Cafebarge, Tarbert, Argyll
We ate in several places while staying on Loch Fyne. Was this the best? It was certainly the most fun, the most original, the warmest service, the best engagement and the quirkiest. Does that make it the best? For experience I’d say it does. What better on a slightly dreich Monday morning than turning up for lunch aboard a Dutch fishing barge on a Scottish loch with a ‘slightly’ tapas style menu cooked up by a Colombian chef? I use the term slightly because it isn’t a tapas bar. But in the freshly cooked, wonderfully flavoursome tasty dishes for sharing way then it is similar.
The menu is filled with fish, seafood and vegetarian delights. No meat in sight. It is also on a blackboard so that it can be changed whenever something becomes available/unavailable which I think is fantastic. Fresh seasonal cooking in action. We decided we would choose three or four things, and get patatas bravas (sauce served on the side please), tortilla and hummus with oatcakes for the children who were well catered for and very welcome. What I loved was the way that Mike explained how things would come, just so you knew what you were getting. ‘The tortilla is soft and runny in the middle, is that ok?’. Ok? I’d say it was pretty close to perfection and so did Daughter No.1 (she of the sauceless patatas). The patatas bravas being beautifully roasted and fried baby potatoes with a delicious piquant chilli based sauce. Hummus is my arch nemesis at home, how can so few ingredients go so badly wrong so frequently? They didn’t here. Creamy, rich but light with just enough lemon and garlic to offset the chickpeas and tahini. Ah I bow down in awe!
|Oyster and giant whelk|
I had to go for shellfish, you can’t come to this part of Scotland and not. Just one oyster and one giant whelk. Giant being a slight understatement for this monster of the deep that just kept uncurling out of its shell in a beautifully briny, fleshy mouthful or three. The oyster was just amazing. Simple, clean, with the salty tang of the loch. Food this good brings goosebumps and a smile and those moments are golden. Why did I not have more?! Meanwhile my wife was pontificating on the wonderfully seared scallops, coral intact, with wild garlic pesto. Simple flavours with the freshness of spring. Delightful.
We shared a bowl of Zarzuela which is a Catalan fish stew. Brimming with an array of shellfish; various clams, mussels, calamari, prawns plus white fish, I didn’t ask which. All served over a fish soup base which had such a rich depth of flavour that it would have been a meal in itself without the shellfish intro. When they were gone a bowl of rice was tipped in to finish. This was a top quality Spanish stew and quite ironic considering most of the fish landed in this port will be getting cooked in a similar fashion. Why do we import from Vietnam and Honduras when we have this quality on our doorstep and then ship our catch to Spain? Sort it out people of Scotland, Britain or whatever you like to consider the place where we live!
We decided not to have dessert, just coffees as we were pretty full. Then as I ordered my Illy (which was beautifully brewed) I decided that grilled goats cheese with honey and walnuts was a dessert. I struggle to resist goats cheese, it’s soft citrussy, tangy flavour and delicate tongue coating texture. With honey it’s just mind blowing. This was beautifully crisp on the outside and unctuous in the centre with the sweetness of the honey offsetting really well.
Before heading back out to explore this beautiful little port there was time for a quick chat and a tour of the galley in which there are three hotplates (one added recently for paella) and a little prep area. The herbs are grown on board, the coffee grounds are composted by local ladies, the bread comes from Tapa Organic in Glasgow and it’s generally just a top class operation serving the local community. The kind of place I love. It was only a desire to sample other places that stopped us returning but next time I go to Argyll I’ll be stopping for lunch or dinner.
|Goats cheese with honey and walnuts|