Hmm. What to have as a pre-dinner drink when on the isle of Islay?
Obviously the postprandial snifter is well catered for, what with the eight whisky distilleries hereabouts. I believe their products are generally well received.
Fortunately for those of us who prefer not to sup the water of life before eating, one of the distilleries, Bruichladdich, has helpfully started producing a gin, The Botanist.
"Being a control freak I instructed the husband not to eat more than a morsel so as not to spoil his appetite. But then I tasted it and the sweet, savoury chewiness worked its magic"
It was with a couple of these that we sat down to peruse the menu at Yan’s Kitchen in Port Charlotte. It is the prettiest village on the island and only a mile or so from Bruichladdich. After two nights eating in hotels elsewhere on Islay we were looking for a change.
When booking Yan’s Kitchen I went online to check the menu and almost thought twice as the standard fare looks like the sort of please-everyone, hotel-type food we were trying to get away from, with a seafood platter, steaks, fish and chips, lamb shank and mushroom pasta on offer.
The restaurant is in a lovely spot, overlooking Loch Indaal and right round the bay to the stark headland of the Mull of Oa on the other side. We had made sure to work up an appetite, and a thirst, cycling to Portnahaven and back in glorious sunshine in the afternoon.
The eatery has tables outside which would be a fantastic spot to enjoy lunch, but as time was ticking towards midge o’clock we opted for eating in.
The interior of the rather unassuming bungalow is simply laid out, with wooden tables, a central bar and a wood-burning stove, although there was no need for that in the early summer weather.
Yan’s Kitchen, and his dining room, isn’t huge, but it was packed, which is a good sign on a Thursday night in a small west coast village before the Scottish school holidays.
The Botanist gin, which is marketed as “a progressive exploration of the botanical heritage of the island”, went down well as we perused the specials board for our own progressive exploration of the grub.
This daily blackboard is where the place comes into its own with the accent on locally sourced food but with an international twist. The dishes of the day read as a lot more interesting than the online menu and included British, French, Chinese and Spanish dishes.
The Spanish influence was in evidence with the starters, which offered individual dishes or a tapas-style sharing plate (£14) with a choice of four dishes from the menu. We opted for scallops grilled with garlic butter and herbs, chorizo con patatas, anchovies and an onion bread called pan Catalonia served with serrano ham and tomato.
Before they arrived, our cheerful waiter brought us bread and butter, which turned out to be the same onion and herb bread that we had just ordered.
Being a control freak I instructed the husband not to eat more than a morsel so as not to spoil his appetite.
But then I tasted it and the sweet, savoury chewiness of this most marvellous of freshly baked bread worked its magic. We had half a slice each and then stared at the remaining pieces for around 13 seconds before one of us broke for it and it became a free for all scramble to finish every last crumb.
Cycling and sea air can play havoc with your appetite and, it seems, your manners.
We enjoyed the bread just as much when it arrived topped generously with serrano ham and tomato and used the last of it to soak up the buttery garlic juices from the pert scallops. The sharp anchovy fillets meanwhile cut through the richness of the chorizo and roast potatoes.
At the end of the starters, I suggested, not entirely jokingly, that we should just order another two platters of tapas and cancel the mains.
The husband would not have been happy if I had. His lemon sole, baked whole with baby new potatoes and salad (catch of the day £17.50) was hour fresh, succulent and slid off its spine of bones obligingly.
My pan fried duck breast with Stornoway black pudding, red onion marmalade, baby potatoes, seasonal vegetables with pan jus (£18), which came from the main menu, was less of a stand out dish. I would have preferred a crisp skin, but the meat was good none the less.
There was absolutely no need to order a mixed berry compote topped cheesecake (£5.50) but heck, we were on our holidays.
As for Yan’s Kitchen, they do a great job of using local ingredients in an interesting international way. Just make sure to order whatever is on the specials board.
Main Street, Port Charlotte
Isle of Islay
Tel: 01496 850230