Editor's note: following a major fire in December 2017 at the Cameron House hotel, the hotel and this restaurant are closed, the hotel until at least late 2019. The restaurant may not reopen, at least in this form. Head chef Graham Cheevers has moved to The Isle of Eriska.
This restaurant is tucked away one floor up from the reception area of the large Cameron House hotel, located on the banks of Loch Lomond. Martin Wishart’s outlet opened in 2009, an offshoot of his excellent Leith flagship. It gained a Michelin star in the 2013 Guide, and has Graeme Cheevers in charge of the kitchen. He previously worked at the Peat Inn, and worked his way up from a commis chef position to head chef at the Loch Lomond restaurant at the tender age of twenty three.
The dining room has a pleasing view over the waters of the loch and the grounds of the hotel. The room is partly carpeted, though the otherwise reassuringly low noise levels that result are rather oddly raised by background music, which this evening was rather incongruously a selection from the glory days of disco. The tables are well spaced and covered with impeccably ironed white linen tablecloths.
There was a choice of either a six or eight course tasting menu at £80 and £95 respectively, and a full vegetarian alternative at both lengths; you can mix and match dishes freely between these menus. A pair of nibbles began the meal: a gougere of onion and Gruyere cheese with a rich liquid centre, and a squid ink macaron with smoked apple mousse and chives topped with sevruga caviar. The gougere had excellent choux pastry and good cheese flavour, but the macaron was even better, with excellent texture and precise flavour balance (17/20 average).
The wine list had wide geographic coverage, with labels from Romania and Switzerland as well as more familiar regions; prices ranged from £28 to £1,400. Sample bottles were Bodegas Ontanon Crianza 2011 at £37 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, J.J. Prum Riesling Kabinett 2010 at £64 compared to its retail price of £19, and Lenne Estate Pinot Noir at £80 for a wine that will set you back £38 in a shop. Posher bottles included Dominus 2009 at a very fair £140 given that its shop price is £152, and Chateau Talbot at a much less kind £280 for a bottle whose current market value is £131. Similarly, Margaux 1999 was an excessive £1,200 for a label that currently costs £397on average in a shop.
Sourdough bread was bought in from a local farmhouse called Ardarden and was pleasant enough, but was nothing special (14/20). The kitchen here can surely make better bread than this. A further nibble comprised brown shrimp with lime, chive and crisp wild rice, which had just the right amount of citrus to balance the inherent sweetness of the shrimps (17/20). Even better was beef tartare with horseradish cream on a rice cracker. This had lovely meat with precise seasoning, a spicy kick from the horseradish and a pleasing textural contrast from the rice cracker - terrific (18/20). Presse of tomato with avocado, basil oil, dehydrated tomatoes and micro basil had good tomato flavour, though was not quite in the same league as the previous nibbles (16/20).
The first formal dish of the meal was mackerel (apparently landed at Peterhead) that had been marinated and cured, served with quinoa, fresh cheese, melon, pickled cucumber and radish. the fish was of pleasant quality but not thrilling as mackerel can sometimes be, though I liked a buckwheat crisp on the side topped with bonito mayonnaise (16/20). Hand-dived Orkney scallops came with caramelised white radish, ponzu beurre blanc, soy and bone marrow dumpling dipped in dehydrated scallop roe. The shellfish were of high quality with good inherent sweetness, nicely balanced by the sharpness of the ponzu, the hint of soy working well (17/20).
Lobster was caught in Troon and served with fennel, smoked egg yolk, tomato concasse, brown shrimps and crispy wild rice. The lobster meat was tender and worked well with the fennel and tomato, the rice and egg yolk adding additional layers of flavour (17/20). Foie gras mousse came with poached apricots, fresh almonds, seeds, nuts, bitter leaves and oloroso jelly. The mousse had silky texture, the richness of the deep liver flavour cut through by the acidity of the apricots, with the jelly and nuts providing contrasting textures, and finally the slight bitterness of the leaves bringing an extra flavour dimension. The balance of this dish was superb, every element bringing something to the party, and the overall effect was glorious (19/20).
From the vegetarian menu, Jersey Royal potatoes came with egg yolks and broad beans, baby leeks, crisp wild rice and a smoked mousseline. The broad beans were of particularly good quality, and the dish elements combined well (17/20). Turbot from a very large 8kg fish (generally speaking, the bigger the turbot the better the flavour) was cooked very precisely, with a mother of pearl sheen on its surface. This came with smoked cockles, mushroom puree, mushroom duxelle with lime segments, all resting in a sauce of white wine and cooking juices. The fish was lovely and the duxelle in particular was an excellent foil for it (18/20).
From the vegetarian menu, celeriac was braised with salt and baked, served with a puree of summer truffle and a vinaigrette along with brunoise of vegetables. The celeriac had plenty of earthy flavour, though there is always a limit to how thrilling summer truffles can be (16/20). My main course was saddle of roe deer with caramelised shallot petals, shallot crisps, salt baked celeriac, a sauce of caramelised onion and the venison cooking juices, and a summer truffle vinaigrette. The deer was cooked pink and had excellent flavour, the shallot elements working nicely and the sauce having reasonable intensity (17/20).
A little pre-dessert of lemon curd, oatmeal and passion fruit foam was refreshing, the acidity of the lemon curd balancing the passion fruit well (17/20). Lemon verbena parfait came with strawberries from Perthshire, an aero made from Valrhona chocolate, caramelised white chocolate, green strawberry, strawberry sorbet, a garnish of wood sorrel and finally a "consommé" of strawberry and camomile. The strawberries themselves had good flavour and worked well with the chocolate, though the wood sorrel seemed out of place (16/20). The best dessert was chocolate with cherry and pistachio delice, Valrhona manjara chocolate, a chocolate mousse, cherries steeped in chartreuse and a sorbet of cherry beer. The combination of chocolate and cherries is a classic, the dish was pretty and the balance of the fruit and the chocolate was spot on (18/20). Coffee was Illy, and came with some petit fours: an excellent mango jelly, good blackcurrant macaron, delice of salted caramel that was a bit too salty, and a pleasingly rich whisky truffle.
The bill came to £174 per head with plenty of good wine. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head would be around £115. Service, led by the charming Christopher Donnachie, was excellent throughout the evening, friendly and silky smooth. I was very impressed with the whole experience tonight. Some second restaurants of existing Michelin starred chefs can feel as if they are just knock offs designed to milk money from the gullible (I'm looking at you "Ametsa With Arzak Instruction") but nothing could be further from the truth here. Instead the young head chef is developing his own distinct style while still guided by the culinary foundations laid by the original restaurant. The best dishes tonight were absolutely superb, and the standard was high throughout. If you are anywhere near Loch Lomond then do yourself a favour and book a meal here.Book