Just the name alone conjures up the sound of the waves crashing off the shore, the salty tang in the air and the smell of fresh seaweed washed in on the last tide. Ardnamurchan, for me, a West Highlander born and bred, is reminiscent of home in so many ways.
So imagine the surprise that this was a restaurant which prided itself on good highland produce and I’d never heard of it!
Located at the top end of Hope Street, opposite the Theatre Royal, the restaurant is outside that busy section of the city centre in Glasgow that, is, quite frankly, now saturated with eateries and not all of them deserving of your hard-earned cash.
Hope Street is a one-way street and while there is some on-street parking available outside the restaurant, the chance of getting a space is akin to winning the lottery. So, do what we did and park at the NCP car park in Cambridge Street. After 6pm you can park for the full evening at the princely sum of four pounds and it’s literally a five-minute walk to the restaurant.
Level disabled access from the street is excellent, however, the restaurant does have an upper floor reached by some steps, therefore be sure you request a ground floor table if you need one.
Our table was booked for 7pm on a Saturday evening but we had been told they we would need to vacate it by 9pm. That’s a shame as we didn’t start eating until 7.30pm as we waited on starters being delivered to the table, and felt a bit rushed. And this isn’t the type of place where you rush a dinner – you want the time to savour it at leisure.
Entering the main restaurant area from the street you’ll find yourself in the bar. This is also where the Maitre d will check you in for your table. It’s basically an open-plan design with a mix of floor and window tables. There is also a very pleasant sitting and waiting area where you can enjoy a cocktail from the bar before your theatre visit, even if you’re not eating.
We were shown to a table on the upper deck and by a window where we could people watch. The young lady was very pleasant and friendly, but, it has to be said was a little difficult to understand and despite best attempts, we’re still unsure where she is actually from. The menu is a single sheet and very easy to follow. I always like a restaurant who doesn’t overplay their hand with a menu that reads like ‘War and Peace’. At Ardnamurchan they’ve opted for a limited menu, although believe me, still provides plenty of choice for diners. The only problem here, was, that once you’ve loaded up with a couple of drinks, water and wine, there’s little room left to actually place the plates of food.
I suspect the kitchen has taken a definitive stance to only use quality ingredients and this is borne out in that menu. In fact, checking their own website it reads.
The concept behind Ardnamurchan Restaurant and Bar is to bring a taste of Scotland’s best produce to the table in Glasgow. Sourcing unique and artisan products from the Highlands and Islands is of great importance to us. So please, sit back and enjoy a dram or tuck into some of Scotland’s best offerings from land and shore. The name Ardnamurchan comes from the Gaelic ‘Àird nam Murchan’ translating as ‘headland of the great seas’ and is one of the UK’s great unspoiled wildernesses. Rugged, isolated and utterly wild, it juts into the Atlantic at the most westerly point of the British mainland. The area is renowned for the quality and freshness of its local produce, including fish and shellfish from the sea, lochs and rivers, deer, cattle and sheep raised in the hills and glens and wild game from the heaths and moorland.
We pride ourselves on sourcing the freshest most sustainable produce Scotland has to offer. Our venison comes directly from the Ardnamurchan Estate where the deer roam free, our fish and shellfish are caught fresh from the sea off the West Coast of Scotland and our beef comes from the lush Speyside region of Scotland, renowned for producing some of the best beef in the world.
It’s nice to see the establishment that pins its colours to the mast in such a manner and sticks firmly by that ethos.
So before we get to the food offering – it’s worth mentioning that Ardnamurchan has a nice offering of cocktails, draught beers, bottled beers and ciders as well as a thoroughly decent wine selection at reasonable prices.
Now the purpose of this review is to rate the food – so to that end, here it is.
Our party of four opted for a shared sea platter which the menu claimed should have included North Uist langoustines served cold with a lime mayo dip, smoked mackerel pate, Tobermory fish company’s smoked salmon and trout, served with oatcakes and red onion chutney. This starter is designed for two to share and is served on a wooden board. Unfortunately, and as the image will show, our platter had no smoked trout and no explanation why it was missing! There were two rolls of smoked salmon, a pot of mackerel pate, six standard shop-bought oatcakes, dishes of lime mayo dip and red onion chutney and three langoustines split to give six portions. Along with this was a dressed side salad with capers and lemon wedges.
Despite the missing smoked trout, this was still a great starter and testament to the quality fish and seafood available on the West Coast of Scotland. Langoustines were, by far, the standout element of this starter. Perfectly cooked, they were soft, tender and sweet, and that taste – it took me right back to my childhood living on the shores of Loch Linnhe at Kentallen. The restaurant also provides bowls to discard the shells in and hand wipes. Which was just as well because no sooner had the main body of the langoustine been eaten than my sister and I were breaking open the pincers to get at the small amount of meat – messy, yes, but still a task worth doing. The mackerel pate was smooth and creamy and spread on the oatcakes with a little of the red onion chutney was in fact quite delightful. The smoked salmon from this Island of Mull business is a traditional cured and smoked salmon, thinly sliced and served plainly.
The taste was simply exquisite, with a slight oaky flavour on the tongue. It was soft and easily pulled apart with just a fork. Giving it a splash of lemon juice and a touch of the salad leaves along with a dot of the lime mayo dip pulled this up to be a forkful of joy.
