Restaurant review: Tayvallich Inn, Tayvallich

Tayvallich Inn. Tayvallich, Lochgilphead. Picture: Contributed

Tayvallich Inn. Tayvallich, Lochgilphead. Picture: Contributed

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FOR anyone who’s never been, the picturesque Knapdale village of Tayvallich is one of the most beautiful spots on the west coast.

Tayvallich Inn

Tayvallich, Argyll PA31 8PN

(01546 870 282, www.tayvallichinn.com)

Bill please:

Starters - £4.50-£8.95
Main courses - £9.50-£0.95

Puddings - £5.25

Rating: 8/10

A gorgeous little fishing village on Loch Sween which has now become a vibrant sailing centre, it is just around the corner from Crinan and is a day-trip destination of choice for many Glaswegians.

Not yet in danger of becoming twee, it is also home to a functional wee pub, which looks like a cross between a 1960s bungalow and a Scandinavian wooden flatpack house and sits on the road right on the bay next to the village’s caravan site. With its regular music nights and quizzes, this is what a pub should be: right at the heart of the community, but with sailors and tourists equally welcome.

Despite its central role in the community, and notwithstanding the number of people who will be sitting chewing the cud on its terrace on a sunny day, the Tayvallich Inn remains an unassuming place. Indeed, it is only when you get up close that you realise the windows are festooned with Michelin’s distinctive red Bib Gourmand stickers, which hint at its status as one of the best gastropubs in the country.

Serving food sourced locally

Owned for the past five years by Ian McAdam and Christopher Plummer, the inn has a policy of employing local staff and serving food sourced locally, which is a combination that clearly works. This is particularly the case when it comes to the seafood that makes up the lion’s share of the menu and the enormous scallop-laden specials board in the bar. Two local boats, the Zolee and the Three Brothers, supply brown crab, langoustine, velvet crab, scallops and lobster, much of it landed daily via creels in the Sound of Jura, while local Loch Awe-based smokehouse Murray provides all the smoked fish.

Combined with the simple, no-frills cooking approach of local chef Aaron Jones, the result is a loyal following made up of locals, foodies who travel specifically to eat at the Tayvallich Inn and holidaymakers of one kind or another who relish their annual excursion to this sleepy corner of Argyll.

Minimalist interior

In the summer and at the weekends there is huge competition to sit outside, where you can watch the boats come and go; in the winter, eating inside is the sensible choice – the pub is split into two parts, one half restaurant, one half bar serving a wide range of local beers. The restaurant’s minimalist interior, which is all pine tables, wooden ceiling, tiled floors, whitewashed walls and huge picture windows that let the light flood in, is surprisingly comfortable.

But the Tayvallich Inn hasn’t forged a formidable reputation on the back of its décor; it’s the food that counts, and in particular the seafood. Bearing this in mind, I started with the fish soup, which turned out to be absolutely outstanding. Intense, filling and packed full of chunks of several different fish, this had echoes of the formidable Basque bouillabaisse and was missing only croutons and rouille to make it a perfect dish, while at £4.50 it was an absolute bargain. Bea went for a perfectly cooked starter of crab claws with home-made garlic mayonnaise dip and was presented with two enormous claws, which took all of her strength and ingenuity to dismember.

Rookie error

When it came to the main course, I made the rookie error of ordering meat in a fish restaurant, while Bea stuck to fish and was rewarded for her faith. It’s not that my venison sausages with mash, red cabbage and gravy were poor – they were tasty enough, although they had a strangely anaemic colour and texture – it’s more that they were put in the shade by Bea’s fantastic smoked salmon, haddock and prawn gratin. With big chunks of succulent fish beneath a browned breadcrumb and cheese crust, this was a ten-out-of-ten dish that she jealously guarded as the rest of us hovered.

Our three kids, who were only having a main course, learned the same important lesson. Lochie’s moules marinières, which was made up of a big bowl of unusually large and succulent mussels in a super-creamy broth, was absolutely spot on, but Ollie’s dry-as-dust, blackened Cajun supreme of chicken was a major disappointment, as was Ailsa’s chicken salad.

Fairly ordinary banoffee pie

Out of duty, I felt compelled to try a pudding from what proved to be a fairly uninspiring selection – God, don’t I have it hard? – and was, well, uninspired by a clearly homemade but fairly ordinary banoffee pie. This was yet more proof that when you’re in a specialist restaurant celebrated for one thing, you should eat that one thing.

Not that I’m complaining. From its efficient service, bountiful specials board and commendable sourcing policy to its sensible prices and beautiful surroundings on the terrace, it was difficult to find fault with a restaurant that undoubtedly deserves all the plaudits that have come its way.

Tayvallich Inn

Tayvallich, Argyll PA31 8PN

(01546 870 282, www.tayvallichinn.com)

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