Food – Oban: Ee-Usk. Seafood dining at its very best

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Ee-Usk is highly visible with its red roof

Ee-usk is an award-winning seafood restaurant located on the north pier in the seaside town of Oban, on the west coast of Argyll. The name derives from the Gaelic language where ‘iasg’ is the word for fish but is pronounced ee-usk.  Now, I’ll bet few knew that little nugget of information.

The building certainly stands out being housed in a double height glass-fronted, red-roofed building right on the quayside with fantastic views across Oban Bay to Kerrera, Lismore as well as the mountain of Mull on a good day.

It has an unenviable list of suppliers, which includes: Langoustines, courtesy of Jordan Kerr and his brother John who fish the waters and sea lochs surrounding Oban and the nearby islands. Crabs and lobsters are harvested around the rocky coastline of the island of Luing by Neil MacQueen and his family on a daily basis. Neil selects his finest examples for Eeusk and delivers them live to their kitchen. The native blue mussels are farmed in the fresh waters of Loch Leven by James MacLean. James has been supplying mussels to Eeusk for over 14 years. I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now that this is a business which excels at using local produce on its doorstep

We were dining in the evening with a 7pm reservation, made some months earlier, and, I should add at this point, if you’re hoping to get a table in the busier summer months without a reservation, then think again!

On arrival, we were met at the door by a member of staff who immediately showed us upstairs to the mezzanine level where my table for four was situated at the balcony with stunning views of a twinkling Oban at night.

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When booking ask for a table on the upper floor with a window position.

I should add at this point that disabled access is fine, but you will need to take a ground floor table as the upper floor can only be reached by a spiral staircase.

The restaurant maintains a relaxed and easy-going attitude, so, not only is there no need to get dressed up in your best ‘bib n’ tucker’, but don’t expect formal service either.  Despite the accolade’s of being mentioned in the Good Food Guide, Hardens and The Michelin Guide, or winning the title Seafood Restaurant of the Year, you’re not going to find uniformed staff standing to attention. And, frankly, it’s the better for it.

What you will get, if you’re lucky, is a waitress named Ona – Eastern European, If I’m not mistaken, funny, down-to-earth, professional, knowledgeable and one very happy lady at her work.  What a refreshing change from some establishments I’ve reviewed where sullen, unhappy, unengaged and sometimes rude, can appear to be the order of the day. She’s a huge asset to the business and I only hope they realise it.

There’s a lot of good things going on here in the service department – take for example the jug of iced water delivered and poured at the table, the complimentary homemade bread and butter, and the various menus/specials board.  But gripe number one, get rid of those daft wee prewrapped butter portions and serve a nice sea salt butter in a dish.  You’re so much better than motorway service butter portions.

You’ll be given the fixed price menu, the a la carte which contains the wine list at the back, and a blackboard containing the day’s specials.

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Looking around, the décor is very much stainless steel and glass with a bit of wood thrown in to neutralise the modern styling.  And, there was no attempt to turn it into a twee, seaside-laden themed restaurant with plastic oysters, crabs and hanging fish nets.  So far, so good.

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Ona, in her own inimitable fashion, kept us right on what was no longer available from the menu – in our case, it was the squid.  Given my, and the rest of the families dislike, it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

We decided to order from the a la carte which had a much larger selection of dishes to choose from, although if you are on a budget, then the fixed price menu at £16 for three courses (as at October 2018) was very good value indeed.

