Scottish Highlands

The Gathering

26/11/17

Glencoe, Scotland

We’re in Glencoe, where we’ve spent the days climbing hills and being generally gobsmacked by the amazing scenery that waits at every turn. After last night’s fine dining at the Loch Leven Hotel, we’re in the mood for something a little more straightforward. The Gathering catches our eye, a green painted wooden building off the main road with a prominent welcome sign, which promises ‘fish and chips and more’ (it’s the ‘more’ that gets our attention). After a quick glance at the menu, we decide that a bit of lobster is exactly what we fancy, so in we go and, as it’s a rather chilly night, we locate a table as close as we can to the roaring multi-fuel stove which is doing its level best to heat up the large and attractive open-plan dining area.

The deal here is very no-nonsense. Fifteen pounds buys you half a char-grilled lobster and, for a couple of quid extra, they’ll throw in a bowl of chips – and that’s pretty much what we go for. After a short wait, the platters arrive and there they are, exactly what we ordered – the decently-sized half-lobsters accompanied by some nicely dressed rocket and a large bowl of garlic butter in which to dunk the meat. Mmm.

Okay, so lobster can be a bit of a faff. Once you’ve picked out the easy bit, there’s a lot of wrestling with medieval-looking implements in order to break open those claws and seek out their tasty interiors. For some it’s just too much effort for too little return, but the lobster is a tasty beast, and we have time on our hands, so we’re prepared to give it our best shot. The chips, by the way,  are perfect: crispy on the outside and nice and soft within. We ask for a bowl of mayonnaise in which to dip them and it is promptly provided.

Afterwards, we’ve still room for some pudding so we order a warm chocolate fudge cake with a couple of scoops of salted caramel ice cream, which we share, and which finishes the meal off to our satisfaction. With a couple of drinks the bill comes in at under fifty pounds which feels like a result.

If you’re in Glencoe and you’re in the mood for fish and chips (and more), this may be just the place for you.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Loch Leven Hotel

25/11/17

Old Ferry Road, North Ballachulish

We’ve been living in Edinburgh full-time for eighteen months now, and we’re horribly aware of how little we still know of our adopted country. So we make the most of a free weekend, and head up to Glencoe, to explore a portion of the Highlands. We find what looks like a decent deal for a couple of nights at the Loch Leven Hotel in North Ballachulish, check out the tripadvisor reviews and make our booking.

And, my word, we’re glad we do.

Because the hotel’s location is nothing short of magnificent. Situated on the shores of the loch, it boasts an enviable view, all snow-capped mountains and autumnal trees. Our room opens out onto a veranda, with a path that leads directly down to the water. It’s breathtaking. Add to that a warm, friendly vibe and clean, comfortable rooms, and you’ve got yourself a great hotel. The gin experts’ bar and the fine-dining restaurant are the icing on the proverbial cake.

They’re justifiably proud of what they’re achieving at the Loch Leven Hotel. It’s a small, family-run establishment, and they’re clearly an ambitious clan. When we praise the food, the manager, Henry, tells us that they’re ‘going for an AA rosette’; on the basis of what we eat tonight, I’d say the award’s not far away.

I start with the pan-seared Isle of Mull scallops, which are simply perfect. They’re melt-in-the-mouth, with a backnote of chargrill; it’d be hard to better this. Philip has the smoked and dry-cured grouse breast; this is the first time he’s eaten grouse prepared this way, but he says it will not be the last. It’s bold and flavoursome, a revelation of a dish.

Philip has the Scottish herb-crusted lamb rack for his main, which comes with Dauphinoise potatoes, butternut squash puree, heritage carrots, and the richest stickiest berry jus either of us have ever tried. It’s all lovely, but the jus is the killer. We ask the waiter what’s in it, and are surprised to note there’s Pernod in the mix. It seems there’s life in the 80s throwback still. Meanwhile, I’m tucking in to the Scottish venison steak, which is served rare, with braised cabbage, white wine and cream spinach and some carrot crisps. It’s delicious, and makes me resolve to buy some venison next time I visit the butchers.

And then there’s pudding, of course; we’re not ones to say no. Philip decides to sample the salted caramel and dark chocolate torte, while I have the sticky toffee pudding, both of which we have with vanilla ice cream. They’re lovely: dark, sweet and gooey as can be, but perhaps not as noteworthy as what has gone before.

We share a bottle of the house white – a perfectly decent chenin blanc, then retire to our room, a mere ten feet away from the table, declaring ourselves more than happy with all we have consumed.

Would we come back again? You bet we would – for myriad reasons.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield