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Menuwatch: Inver

23 September 2018 by
Menuwatch: Inver

Some chefs might find the odd foraged ingredient, but few can pick the components of their menu on their way to work, like Pam Brunton on Argyll & Bute. Hilary Armstrong reports

When cosseted city-dwellers ask Pam Brunton of Inver restaurant how on earth she gets hold of supplies on the shores of Loch Fyne on Scotland's west coast, her comeback is quick: "Well, the supplies are here. How do you get yours?"

Indeed, on her 10-minute walk to work each morning, Brunton walks through what is, effectively, a free fresh produce market. "It would seem 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 says.

Breakfast for the bothies
Breakfast for the bothies

ha halibut, one of Scottish aquaculture's "greatest success stories", is the only farmed fish Brunton uses (she won't touch wild) and she uses every last scrap, including the roe, the liver (in a parfait with blood orange) and the head, which is "generously cut to leave the collar" and then chargrilled.

Gigha halibut, mussels and coastal greens
Gigha halibut, mussels and coastal greens
Pam Brunton
Pam Brunton

ce 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.

In the course of her career - she took five years out to do an MSc in food policy and to work in food campaigning - Brunton has witnessed firsthand the shift from the French-influenced kitchens of the early noughties (her CV includes the Greenhouse, Tom Aikens and the Marco Pierre White group) to the new Nordics of today (Noma, FÁ¤viken and In De Wulf's De Superette). But the restaurant that has most inspired Inver is Le Moulin de L'Abbaye in rural France, where Brunton first experienced "little old ladies" popping by with baskets of raspberries or a few ducks. "We start with the ingredients and adapt the menu to whatever's coming in. Once that good ingredient runs out, you do something else with another good ingredient," she says.

Scottish asparagus, sowans and ham far
Scottish asparagus, sowans and ham far

us change on a rolling basis. At the start of the season in March (Inver shuts in January and February), diners might see Isle of 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 that keep Inver's menu going in the winter. She'll bring in traditional recipes too, such as whipkull, a syllabub-like chilled custard from Shetland. Brunton's version, frothed with ginger and whisky in an iSi Whip, comes with rhubarb sorbet and cured rhubarb.

Rhubarb and whipkull
Rhubarb and whipkull

re is a choice of two menus: Á la carte and a four-course 'fixed' (£49, or with paired drinks - mainly natural wines - for an extra £38). Historically, it was 50:50 fixed and Á la carte, but the opening of four guest bothies this year has tilted the balance in favour of fixed as people make an occasion of their stay.

Inver, Strachur
Inver, Strachur

akfast in the bothies adds to the fun: a picnic basket is filled with charcuterie, coffee, cheese, yogurt, eggs and two Scottish pastries - a naturally fermented black bun and a savoury rowie, a type of bread roll made with smoked pork fat and butter layered with ham.

Marina O'Loughlin of The Sunday Times was the first of the big critics to make the trek (the restaurant is actually only 1.5 hours from Glasgow), declaring Brunton's food "as bracing as a dip in the loch". The awards have followed in a steady stream, including AA's Restaurant of the Year for Scotland 2016.

As to other 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."


From the menu

• Whole crab and brown butter, sourdough bread £17

• Fried fennel and smoked cod's roe, dill salt £7.50

• Purple sprouting broccoli, dried blackberries and anchovy - grilled stem, fried leaf, buckwheat £7.50

• Confit duck, grilled spring cabbage - St Bride's duck leg, fermented cabbage heart, lemon thyme £17.50

• Rye donuts, wild pepper ice-cream, bone marrow caramel £8.50

• Sorrel sorbet and damson vodka £7.50

Inver, Strachur
Inver, Strachur

Strathlachlan, Streachur, Argyll & Bute PA27 8BU

http://inverrestaurant.co.uk

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