I ordered the starter sharing platter while my other half opted for the smoked haddock chowder.  The sharing platter consisted of two Thai fishcakes, two smoked salmon and prawn parcels, and a good portion of mussels. With the latter came finger wipes, handy, as the mussels are cooked in a white wine and garlic butter – a little messy perhaps, but delicious.  Plump, sweet and grit-free.  Nothing more need be said.  Now to the Thai fishcakes.  What I will say is, if you’re expecting a light, fluffy potato and fish-filled patty, you’ll be disappointed.  Thai fishcakes contain no potato filler, never have done, never will do, therefore the consistency is almost similar to a meatball texture, firmer, harder, and chewier.  But, that said, these were very tasty and served with a chilli and ginger dressing adding to the kick of heat already present by the addition of chilli in the fishcake itself. The smoked salmon and prawn parcels (oak-smoked I do believe) was the winning element. A light and subtle smoking to the finely sliced salmon gave it an air of luxury as well as a sublime flavour and taste,  The addition of some langoustine tails wrapped up in the non-oily pink lushness was a marriage made in heaven.

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The starter sharing platter is a good option to give you a wee taste of three different dishes.

My other half, had, as mentioned previously, opted for the smoked haddock chowder. I was surprised this wasn’t advertised as Cullen Skink, but maybe that’s more to do with the number of foreign tourists Oban gets and who’d know what a chowder is. Unfortunately, if you’re expecting a soup containing potato chunks, a good handful of leeks, some Aberdeen boneless (haddock that’s naturally smoked over wood and not dyed with some horrid luminous yellow colouring), you might just be ever so slightly disappointed.  This bowl of soup was a smooth blended soup without any potato chunks whatsoever. While it had a nice creamy consistency, it was missing something, and I would have preferred to have seen a dish looking more like an original smoked haddock soup.

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The smoked haddock chowder.

Next up was my main of ‘real scampi’ as it was described on the specials board.  This was langoustine tails, battered and served with chips and a side salad. Beside me, a haddock and chips arrived to number one son, while the good lady sitting opposite looked on in awe at her whole lemon sole.  It was served with a portion of vegetables consisting of peas, courgettes and leeks and served with chips also. My daughter decided to have the Thai fishcakes as her main course option.

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My scampi wasn’t dressed in the usual supermarket breadcrumbs, but instead, the kitchen had used the same batter as was used for the haddock and chips.  This was a light golden brown in colour, crispy and very dry with no oily aftertaste.  In fact, it was as close to a Tempura batter as you could get.  There were seven good sized full langoustine tails wrapped in it, and all of which were expertly cooked. There was no chewiness or rubbery texture which can happen all too quickly in a fryer if you’re not careful, so top marks to the chef. Ahem, the chips.  Well, don’t go looking for what you and I know as true chips (fries). These were, as the images will show, more akin to small diced fried potatoes.  In fact, left in their boiled state, they could easily have found a willing home in the chowder! The wee pot of homemade tartare sauce just finished off the plate perfectly.

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‘Proper’ scampi

The lemon sole came off the bone without difficulty and was a soft white flesh that was sweet but yet slightly nutty.  A wee scoosh of fresh lemon and this dish was also a real winner.  There was no doubting the pedigree or freshness of this sole. The pea, courgette and leek side dish of veg was so fresh it could have been picked from the garden that afternoon – it might well have, who knows! But the balance it provided to the sweeter fish was a triumph in cooking for the kitchen brigade.

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The haddock fillet was a little on the thin side, but when you’re working with whatever size fish are landed that day, then you simply have to make the best of what you’ve got.  I’ve seen much larger fillets though.  Using the same batter as the scampi, it was well cooked, and despite being thin still flaked to some extent.  There was no complaint about the taste though, and it more than made up for the size.

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We ended our evening with a lemon cheesecake, a crème brulee, a desert platter consisting a chocolate shot, lemon cheesecake, mini crème brulee and a meringue with cream. Nobody could have faulted the desserts. Oh, and did I mention the extra points they gained with this review over their use of good-sized, white linen napkins.

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There’s little doubt that Ee-Usk have found a winning formula – a consistently high standard of raw ingredients, well cooked in a delighful setting by great staff.  What more does any restaurant need?

For more info and to download menus click here.

There are both bus and rail links to Oban. See links below

Rail: Oban station.   Buses: Citylink. or West Coast Motors

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