Inver, Strathlachlan - beautiful in every way
Are you keen on stunning vistas while you have your meal? If so, Inver is for you! Nestled by the river at Strathlachlan, Inver looks out towards the ruins of Castle Lachlan and onto Loch Fyne. It's an absolutely beautiful spot and each of their (fab) bothies has floor to ceiling windows that frame it - imagine waking up to that!
We weren't staying but my sister and her husband were, so we drove up to meet them for dinner. Coming from Dunoon, you take the A815 along Loch Eck and when you come down the hill at Strachur, take the left towards Colintraive/Tighnabruaich. You then take a right onto the B8000 which is a single track road, and you'll find Inver on the right hand side after the caravan park. There's a decent-sized car park and if you're up for a wee wander before dinner, then take the path to Castle Lachlan - it's a short walk and very pretty as you can see...
We arrived a little early and so were taken to the bar area - we settled in next to the roaring fire and chose our drinks - Diet Coke for me and the Fyne Ales IPA for the hubster. Well, I asked for diet coke but, pleasingly, it's not something Inver offers - instead there's a range of interesting soft drinks and from that I picked the naturally sugar free Karma Cola and then had Luscombe Elderflower Bubbly with my meal.
While we were waiting for our table, we were brought a complimentary bar snack of fermented carrots in carrot top oil - the carrots themselves were a sort of intense red colour and their flavour was really interesting - they all disappeared quickly! Our orders were also taken at this point - I went for one of the specials, Robin's mackerel cooked over coals, my sister and her husband both opted for John Dory with winter chanterelles, pear and vin juane (another of the specials), and my husband chose the Isle of Bute pork with grilled cabbage and apple sauce. Once we'd made our orders, the mackerel and John Dory were wiped off the specials board - a good sign that they actually were specials.
We were taken through to the dining area which is comfortingly sparse and simple, what I would call Skandi-style decor - think white walls, light wood tables and chairs, pops of soft blue throughout - and brought slices of homemade sourdough with two types of butter. Milk unfortunately gives me eczema and we'd informed the restaurant of allergies at the time of booking, so they brought me some goat's milk butter instead which was delicious and not something I've tried before.
Our main courses followed shortly thereafter and wow - Robin's mackerel was amazing. Our server told us that Robin is their next door neighbour; he loves to fish but he doesn't enjoy eating it and so he takes his catch to Inver and they cook it simply over hot coals. And I got the whole thing, head and all, on the bone - it was beautifully cooked, so soft and tasty. The fish came alone and so I selected Kate's hand-picked leaf salad with elderflower vinaigrette and heritage potatoes in whey butter and mint (again, they made it with goat's butter to suit my needs).
Those little heritage potatoes were really flavoursome and paired perfectly with the fish. Kate's salad was in abundance and had all manner of edible flowers in it. Again, Kate lives just down the road, grows all these items herself, then hand-picks for Inver. You will, by now, see the importance of local produce for Inver - provenance is vital and with Argyll's larder on their doorstep, Inver makes use of the region's best ingredients. Speaking of which, my husband had the Isle of Bute pork, with grilled cabbage and apple sauce, along with a side of hand cut chips. His pork was, in his words, 'soft, perfectly cooked, and tender, with a deep, glossy sauce and a strong, dense apple sauce which complemented the meat perfectly'. I might have dipped a finger in that sauce (after he'd finished, of course, I'm not a savage!) and I can confirm its beautiful richness. Those chips as well - delicious!
I finished with the barley cake with apples and goat's milk, which was served with crab apple sorbet and a milk caramel and cumin tuile. The soft, apple-y cake with the cold parfait and the crunchy slices of apple really was lovely, and the caramel-cumin tuile was so distinctively different - it really added something to the dish, with the sharp-sweet crab apple sorbet. We were wowed by our puddings. The men-folk had rye donuts with wild pepper ice cream and bone marrow caramel and cardamom. As you can see, the dish looked AMAZING - certainly food envy inducing...
There was much oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing with this one. Again, once he was finished, I had a wee taste of the sauce and I loved the rich caramel at the back of which there was a certain depth, presumably provided by the bone marrow. The wild pepper ice cream was really interesting - normally that's code for 'a bit weird and I didn't like it' - but in this instance, we really did like it. It was thought provoking and yet seriously delicious.
And with that - we were done! I absolutely love what Inver is doing here - the beautiful location, the relaxed styling and attentive service, the insistence upon provenance, upon pillaging Argyll's larder for its best produce, the meticulous menu which treats ingredients simply and with respect, and adds an interesting twist on often traditional dishes. I think Inver is quietly building its reputation as a serious contender on the food scene and I look forward to seeing it grow and receive the recognition it deserves.
I would urge you to seek out Inver, whether you're going for lunch or dinner, or for a stay in the well-appointed bothies. It really is a special treat.
PS: you can also buy their home-made sourdough and, since it's my all-time favourite bread, my sister was good enough to pick up a loaf in the morning for me - when she hand-delivered it, it was still warm!