Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- The Inn at Inverbeg, Loch Lomond, Argyll

The Location
And what a location! The road along the west side of Loch Lomond is not just a main artery to the heart of Argyll and such places as Crianlarich, Inverarary, Oban and Fort William. It is also one of the most popular destinations in Scotland in its own right as large numbers of locals and tourists from around the world are attracted by the great mountain and loch scenery. The Inn at Inverbeg is not quite half-way between the Loch Lomond Shores tourist attraction at Balloch, at the south end of Loch Lomond, and Ardlui, at the northern end of the 22-mile long loch.

The many day trippers from Glasgow and its environs (only 20 miles away) can make the Loch Lomond road very busy at weekends in the summer. At other times, traffic flows freely - at least as far as Tarbet, to the north of Inverbeg.

The Inn at Inverbeg is two miles north of the village of Luss and is easily spotted - although it is set back from the current line of the main road, it has a number of flags on tall flagpoles along its frontage.

The Restaurant

There has been an Inn at Inverbeg since 1814, though in those days it was much smaller than today and catered for the cattle and sheep drovers on the long journey from the Highlands to markets in central Scotland. Over the years, the building has been enlarged - and in 2007/2008 it had perhaps its biggest makeover yet under new owners. While there is no doubt that the result is a quality building full of "Wow!" factors, an effort has been made to keep the building as an informal, traditional inn.

The most important thing to note is that although there is a modern restaurant area (see illustration) the entire menu is available in the lounge bar (with 200 whiskies and embellished with hand-crafted wood from a local elm tree that was blown down in a storm) - and there is even a "take-away" service for those who want to eat on the move. There is also in a large lounge, with huge, comfy leather seats to sink into. That has subdued lighting, slate flagstone floors and carpets with just a hint of tartan, while the stone walls and timber doors emphasise the ambience of a traditional inn.

The enlargement and upgrading of The Inn at Inverbeg has created 23 bedrooms as well as the extended eating areas - ideal if you want to stay in the area or are just passing through. The Inn is under the personal supervision of Graham Kelly, an enthusiastic manager who has been involved with every detail of the modernisation project. His efforts have already been recognised by the tourist agency VisitScotland, which has graded Inverbeg with a well-deserved 4 star Inn status (high end) and expect to award 4 star Gold status in 2009.

The Food
Menu sheets (and I mean sheets - they are impressively large) are provided not just to list what is available, but for guests to mark their table number and what food (and drink) they want to order in due course from the bar. That makes ordering even for larger groups easy - once they have decided what to have! That is far from simple, as the menu is full of popular, traditional dishes - with a number of more "exotic" items for those who want to try something more adventurous. The menu focuses on fish dishes, sourced from the Fish People, a long-established fishmonger. Wherever possible, the Inn at Inverbeg uses fresh, sustainable fish, caught locally and simply prepared. For those who prefer meat dishes, however, there's also sirloin steak, steakburger or griddled sausages, all from the Buccleuch estate in the Scottish Borders.

Depending on season and availability, starters include smoked salmon, steamed mussels, chilli coated squid, tempura prawn cocktail and Stornoway black pudding - I did say above that there were some more adventurous dishes! I opted for one of my favourites - Cullen Skink. That's a traditional, thick soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. This rich, tasty soup comes from the fishing village of Cullen, in Morayshire. "Skink" was a soup made originally from a shin of beef. But in this case, the main ingredient is smoked haddock. The Inn at Inverbeg's version was just as I like it - rich and creamy with lots (and lots) of fish. It was accompanied by delicious, warm, lightly grilled soda bread. Well that was a great start and very filling. It occurred to me that for folk who just wanted a quick but substantial snack, the Cullen Skink could suffice on its own. But then you would miss out on the other delights!

As you can see I went for really traditional fish and chips (even with a side plate of with mushy peas). I didn't think haddock that large still existed in the sea these days - but there it was, crispy batter and white, flaky, melt-in-the-mouth fish. True to the tradition of fish and chip shops, where it is sold wrapped in brown paper, the "plate" at the Inverbeg Inn was a wooden stand with a brown paper insert! Graham Kelly, the manager, and Head Chef Michael Barton ate numerous fish and chip meals researching what produced the best results - and it shows. In my view, they surpass similar dishes I've eaten in places that have won the annual "Fish & Chip Shop of the Year" competition. My only complaint was that there was rather too much sea salt sprinkled on it for my taste - but then, that's a tradition too!

In addition to that traditional fish and chips, I could have had cod or coley cooked in that crispy batter or breadcrumbs, fishcakes (with spinach and lemon hollandaise sauce), Thai-style fish curry on coconut rice, grilled sardines or Loch Fyne oysters - and don't forget the sirloin steak, steakburger or griddled sausages. Plenty to choose from!

In the unlikely event of you having any space after the large portions of starter and main course, there is a more modest selection of traditional sweets in the form of tubs of ice cream or sticky toffee pudding or cheesecake.

The Bill
See The Inn at Inverbeg for current menu and prices.

I am a frequent visitor to the Loch Lomond area and used to sweep past The Inn at Inverbeg, as it used to be. But the investment of time and money to bring it into the 21st century, while still retaining many of its more traditional aspects has produced an attractive place to eat and stay. It has a relaxed atmosphere too (just what is need if you have been whizzing along that busy road) and it has friendly attentive staff. Food is first class - fresh, well cooked and presented and efficiently available in a variety of different but integrated environments from the more formal dining room to the laid-back lounge. I won't be sweeping past the Inn at Inverbeg in the future - I've got my mouth watering at the thought of those Stornoway black pudding fritters already....

September 2008

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