Over the past 20 years I’ve passed the Kishorn Seafood Bar on countless occasions, and watched it move down the road from its first home in a ramshackle old petrol station to its present glorious site looking down the length of Loch Kishorn.
I’ve always been on my way to somewhere else and running late, but I’ve long promised myself that I’d pop in when I got a chance. So, staying locally and touring round the area this summer, it was time.
It didn’t matter that everyone else had the same idea, or that I hadn’t got around to reserving a table in a tiny duck-egg blue wooden cabin which is often booked out for weeks ahead, or that they’d already turned away hordes of disappointed tourists that evening. Nope, none of that mattered because I knew for sure that no-one else would have been so determined to eat at this cutesy little eaterie that they would have been prepared to sit outside on the two perennially empty tables on the verandah.
Anyone who has ever sat outside on a west coast summer night when there’s no wind with a backdrop of a stand of trees knows the reason for this. Midges. Legions of the little gits, all fired up by the unexpected feast of manflesh that Fergus and I represented. This time, however, we had a plan. After a break of almost 20 years and in the face of my furious opposition, Bea has taken to the filthy tabs once again. What spouse would be happy with that? It’s expensive, dirty, means you have to spend countless hours outside even in midwinter and, crucially given why we were here, it dulls the palate.
However, on this occasion it was a lifesaver. As we sat outside to incredulous looks from the dozen or so diners at the Kishorn Seafood Bar and to sceptical raised eyebrows from the bevy of 14-year-old girls who seemed to be staffing Vivienne Rollo’s restaurant, I feared not. As we ordered virtually everything on the menu, bearing in mind that we’d been told the portions were a mite on the abstemious side, there was a nice breeze which ensured that we remained midge-free.
It lasted until about five minutes into our starters when the wind disappeared and the midges entered stage left, right, upstairs and downstairs. Thankfully, like a laboratory beagle, Bea was poised. She rather reminded me of a friend of ours who thought she was cool to smoke aged 14, only for her parents to present her with 200 filterless Gitanes as her Christmas present, which they insisted she started smoking – and only let her stop after she had been physically sick. She never smoked again.
As Bea puffed away while keeping the midges at bay, Fergus and I weighed into the starters, although that term is probably a misnomer because there was no such distinction made on the menu. We seemed to have ordered most of the menu, all of which arrived at the same time, so we divided the groaning table into two sections: the seafood platter on one side, and everything else within reach.
The “everything else” section included a bowl of Cullen skink, a pair of pickled rollmop herrings, the Blasan Bradan (a four-piece selection of salmon served poached, smoked, smoke roasted and gravadlax), a bowl of squat lobster tails, the house speciality of scallops with croissant, and dressed crab. This ranged from very good to sublime, with the dressed crab – the best I’ve ever had – coming into the latter category.
The other highlight of this smorgasbord were the three large hand-dived scallops, which had been cooked in a sea of butter, chopped into smaller pieces and served (with its creamy juice) in the shell. If ever anyone needed a demonstration to prove that the best way to serve seafood is as close to au naturel as it comes, then this was it: we dipped the croissant into it, and despite the fact that the crusty patisserie had clearly been there since the morning, it absorbed the juice and made for a marvellous accompaniment, so good that it’s amazing the idea hasn’t spread.
The squat lobster tails were as expected, except for the sheer number of them, while the two fillets of rollmops herring had a beautifully firm texture and had been sweetened. The salmon was of mixed quality, with the square of subtly smoke roasted fish easily the best of the bunch, with the gravadlax not far behind.
By the time we’d finished this first course, we were feeling pretty full, but we hadn’t even touched the two-man seafood platter at this stage. Impressive as it was (and at £27.50 it was less than half the price of similar-sized platters elsewhere on the west coast) it was, in truth, with the exception of the addition of a couple of langoustines and oysters, mainly more of the same, especially as the lobster tank had just, sadly, been emptied by the early birds.
Still, more of the same in the case of the Kishorn Seafood Bar is about as good as it gets. Twenty-five years ago when she lived in the Highlands white-fish port of Lochinver, Rollo was appalled at just how much produce was whisked out of the country and dreamed of opening a restaurant where local seafood was cooked simply and unadorned. In the case of the shellfish, simplicity is next to godliness, and the result was heavenly. With the exception of slightly ditzy service – we had been promised we’d be moved indoors when a table was available, which didn’t happen – this was spot-on. But one word of advice: remember to get a table inside.
Kishorn Seafood Bar
Kishorn, Strathcarron, Ross-Shire IV54 8XA (01520 733240, www.kishornseafoodbar.co.uk)
Bill please: Dishes £4.50-£14.25 (platter for two £27.50)
Rating: Nine out of ten