Written by Robin McKelvie
Scotland’s impressive culinary larder is rightly lauded around the world and within that I would put Argyll and Bute at the top of the tree when it comes to our food and drink. Over the last two decades I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Argyll and Bute enjoying a swathe of world-class foodie experiences. I’m here to share some of the best with you, so grab a knife and fork, clasp a wee whisky glass, and let’s get stuck in.
Experience the Food & Drink landscape of Argyll & the Isles
I’m writing this aboard the Splendour, a lovely fishing boat converted into a small cruise ship that is based in Argyll at Holy Loch. She only hosts a maximum of eight guests (ten now this season on a private charter) and sweeps them around the littoral and the isles in a swathe of great food and drink; a perfect microcosm for foodie Argyll and Bute. We’ve been feasting thanks to chef Thomas on mussels, langoustines and halibut we picked up in Oban, and Mull cheese, washed down with Isle of Bute Gin, plus both Tobermory and Glen Scotia whisky from Campbeltown.
Oban: Scotland's Seafood Captial
Oban, the self-styled ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’, is home to one of my favourite foodie experiences in the region at the green and white seafood shack. Its inimitable driving force John Ogden may sadly no longer be with us, but perennially cheery manager Tony is doing a great job here on Oban’s ferry pier. If I’ve time I love their brilliant value seafood platter, or just a volley of hulking freshly cooked king scallops. If I’m jumping in a hurry on to a ferry I just grab one of their (smoked on site) salmon sandwiches. The prawn sandwiches are delicious too. What a place!
Campbeltown: A whisky lover's paradise
I’m also a fan of unsung Campbeltown for its food and drink. In the 19th century this Kintyre town’s whisky houses boasted more money than the London Stock Exchange, with over 30 distilleries coursing through Campbeltown. Today three distilleries power defiantly on and a local smokehouse now supplies Ascot. Then there is Kintyre Larder, a food emporium alive not just with whisky, but also Kintyre meat, fish, eggs, mushrooms, chocolate, condiments and baked goods.
My favourite Campbeltown distillery is Glen Scotia, whose 25-year-old was recently recognised with the award of world’s best whisky. Within its hallowed walls, Iain McAlister, Distillery Manager, told me of a malt that is “robust, rebellious and resilient. It’s hard to pin down too and irresistible. The perfect wee dram then for our great wee toon.”
Cowal Peninsula: Where local produce meets Michelin Stars
Another foodie hub on the mainland is the Cowal Peninsula. You have the superb Argyll Coffee Roasters in Tighnabruaich, then the swish Marina Restaurant at the Portavadie resort, where local langoustines and Gigha halibut star alongside smoked fish from Dunoon’s Argyll Smokery. Inver for me is the best restaurant on Cowal, well deserving of its recent award of a Green Michelin Star. On my last visit Loch Fyne langoustines and crab tempted alongside Argyll venison on the tasting menus. At Blairmore the ‘doon the watter’ glory days are back by the pier with a family-run café and gallery space.
Isle of Mull: Head to the foodie hub Tobermory
Pushing on into those isles a wee sail from Oban brings you to Mull. Tobermory is the foodie hub here. How about scallop and chips from the wee takeaway van on the waterfront, or a more substantial seafood feast at Café Fish? Or one of the fantastic seafood platters I shared with my wife in a window seat earlier this month at the Mishdish at the Mishnish at a wee table overlooking the water? We dined on langoustines, oysters and crab as we watched porpoises play in Tobermory Bay. Divine. Then there is the famous Mull cheese, whisky, gin and chocolate too.
Isle of Gigha: A small island bursting with flavour
On this cruise we are also calling in at glorious Gigha. Here is one of my favourite restaurants in Mull and Kintyre – the Boathouse, which has been recognised by Michelin five years in a row now. This wee oasis peers over a wee white sand beach in an idyllic spot. A star on the menu for years has been Gigha Halibut. Sadly the farm here is closing down, but they still produce ice cream, cheese and oysters on this community-owned island. And the restaurant menu is still superb, as is the new takeaway seafood shack I got a delicious seafood bagel from, the Nook.
Isle of Islay: The home of whisky
Islay is visible from Gigha, an island synonymous with whisky. I’m starting to lose count of how many distilleries there are. My favourites are the trio of whitewashed gems huddled together on the wild and wildly beautiful southern shores of Islay – Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. They will soon be joined here by the reborn Port Ellen and a firth southern distillery. Let’s take one distillery in more depth. Ardbeg does superb tours and has a lovely visitor and shop, plus a restaurant where the malts weave their way into the food. Last time I was there I found a zeitgeist nodding food truck parked outside. Here I drammed with Islay-landed langoustines with an ocean view and a dram of Ardbeg Uigeadail. Classic Argyll and Bute.
Follow our Argyll & the Isles Taste Trails
If you want to read more about the glorious food and drink scene in Argyll and Bute then steer your way to the blogs I’ve written for Wild About Argyll. You can choose from the Seafood Trail or the Farm Produce Trail. Then there is the Vegan Trail, Coffee & Cake Trail and the trail based around Spirits & Beer. There are blogs on two area based trails too – the Mull & Iona Food Trail and the Incredible Edible Bute Food Trail
I keep coming back to Argyll and Bute to eat and drink. No wonder with such richness of experience. Here we’ve not even delved into Loch Spelve mussels, the epic seafood platters at the Pierhouse in Port Appin overlooking Lismore, the first-rate Hinba coffee roasted on the Isle of Seil, Loch Fyne Ales, whisky on Jura, Colonsay’s award-winning gin and the boat-fresh seafood of Tarbert. Hungry yet? Thirsty too? Then head to Argyll and Bute for some of the finest foodie experiences in the world.