THE fallout over how to adequately promote Edinburgh through marketing campaigns and slogans has been spectacular, so it seems slightly perverse that little old Oban is awash with them.
Familiar to many over the years as the ‘Gateway to the Isles’, the Argyll town is now adopting the moniker ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’ – and with some justification.
Whether it’s chippies, cafes or restaurants, it’s hard to escape fish options on menus, but then why would you want to?
Our base for our two-night stay was at the Caledonian Hotel, right in the centre of town. There was slight trepidation after being informed we were staying in room 101, but my wife and I needn’t have feared an Orwell-imagined nightmare. Instead, we found a spacious room with great views overlooking Oban Bay.
Our first taste of Oban’s fayre was at Ee-Usk – the Gaelic for fish. The restaurant was voted the best in Scotland in 2009 and is situated on the North Pier, its bright red roof acting as bait for hungry seafood lovers. Inside, it is modern and stylish with attentive staff.
The menu is hardly shabby, either – think of any fish dish and it’s probably there. I went for the scallops for starters, which came with a fresh, light spicy tomato rice. They were followed by sea bass, served with creamed leeks and mash. My wife opted for the smoked haddock chowder and Ee-Usk fishcakes, with little homemade diced chips.
So far, so delicious and the desserts more than matched that – clootie dumpling and a heavenly bread and butter pudding. Accompanied by a crisp Chenin Torrentes from California, the whole meal went down easier than Luis Suarez in a penalty area.
As if Oban’s food wasn’t good enough, the town is well catered for on the drinks front, too. Its single malt is one of Scotland’s six Classic Malts, with the distillery and its visitor centre sited just off the George Street, the main thoroughfare.
The Oban Bay Brewery is next door, to the rear of Cuan Mor restaurant/bar – the ideal place to enjoy the brilliantly named and excellent Kilt Lifter, Skelpt Lug and Ginger Jakey ales, among others. A short wander up to McCaig’s Tower – the coloseum-like structure that dominates the town’s skyline – will help burn off a few calories and reward you with great views of the bay and further afield, reminding you again that you are in the Gateway to the Isles.
Taking advantage of our proximity to some of Scotland’s and the world’s most picturesque islands, the following day – after a hearty Scottish breakfast – we headed on the 45-minute trip to Mull on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. Walk-on prices are very reasonable but you need to plan ahead if you are going to see the much of what Mull has to offer, so taking a car or bike is preferable.
Capital Tobermory’s colourful main street is a 35-minute drive from the port at Craignure, with single track road circling the majority of the island. Home to a distillery, brewery, museum and children’s TV show, there’s plenty to explore in the town – just not on a Sunday.
Sadly, the North Korean regime is more open than Tobermory on a dreich, autumn Sabbath. Undeterred, we drove out into the wilderness, and round practically every corner there is the chance to catch a glimpse of a waterfall, stunning bay and even the odd sea eagle. Who needs a gift shop when you can enjoy such delights?
Our final meal was in the hotel’s restaurant, with another fine choice of seafood delights to whet the appetite. Shunning the likes of mussels and Cullen skink, I chose the smoked salmon and grilled trout, while my wife opted for fishcakes and haddock. The dishes didn’t let us down and, coupled with the friendly staff, it was an ideal end to our break.
Sumptuous food, cracking drinks and jaw-dropping scenery... if the local tourist board is in need of yet another slogan then it could do worse than this – Scotland’s little gem? It’s an Oban and shut case.
Neil Hutton was a guest of Milestone Media (www.milestonemedia.co.uk). Rooms at the Caledonian Hotel (01631- 563133, www.akkeronhotels.com) cost around £65 per night. Passenger tickets on Caledonian MacBrayne’s Oban to Craignure route are £7.35 return per person, with car returns an extra £53 (0800 066 5000, www.calmac.co.uk).