I’ve been wanting to visit Oban for ages. No idea why it appeals so much but I’ve often found myself looking at hotels and never quite completing the booking process. When the opportunity arose to visit Etive restaurant which is a part of the Taynuilt Hotel, I was keen. The hotel is just 9 miles from Oban and I saw it as a chance to include a little visit.
On the day we set out the weather was pretty miserable, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We drove in a north-westerly direction from Edinburgh. The 4G dropped off pretty quickly, but distraction is something you don’t need on this journey – the scenery is breathtaking. As we drove along, we had the ‘Life Is Good’ feeling – it’s good to get into the countryside periodically and centre yourself.
We arrived in Oban just under three hours later and the drizzle had turned to full on monsoon. We hurried into the closest coffee shop and enjoyed two large slabs of cake, which included this Rose and Pistachio one.
We took a leisurely drive back to Taynuilt and explored the local area, albeit in the comfort and dry of the car. Predictably the sunshine made an appearance just as we were due to check in. I’ll be featuring the Taynuilt Hotel in our places to stay section so I’ll skip straight onto dinner.
The Taynuilt Hotel until recently had a reputation as a bit of a rough boozer. Chef patron John came in and together with David they have overhauled all aspects of the hotel – this has included, most recently, the restaurant. Classics like fish and chips are now confined to the bar, while the main restaurant, Etive, strives for michelin standard cookery. According to the AA guide restaurants with two AA rosettes (the standard currently met by Etive) should be consistent, demonstrate attention to detail and have a focus on quality ingredients.
The restaurant itself is modern with wooden floors and exposed brick walls. The bar area is weighed down with whisky, something the Taynuilt Hotel really focuses on. The shelf has a large selection of wine and cookery books as well as a number of michelin guides.
We were served two amuse bouche – a Wild Garlic, Asparagus and Pea Veloute and a Loch Fyne Oyster with Lemon.
The veloute was fresh and seasonal, the garlic foraged from the local area. John has a passion for foraging as well as creating his own ingredients and these are peppered throughout the menu. I’m not a fan of raw oysters (yet), but Alex enjoyed his.
We were sat by the window which overlooks the road through Taynuilt and across to the village beyond – there’s Scottish charm aplenty. Fresh bread with Hebridean salt provided something else tasty to enjoy before the main event.
David is a skilled sommelier so I think we may have broken his heart when I ordered a gin (The Botanist) and Alex requested beer. David rose to the challenge of beer pairing with enthusiasm though, impressing Alex by pairing his Isle of Skye Scallop with The Gose which has notes of lemon and coriander. The scallop dish was garnished with cauliflower and Perthshire black pudding and beautifully presented on some shingle, presumably to reflect the shores from which the scallop hailed.
My own starter of New Season Asparagus (pictured above) featured another of John’s endeavours – 3 month home cured bresaola – at first I wasn’t sure but with each mouthful I enjoyed it more and more, and the ambition should be applauded. I love that John is foraging and creating his own produce for guests to enjoy. The duck egg dressing reminded me a bit of egg mayonnaise which I’m not a fan of, I’d have preferred a nice tangy lemon hollandaise, that might just be me.
We both had the Confit Lamb Shoulder with Lamb Rack for our main course. The confit shoulder was rich with flavour and crispy on the outside, the garnishes of pressed potato and butternut squash were faultless.
The lamb rack had been sous vide.
For the love of god can we stop cooking meat sous vide yet? I have yet to taste any piece of meat that has benefited from this cookery method – either for texture or flavour. The jelly like texture and unrendered fat spoiled the rack a bit. It was one hot pan away from being an excellent dish.
We were once again attracted to a Trio of Homemade Ice Cream (we recently enjoyed it at No.1 The Grange) this time each one had been made with a different whisky. From left to right; Glengoyne 17yr with chocolate, Oban 14yr with toasted oats and honey, Ledaig 10yr with Hebridean sea salt. This whisky ice cream flight was both innovative and tasty, and a great way to showcase Scotch whisky.
This was a meal that showed plenty of skill from both John and David, most of which really hit the mark. It’s a great place to stop off if you’re visiting the highlands, especially if you want some real Scottish hospitality.
After dinner we were treated to a whisky tasting with The Balvenie in the bar area, something else that David is keen to do more of. These visits from distilleries are a fantastic way to learn more about our whisky culture here in Scotland. Our favourite? The 21 year old of course – we obviously have expensive taste!
Location: Taynuilt, near Oban
Price: Three course dinner as above £45-£50 for three courses
Good for: Scottish hospitality, whisky, 2 AA rosette dining