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Some chefs may forage the odd ingredient, but few can pick components of their menu on their way to work, as Pam Brunton does on the shores of Loch Fyne on Scotland’s west coast. When cosseted city-dwellers ask Brunton how on earth she gets hold of supplies for Inver restaurant, in Argyll and Bute, her comeback is quick: “Well, the supplies are here,” she points out. “How do you get yours?”
Indeed, on her 10-minute commute each morning, Brunton walks through what is, effectively, a free fresh-produce market. “It seems silly not to pick the wood sorrel, the golden saxifrage, the primrose, the sea campion flowers, the sandwort and elderflower, and everything that’s around,” she told The Caterer.
Such rich pickings feed into the Inver menu, whose longest-standing dish – Gigha halibut, coastal greens and smoky mussel butter – never stays the same for long. One day it might come with samphire, sandwort, sea plantain and sea arrowgrass; another with sea spaghetti or crisp-fried dulse.
Since taking over the 40-cover restaurant in March 2015, Brunton and her partner Rob Latimer have built up a community of local suppliers for everything from seaweed to shellfish, milk, eggs, cheese, rare-breed pork and lamb. “We wanted to tell the story of the landscape and the people. And that, in large part, means working with ingredients from the area.” Kate’s salad, named after one of the local gardeners, has been on the menu since day one.
Menus change on a rolling basis. At the start of the season in March (Inver shuts in January and February), diners may see Bute lamb paired with wild leeks, wild garlic, last year’s fermented garlic – “depending what’s going on outside” – alongside smoked onion cream and ewes’ milk yogurt. Brunton serves two different cuts of lamb and sometimes a lamb sausage with wild garlic kraut, with input from sausage-mad ex-Coombeshead chef Blair Holdsworth, a member of the five-strong brigade.
For Brunton, nose-to-tail cooking is one of the means by which she and generations of Scottish cooks before her have made the most of their resources. Fermentation is another, with the local larder of grains, fruit and vegetables keeping Inver’s menu going in the winter.
As to accolades such as Michelin, Brunton is relaxed. “What I want to do is produce food that is beautiful, delicious and expressive of people and place. If we cook to anybody else’s criteria, we risk losing sight of what makes Inver Inver.” The Menu of Year Award is testament to that resolve.
What the judges said
“Dishes on the menu are inviting with the use of popular ingredients, but are importantly punctuated with exciting seasonal produce from the local area.”
“This gentle and beguiling restaurant has been quietly becoming a significant voice in Scottish restaurants. An appealing and bright freshness shines through on the menu.”
“It’s an interesting and creative menu featuring varied ingredients with a local focus. Moreover, the price point is good for the quality of produce.”
Clenaghans, Craigavon, County Armagh
Flitch of Bacon, Little Dunmow, Essex
Inver, Argyll and Bute
Old Downton Lodge, Ludlow, Shropshire
Paul Bates, executive chef, Grosvenor House, London
Giovanna Grossi, director, Sauce Intelligence
Jeremy Lee, chef-patron, Quo Vadis, London
David Moore, owner, Pied à Terre, London
Michael Raffael, freelance journalist
Jennifer Sharp, freelance writer and editor