Sometimes we food writers are lucky enough to find a hidden gem that’s not on the food luvvies circuit.
So imagine my delight while on a day trip to the conservation village of Luss, located some 12 miles outside of Glasgow, on the shores of Loch Lomond, in finding Luss Seafood Bar.
And, while I’m at it, the wee village, which doubled up as Glendarroch in the STV soap drama ‘Take the High Road’, – as Scottish as kilts and shortbread – is well worth a visit and might just feature in a future travel review.
But, back to the purpose of my mad scribblings. Wondering around the village primarily for the purpose of testing a new digital camera, we came across a small bistro tucked down a side street.
A sign of things to come perhaps, it looked good from the outside, clean, and the biggest tell of all, it was busy both at the inside and outside tables.
My visit was on a bright sunny Saturday, unusual I know for Scotland, and it looked like half of Glasgow had decided to follow me on a day out to Luss.
This, I am sure, is great for the traders in the village, but not so much for local residents who must get pretty fed up having their driveways blocked by tourists – despite signs advising that no cars are permitted within the village.
And for that reason, you can’t park at the restaurant. For disabled or elderly diners, it is possible to be dropped off, but the vehicle will have to be moved to the nearby public car park. Anyone parking using a blue disabled persons badge can do so free of charge.
There are a couple of steps to access the restaurant but a ramped area will allow for wheelchair access and thereafter it’s pretty much on the level.
Consisting of both an indoor restaurant and a covered exterior heated section, presumably for those rare three days a year when the sun shines and temperatures reach the heady heights of 17°C. The overall theme is one of a wooden Cape Cod fisherman’s diner – lots of light colours, lots of wood, almost reaching what some might term a shabby chic style.
One thing that stands out straight away at Luss Seafood Bar is that they are not pretending to be something else, what you see is what you get.
And that plays to their obvious strengths. There’s no menu that reads like ‘War and Peace’ and takes you three hours to get through. It’s a simple single A4 sheet the reverse of which is used as a drinks menu.
Yes, it’s all pared down, but in my experience, that’s a huge benefit. The kitchen brigade can focus on the quality of the ingredients, letting them shine, and I can attest to that.
Most of their seafood, particularly the smoked variety comes from the Luss Smokehouse, which is 50 yards across the street. This company use only beechwood to smoke their salmon, trout, mackerel and cheeses – check them out here.
The seafood bar has limited opening hours. Their website details 10am to 5pm and a Thursday to Saturday from 10am to 9pm. Diners, however, should note that on the day of our visit, a Saturday, some visitors attempted to order food at 3.15pm and were turned away being told that food service finished at 3pm. It might be advisable to check with them first before travelling as to that days opening hours. The restaurant can be contacted on (01436) 860820, or see their website on this link.
The restaurant has a very laid back feel to it, and I must commend the young ladies who dealt with us. Pleasant, friendly, chatty yet professional, displaying a perfect attitude for the type of place they’re working, not too fussy or, as many seem to do these days, display a ‘couldn’t care less’ approach.
So, we were duly sat outside in the sunshine along with a number of other waiting diners eagerly anticipating the nod that their table was ready, while waitresses busied themselves clearing down and wiping the zinc-topped tables. It was so busy the tables were being turned around as soon as previous customers left and that, I suspect, impacted on the kitchens ability to keep up, but more of that later.
The soup on the menu was, as one might expect from a seafood restaurant, Cullen Skink. For my friends across the pond and elsewhere think of a smoked haddock chowder. More info here.
Both Mrs M and I opted for the soup. Laden with good Scottish leeks, chunks of potatoes which still had the skins on, and plenty of flaked smoked haddock luxuriating in the lush creamy liquid which contained little pearls of butter floating on the top along with chopped chives. Whilst the portion wasn’t huge, it’s so rich you’d never get through a larger bowlful. And a nice touch was the two slices of artisan-style bread on the side, which, in our case was white, just as it should be. None of this wholemeal nonsense!
We followed that with a bagel and cream cheese with smoked salmon, a crayfish tomato and Marie Rose sauce ciabatta and I plumped for the smoked seafood platter.
Mrs M’s bagel was a wholemeal variety served with a mixed side salad, which, for those purists who dislike dressings, was served plain. There was disappointed at the amount of cream cheese, which could only be described as a cheffy smear. There was however a good quantity of the smoked salmon with three large slices making the bagel a knife and fork type dish.
The youngster’s crayfish, tomato and Marie Rose sauce ciabatta, was also served with the same side salad and really did look the business. Filled with juicy plump nuggets of seafood excellence, freshly chopped sweet tomatoes, and all enrobed in a piquant creamy dressing – nothing like most of those supermarket jars, which are normally far too sweet, cloying or so full of vinegar they become inedible.
Now to the centrepiece of our lunches, my smoked seafood platter. This dish is described as a sharing platter for two on the menu, but, I was hungry!
A large plate arrived at the table, containing smoked mackerel, salmon, trout, and mussels, along with a smoked trout pate. Served very simply with a half lemon and some hearty bread and butter. There was no messing about with it, smoked fish of this quality only needs a plate.
What a delight to the eye – albeit my greedy eye – but I can always pretend it’s all in a days work, can’t I?
I’m going to let you into a secret, I’m a seafood aficionado, basically, if it’s from the sea, I’ll eat it. The only thing I could fault on this platter would be that I’d have loved to have seen a couple of langoustines sitting proudly atop the plate. But that didn’t stop me getting stuck in.
The beech smoked and sustainably sourced salmon was sweet, smoky, soft and a perfect way in which to treat the king of fish. Smoked mackerel has always been a favourite of mine and despite my many attempts, my own smoking attempts have never come anywhere close to the delight on this platter. The smoked trout pate was delicious. Creamy with the merest hint of the smoking process and just a very delicate flavour of lemon juice adding a little acidity to balance the overall rich flavour. The mussels were, for me, the pièce de résistance. Little fat jewels of the sea which had been delicately smoked to bring out their own unique taste. Not a single bit of grit was found and the beards had all been properly removed. The final element of the platter was the smoked trout flakes. Despite my ardent attempts, I can’t tell you whether they were rainbow or brown trout. I can say with some certainty that it was not sea trout.
The bread provided was very heavy and quite dense, and for me, I’d have much preferred a lovely crusty white variety, but nonetheless, it served its purpose well as a carbohydrate addition and helped carry the plate of food to one of my top 10.
Our only real issue as mentioned earlier was the delay between the soup bowls being cleared and the mains being served which took a full 35 minutes and needed a gentle reminder to our waitress that we were still waiting on food!
In our case, it simply wasn’t an issue. We were on a day out and in no rush to go anywhere, but it’s something to bear in mind. In this case, I suspect it was simply the kitchen being swamped with orders and hence it closing for new orders at 3pm as also mentioned earlier.
So, in an unexpected twist to a day out this turned into a delightful surprise lunch with some of the best smoked seafood available right on our doorstep – who’d have thought it!