Seafood Cabin, Skipness, Tarbert, Argyll PA29 6XU. Rolls £3-5, salads £5-13.50, specialties £5-13.50, desserts £75-2.25, wines from £15.
The peninsula of Kintyre that hangs down west edge of Scotland is not particularly northern, but surprisingly remote. By car You must go up go down and the journey ends with a look across the Kilbrannan Sound to the coast along which you have driven for three and a half hours. half hours previously. there is more beautiful way of Doing so, via two ferries and a trip through Arran, but miss the boat and you could be stranded. So that remains relatively unvisited, which is why I think Paul and Linda McCartney chose it for escape Beatlemania. I also have a found shelter here for in past 15 years or so as an annual visitor rather than a temporary resident, and love its beauty, its wilderness, its seclusion so much that I wonder if I can should write about it at all. McCartney did, in Mull of Kintyre, video filmed in Saddell. with its wide and untouched beach, and a little further up, just past the harbor where the little ferry from Arran arrives and departs is called Skipness.
Village stretched along the bay with peeling post office and a tiny kirk, and, at the end of the road through two strange iron pillars is a castle, now in care of Scottish heritage. Victorian lord watched for more comfortable stay and built replacement for a Scottish baron with tower staircase and huge vaulted pediments. It was serious reduced in the size in 1930s fire that killed new owner, a Derbyshire industrialist trying to heroic save. The estate was divided in rather peculiar way, so his four surviving grandchildren, James family, to do their own thing, contributing to the common cause. There is a farm with sheep and cattle and some of forestry; there is a smokehouse run on one of their brothers and his wife, and there is the Seafood House, run Sophie James, assisted by another brother and her nephew and various family members and their friends who come for summer season.
Many years ago it really was a shack – an old van parked. outside a smokehouse where you could buy a smoked salmon roll and a jar of pop. Eventually the caravan was moved down hill to big house where it stands today, incorporated now into a permanent structure, with kitchen inside, washing-up station outside and new barn with oak frame next a door that provides shelter when needed. Most customers prefer to eat outside at the picnic tables out towards Arran, view so majestically beautiful that you have to blink a couple of times do sure you don’t see things. If the sun shines, that’s the way it is reliably in May, Chinese bamboo hats available to protect your neck from sunburn. Chickens of rare breeds run between the tables the dogs are free (bowls of water are provided), and young and the efficient waiter tries not to fall over they bring out orders.
It’s all seafood of local origin, cooked and smoked salmon. in-house oysters and scallops from Loch Fyne, smoked fish from Tarbert, langoustines caught from the channel, and mussels from the wonderful fisherman Dougie. who sold his catch off a bit back shop in Tarbert, until he retired, to the dismay of a lot, but still runs down to skipness in his van for Sophie.
When we arrived there was small queue in the cabin just off lunchtime sailing from Arran. It was only second day of opening for season, but the Hut has now become so popular that busy every day, from 11:00 to 16:00, except Saturday, their working day off.
I had one of signature dishes, plate of langoustines (£14) because I love them, fresh as you like served with bread and butter and a pot of what it looked like like green sauce you get with samosa in Indian restaurants. The langoustine was sweet and juicy, the sauce was tart and rich, and with wonderfully herbaceous finish that I couldn’t at all place. Chervil? It was sorrel, Sophie told me, one of 14 or so herbs they grow mixed in grade of enriched yoghurt, fine light sod for langoustines surf.
I followed with seafood dish for one (£16), tasting menu on plate, with one langoustine, one oyster, spoon of white crab meat and spoon of brown and salmon cured in three ways – hot smoked, cold smoked and gravadlax. small pot of mussels for a couple in not too thick creamy broth with – literally and figuratively – hidden depth, profit with more bread and butter and pots of mayonnaise and dill sauce for Gravadlax. Everything was excellent, but gravadlax deserves special mention. It’s hard to balance, too sweet for my taste, and aniseed isn’t the most sociable. of tastes but it was excellent, not only well balanced but also with crispy hot seeds – pepper, coriander? – to break through the hoarseness.
My friends had the crab roll (£6) generously provided for and mussels as main of course fat yellow- with meat (12 pounds sterling). i drank half-bottle of Sancerre (£17), my friends had a glass of pink (£5.50), bottle of Arran pale beer (£4.50) and Diet Coke (£1.50).
For the pudding, we had Sophie’s superb chocolate cake (£2.50 a slice). with mini bath of Vanilla ice cream Maki (2 pounds).
Food is great as well as good cost – lunch for five with wine and pudding cost £126.50 but why special, and so popular, it’s customization. Many are concerned that efforts to revive the sick economy of the peninsula, through forestry and sustainable development, will affect the beauty of this is unique place. A local farmer told me that you don’t see as much bird life as you used to because of the loss. of habitat and who know what the effect will be of giant wind turbines on hills higher? community itself divided, trying to balance the economic need with protection for fragile environment. Tourism provides a different answer or a complementary answer.
In the Skipness Seafood Cabin, everything is done right, more popular every year and consistent with It. The only thing that worries me is that you might do it too right and draw more as well as more people and lose what Kintyre fans love it for: his remoteness, peeping of oyster fishermen, cloud-covered peaks of Arran, the fog rolls in in from the sea? If that was holding back Beatlemania, then should be able to manage curiosity of rest of us.
The Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles is published by Orion for £16.99. Buy it from theguardianbookshop for £14.78