Picture this. It’s been two-and-a-half hours of hard driving just to get to the start of this single track road. And now it’s really pitch black. Rain swirls insanely. Not one but a brace of large and pointy-horned stags looms up, ghostly white among the roadside ferns. There could be crashing seas on my right-hand side, deadly cliffs surely. Eek. But who knows?
There’s only the ribbon of a world in my headlights. Press on. Up down, round and round, ripply drenched and potholed tarmac going splish-splash, psychotic wipers adding swish-swash. Endless. Ten miles of single track rollercoaster done, now it’s15, and still I’m going. At last. Light. Windows. A red corrugated roof. Whitewashed stone. The Kilberry Inn. I step from the blackest black into the warmest light and, whoosh. This is disorientating. Like entering a stranger’s living room. A log fires burn at both ends of the room.
Mein host is behind a bar. Everyone stops. Looks. The fat man, that’ll be moi, announces he has booked for two but is actually, er, all alone-eo unfortunately. Awkward.
Fast-forward around 30 minutes. I’m at the table beside the log burner. And I’ve now Googled this part of Argyll. The Isle of Jura’s just out there across the water, Northern Ireland a swift turn left, Scottish country estates sprawl all around, famous family names popping up: Malachy Guinness, the Lithgows.
I’m eating black soda bread; Salty, light, delicious, three plump scallops too. Just pulled from a roasting oven, herby breadcrumby sticky, crispy goo on top, sweet, garlicky butter laced with white port in the shells.
The scallops are surprisingly tender, juicy, soft, hot, the knife passing almost effortlessly through: delicious. By now, amazingly since there are only around eight other people in here tonight, I realise I know two of them.
Hello – waves, nods, smiles of recognition. I go over. Everybody stays the night around here, say Monica and Paul. It’s a restaurant with rooms. Hmm never thought of that. And no way I am getting back to Glasvegas this evening.
OK, the langoustines are on my table now: big black goggly eyes staring, claws pointing to the sky like the aliens in Toy Story, tails pre-split, pre-grill and their meat now stickily speckled brown. Five minutes of scooping out hot buttery langoustine follows. It’s so damn moreish I break the habit of a lifetime and start cracking and scooping from their skinny claws with the tools provided.
Outside, the storm still rages. Inside, there’s no mobile phone signal. And no rooms left at this inn. Uh-oh. The Wi-Fi’s extremely patchy too, but I get an SOS out to the family and they book me into the Anchor Inn at Tarbert where I’ll arrive much, much later having not yet paid. Only to find the front door is … unlocked. And a note on a table saying: Room Eight – the key’s in the door. Gotta love The Highlands.
But that’s another 20 miles of pitch black single-track further away. In the here and the now I’m pushing my knife through the brown and burnished crust of a just-grilled thick Gigha halibut steak. Firm white meat parting, mouthfuls of this fabulous and expensive fish being dragged through dark, lobstery sauce, sweet griddled fennel underneath.
There’s one of those little cast iron lidded pots too, Le Creuset-style, layer upon fine layer of sliced potatoes, leek and celeriac inside, the top bubbled and caramelised. Sheesh. I eat the whole lot in one uninterrupted winter pleasure go. And I still have lamb to come – hey, I booked for two so I’ll dine for two. This is a rump, almost charred from the oven, coated in coriander and honey, slice after pink slice. It is enjoyed.
Less so perhaps is the hand-made raita, all cooling hunks of cucumber in yoghurt, but it’s the bulgar wheat I really don’t take to. Too hard, seems unseasoned: a clunky moment, a weird glitch in an otherwise outstanding meal. Will I come back? Oh yes. And next time I’ll book a room.
The Kilberry Inn
Opening: Booking really important.
Menu: Scottish seafood, but pretty brilliantly done; halibut, monkfish, smoked haddock, lamb too, apparently HM The Queen ate here. Who knew? 5/5
Service: Personable, friendly, professional: turned out David out front used to work in Glasgow’s Rogano back in the day when service really was a thing. It shows. 5/5
Atmosphere: Corrugated iron roof, thick stone walls, fires blazing at both ends of the room and on a single-track road in what in daylight is a stunningly wild and beautiful area. Brimming with atmosphere. 5/5
Price: This is a Michelin Bib Gourmand; the secret weapon of the unpretentious part of the food world. Scallops and Langoustines came in at £14, Halibut was £26, that Boulangere a mere £4. 4/5
Food: That halibut was flawless, the oven roasted scallops surprisingly juicy; simply prepared yet deftly handled by the kitchen. Very good. 9/10