satisfaction.
Fiona’s goat’s cheese, whipped to a fairy-light mousse, came with a sage cream and scurvy grass which, it was explained, in days of old was used by sailors to inject some Vitamin C into their diet to ward off the disease.
I asked her afterwards what it tasted like, but she couldn’t remember eating it. Perhaps it was indistinguishable from the micro herbs on the plate, but she may have grounds to complain if her teeth fall out or she becomes anaemic any time soon.
My main course of lamb with burnt onion was perfectly cooked tender fillets, alongside sweetbreads encased in a darkly savoury crunchy coating. The dish was elevated by crisp barley – like a savoury sugar puff – and asparagus encased in a tiny little spring roll.
I harboured envy of Fiona’s main, however. Her delicate sea bream was accompanied by the sweetness of peas, a lovage gazpacho and wedges of little gem which had been fired, rather than braised, adding a subtle smokiness.
An excellent shared chocolate torte, with crackle and croquant – I wasn’t sure which was which – should have been the end, but being greedy we carried on to sample the fine range of cheeses. The oatcakes and dark bread served alongside were a little too thick and crumbly for my taste, but after such a meal it would be churlish to deduct marks.
The Lodge on Loch Goil has an excellent and imaginative chef who knows how to get the best out of local ingredients, many of which are from the restaurant’s own garden. The house and the setting are a bonus, so my advice would be to book a room if the budget allows.
Happy the bride and groom who choose such a place for their nuptials, but with cooking this good available to the general public it is fortunate that the only commitment you need to make to eat here is to tackle the road in.
Argyll PA24 8AE , Tel: 01301 703173