Etive Restaurant with rooms

The photographer at work!

The photographer at work!

taken at dawn the train arriving at the station with Cruachan behind

taken at dawn the train arriving at the station with Cruachan behind

I was helping my wife the photographer Caroline Trotter to do a “shoot” she had over on the west coast at what was the Taynuilt hotel. Now in my memory of having run a hotel over in that neck of the woods, the Taynuilt hotel was, well let’s be frank a bit of a dump. But I reckoned they wouldn’t be spending their hard earned cash on employing my wife to take food shots if there wasn’t something worth looking at (and eating) and happily I was right.

Chef proprietor John McNulty and his Maitre D. and sommelier David Lapsley are remarkably candid about what they are doing and their relaxed approach belies the hard work which obviously goes on, and still needs to go on. Yes the place still needs some TLC especially the bed rooms although surely it’s not beyond the wit of man to put empty beer barrels somewhere other than the front of the hotel!!) But it’s the food these guys are on about and that is why they call it a restaurant with rooms. There is word on the wire that they have “upset the locals” but I am afraid that is par for the course, when making good changes to a business. Years of neglect from pandering to the locals has stopped and money is being spent in attracting visitors.

How to be different? Well the new Etive restaurant has got a few surprises up its sleeve (gimmicks some might say) but in an area where the main business comes from visitors to the many B and B’s in Taynuilt – there is no other eatery in the village! You have to be a bit different to bring folk in and stop them doing fish and chips in Oban. First is the smoke, you are brought a tray with dried moss and your canapés, there is also a tea pot with no lid, once the waiter has explained what the canapé is he pops a little pot of what turns out to be dry ice into the tea pot and hey presto the tray is engulfed in atmospheric clouds of dry ice! Fun yes but it doesn’t add to the quality of the food.

The second interesting element (note I haven’t used the word gimmick any more) is the fish soup. Before you have sight of the fish the waiter brings a “percolator” to the table, in the base is a lovely cloudy looking fish stock and in the top are a few slices of fennel and a sprig of fresh thyme. The burner is lit and within a few moments the liquid is forced up the tube into the container with the herbs, the burner is extinguished and the liquid makes its acquaintance with said herb and drops back to the lower bowl, all very entertaining, but the proof as they say, is in the eating and out comes a bowl of a beautiful dice of fish; prawns, scallops, mussels etc in a round moulded shape in the centre of the bowl.

The stock is poured gently round and away you go. The fish is superb and the stock rich and delicately flavoured with guess what? Fennel and thyme. It works, it is good. To summarise the food is very good the rest of our meal was simply presented but with well sourced materials. All the beef is local the hogget (an older lamb to you and me) comes from Iona, one of the islands off the west coast, and thus local to Taynuilt. The wine list is interesting and David know his stuff choosing for me over two nights four excellent wines which matched my dishes superbly, Argyll has a new star on the horizon. They are currently doing remarkable deal, up to March, of Dinner bed and breakfast for two for £99 when dinner is £45 per person for three courses you are getting a room for two for a 9 quid!! Go there and tell people.

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Christopher Trotter – Chef, Writer, Food critic, Speaker