LOST by Loch Ness on a dark, wet and windy night, I eventually cracked. Even though we were almost half an hour late I was still doing that bloke thing of driving round and round, refusing to stop and ask for directions when all of a sudden we saw a couple walking along the pavement in Drumnadrochit high street.
The Loch Ness Inn
Lewiston, Drumnadrochit, Inverness-shire
IV63 6UW (01456 450991, staytlochness.com)
Starters £3.95-£7.50. Main courses
£9.45-£16.95. Puddings £4.95
I pulled over and asked the pair – who turned out to be a local guy and his German girlfriend – whether they knew where I could find the Loch Ness Inn. The beginning of the conversation went like this:
Me: “Excuse me, do you know where I can find the Loch Ness Inn?”
Bloke: “It’s just down there, but you’re not going there to eat are you because if you are you should forget it. It was good a couple of years ago but we’ve just been there and it was rubbish – the burger was crap and while the chutney with my terrine was great I told them to put the terrine in the bin where it belonged. I was just off home to write something horrible about the place on TripAdvisor.”
I know that the disgruntled local foodie’s girlfriend was German because she kept interjecting views about how bad the place was in her native tongue (one summer as a 14-year-old I spent a foreign exchange visit learning all the major German swear words, and she seemed to use most of them). They both agreed that we should head to another eatery in town, except that they then remembered it had shut down for refurbishment the night before. This was certainly not what we had expected, especially as our hosts in Strathglass had told us that the Loch Ness Inn was “the best place around here unless you head into Inverness”.
Although we had been mildly dubious about that billing given that the nearby Loch Ness Lodge is approaching Michelin-star quality (even if it has a price tag to match), we were still looking forward to eating at a down-to-earth restaurant with an established reputation (it was Scottish Inn of The Year in 2011) which seemed – with two obvious exceptions – to be popular locally.
As soon as we walked into the inn, it was clear that the place has had an overhaul within the relatively recent past. Homely yet functional, with slate floors and a wood-burning stove in the middle of the room, the environment augured well for our meal. So, too, did the fact that the normal menu had been suspended because the weather meant that many of the usual ingredients were difficult to source. Instead, we had a mix of the Loch Ness Inn’s classic dishes, plus a good smattering of new dishes. Either way, they would be made with the freshest available ingredients, which is always a good sign.
Sadly, that theoretical upside was about as good as it got because what followed was a meal of unremitting mediocrity punctuated by some genuine culinary low points, with the odd false dawn thrown in for good measure. By the time we were a mouthful into the main course I wanted to weep at the way I’d blithely dismissed the concerns of the couple we’d met barely an hour before.
Our first mistake was ordering starters. We’re not complete masochists so we avoided the terrine, but I can’t believe it could be any worse than my dry-as-dust flambéed haggis, which came with a greasy potato scone, a dash of what was described as “peppercorn sauce” and an onion “crisp” that was so ancient it was like chewing through an old shoelace.
If that was bad, however, Bea’s portobello mushrooms stuffed with vegetarian haggis, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese was a car crash. The desiccated mushrooms were bad enough, but the huge gruel-coloured dollop of vegetarian haggis that lay on top had the texture of wet cardboard and came with a Fairy Liquid-themed aftertaste that was so vile that I had to fight the urge to rush the kitchen, drag the chef out and challenge him to try eating it. A dire dish is one thing, a night in chokey for succumbing to food rage is quite another.
It crossed our minds to leave after the starters, but we were both halfway through our glass of wine and besides, we figured it couldn’t get worse. We were right, but it was a close-run thing. The saving grace was my roast rump of Scottish lamb, which was excellent: well-cooked and fresh, it was what we’d hoped for when we arrived, even if the accompanying parsnip, celeriac and leek gratin left much to be desired.
Not as much as Bea’s fish en papillote, which was so overcooked that we could barely tell the lumps of halibut and plaice from the chunks of monkfish, while the noodles tasted as if they were straight out of a packet. Priced at £17, as I leant over and took a forkful of Bea’s main course, that urge to go and ask the chef what he thought he was up to came surging back.
By now we were just counting down the courses until we could go, ordering the chocolate tart with raspberry coulis and a blob of ice cream as one final hurrah. It was clear that it had once been a decent pudding, but it had been kept sitting around for so long in the fridge that the pastry was soggy.
To cap it all, while we couldn’t wait to leave, we struggled to find someone to take our payment. The attentions of the young waiter and waitress on duty had been fitful all night but now, long after we’d finished eating, they sat behind the bar arguing about who had the most shifts, until eventually I had to get up and beckon them across. We left without leaving a tip, a rare event. We will not be back.