Our other dining companions opted for the haggis, neeps and tatties with an Isle of Arran 10-year-old malt whisky sauce. This is also available as a vegetarian option on the menu, while the remaining diner had chosen the Stornoway black pudding fritter, served with a whisky marmalade, pea shoots, sybies and carrot crisps.
The haggis, which, as it happens was also my main, was moist, well-seasoned, but I have to say I prefer mine with a little more of a pepper kick. In saying that, this wasn’t bland by any manner of means, far from it, it’s just I prefer mine a bit spicier. The mash was creamy and smooth, well blended with no lumps. Neeps for those unaware of this Scottish term is a mashed turnip. There’s not a lot of prep or cooking for this vegetable: cook it well so it will soften and mash without lumps, season with salt and pepper, add a bit of butter and that’s really all you need to do. A nice addition was the deep fried carrot crisps which provided a difference in texture to the smoother elements on the plate. The whisky sauce was inspired. For those with don’t like whisky, fear not. Most of the alcohol has burnt off in the cooking, where the taste remaining certainly doesn’t overpower the source. Thick and pleasant with a nice colour to it, don’t expect a thin creamy source as is normally served with a haggis dish. This is a heavier and meat-based type, well-balanced with the haggis, coating everything it touched. And if you’re choosing this dish as your main you certainly won’t be disappointed.
The final starter, as mentioned previously was a reasonably thick slice of Stornoway black pudding. If I’m not mistaken it was the one produced by Charles McLeod or, as he is more fondly known in the islands, ‘Charlie Barley’. Coated in a light, crispy, seasoned crumb coating, is not to my mind true fritter which I associate with a batter mix, and fried. However, that said you’ll never go wrong with Stornoway black pudding no matter how it’s cooked or served. I’ll not bore you with the finer details of a blood sausage but I’d be remiss not to point out that the Stornoway version now has European Protected Geographical Indication status it’s that special. The crispy crumb coating offset the smoother and spicier black pudding inside. The whisky marmalade offered a sweeter addition to the dish. And don’t worry, is not actually a marmalade, there’s no orange or lemon rind in this simply a light sauce with the merest hint of whisky. And to top it all off with a bit of colour, pea shoots and spring onions did just that. Altogether, this was a well-presented dish and Mrs Mac gave it a big thumbs up.
The remaining main course choices were the Ardnamurchan Estate braised wild venison stew and the grilled North Uist landed langoustines with a garlic and parsley butter, skinny fries and a rocket salad.
It’s rare to find a true wild-shot venison dish on the menu these days – particularly so when there are so many red deer farms which feed the animals on both grass and supplemental food pellets. The venison in this dish is supplied by the Ardnamurchan Estate where red deer are shot to conserve stocks and manage the herd and the local landscape. There’s a world of a difference between wild venison which forages for food and farmed versions. The meat was well cooked, which is a must for venison. Failure to cook long and slow makes for a tough chewy piece of meat. This was quite the opposite, soft and tender and to the point of breaking apart without the need of a knife to cut it. There was a nice earthy, gamy taste to it which had been marinated with the redcurrant and red wine reduction which formed the basis of the ‘gravy’, with mushrooms and spring onions. The one-dish stew also contains potatoes. Well, I say potatoes, as in the plural – however both diners felt that there could and should have been more. One serving had two small new potatoes halved giving four small pieces in total. The basis of the source for the stew was a meat stock but with added red wine to give it some body and a sweeter aftertaste on the palate. Having seen this dish arriving at the table I asked myself whether it wouldn’t have been much better served on a plate with a good dollop of mashed potato. Now I’m convinced it would have been.
The langoustines main contained six split crustaceans which had been slightly warmed under the grill but not to the point of overcooking and were drizzled in a garlic and parsley butter. There were six langoustines in this portion along with a small pot of skinny fries which were not of the frozen variety. I’ve no idea why kitchens continually do this – serve excellent food and then fail to prepare and cook their own chips. There is no need nor is there any excuse for it.
Moving onto desserts, well some of us did, one sticky toffee pudding and two bramble almond blondies. The sticky toffee pudding sponge was an absolute delight. The lightest airiest possible texture sitting in a pool of toffee sauce which was buttery sweet, sticky and also very moreish. Be careful however as it’s probably your calorie intake for a full day in that one dish alone and will also have your back teeth screaming. Oh, and did I mention the candied pecan and vanilla ice cream that accompanied it?
The Blondie was essentially a brownie without the cocoa powder with some added brambles and served on a raspberry gin coulis with a dollop of that vanilla ice cream. I have to say I wasn’t keen on this, and in fact, passed it over after two forkfuls. The blondie was pretty tasteless and there wasn’t enough of the lovely sweeter coulis to freshen up the dish – The coulis was essentially a couple of designer blobs and the vanilla ice cream was very definitely not home-made either. For me, the whole thing simply didn’t work. However, Mrs M polished hers off so it’s down to simply a matter of personal opinion.
Did we enjoy the dining experience at Ardnamurchan? We most certainly did. Would we return, yes, but this time will ensure we book a table that will accommodate us for as long as we need it.
For more information about the restaurant or to view menus, click here.