Brambles Seafood & Grill, Brodick, Arran
We are on the Isle of Arran and, after tramping across moors to look at standing stones and walking the beaches in search of caves, we find ourselves in the mood for a spot of seafood. A few Google searches seem to confirm that Brambles, part of the Achrannie resort centre, is widely considered the best place to find what we’re looking for, so we promptly make a reservation. We then decide we want to change the time of our booking, but our indecision is expertly handled by the pleasant and accommodating staff and, soon enough, we’re all set. The venue proves to be a very pleasant place to dine: simple, understated and, quite early on a Saturday evening, already filling up with eager punters.
We decide to share two starters. The hand-dived Hebridean scallops are extraordinarily good. Perfectly cooked, they virtually melt in the mouth and come with a potato scone, two tangy spheres of Arran black pudding in a crispy herb crumb, apple crisps and an apple chutney puree. It is, quite simply, perfection on a plate. We also order Brambles’ version of a BLT – a lobster and crayfish pattie, sitting on a chive blini and topped with crispy bacon. It’s accompanied by seared beef tomato and lobster mayonnaise. Again, it’s expertly done and we make short work of it. This is an encouraging start to the meal.
It’s a surprise then, that the main courses, when they arrive, are a little less assured and, dare I whisper it, much less refined than what came before? Susan has opted for one of the evening’s specials, panfried seabass. This arrives in a bowl, resting on a pool of puy lentil and pancetta cassoulet and is accompanied by tender stem broccoli. The cassoulet is wonderfully earthy, if a little unadventurous in its presentation, but the skin of the otherwise well-cooked fish is disappointingly soggy.
I have chosen some fish from the grill, in this case loin of monkfish. There are two decent-sized chunks on there, nicely seared, though, it must be said, not particularly flavoursome, and I find myself wishing I’d chosen one of the two sauces – available as optional extras – to give it a bit more kick. This doesn’t feel like a dish so much as some individual items, cooked and arranged on a plate – there’s no real cohesion here. The fish is accompanied by roasted vine tomatoes, watercress and a big chunk of wet fennel – try as I might, I can never bring myself to enjoy fennel and the aniseed flavour tends to dominate here – not good when it’s a taste you don’t particularly enjoy. On the plus side, there are some chips, handcut, twice-roasted Roosters and they are very good indeed. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t bad dishes by any stretch of the imagination, but they feel a little safe and lack the ‘wow’ factor of those starters.
It’s down to the puddings to save the day and, predictably, they do manage to up the ante somewhat. My sticky toffee pudding is a deliciously gooey concoction, with a scoop of local dairy ice cream on the side. Susan’s gold and chocolate bread and butter pudding is even gooier and has the added advantage of banoffee ice cream. For extra indulgence, both puddings are accompanied by a little serving bowl of warm sauce, in my case toffee in Susan’s, chocolate. It’s a nice decadent touch, and one that almost excuses those lacklustre main courses. Almost, but not quite.
Look, this is a tourist area, and it hasn’t escaped my attention that the eight people sitting at a table behind us have all ordered traditional battered fish and chips – maybe Brambles are constrained by what they know they can sell. But one thing is certain. The invention and sheer pizzazz demonstrated in those starters is proof that the chefs here are more than capable of delivering the goods – so I’d love to see that same inventiveness extended to the main courses. It is, after all, the most important part of any meal.