A Trip to Mull and Oban
The Original Green Shack
Oban! Although I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in Scotland, I’ve explored the place to a very limited extent. So when regular guest quester Iain suggested a family trip to Mull for a landmark birthday celebration, I was delighted to join.
Following a coast-to-coast drive to from Fife to Argyll, our first stop in Oban was at The Original Green Shack for their famous crab sandwiches.
The weather was a typically welcoming blend of horizontal rain and gale force winds. This didn’t deter the swarming crowd of people around the shack buying a mix of fresh seafood and prepared dishes for immediate munching.
The crab sandwiches (£3.95), along with ones filled with prawns and other whatnots, were pre-prepared on the counter. Iain’s wife Aileen with their wee boy Isaac in one arm grabbed the sandwiches and we were soon on our way.
I tucked into the sandwiches on the ferry over to the island.
The bread was of the sliced brown variety and was fairly weak, but the profuse filling was absolutely outstanding.
Beautifully fresh crab made for satisfying mouthfuls of lightly sweet meat. A little salad of tomato and lettuce rounded things out with some good crunch.
So overall, The Original Green Shack is a great spot at which to start your acquaintance with Scotland’s seafood capital. I’d recommend it to you and look forward to popping back to restock again in the future.
In Scotland’s seafood capital it seemed a safe bet to sample the local fish n chips. Accordingly I wandered along to the start of Railway Pier to try out MacGillivray’s seafood stall.
On a day of sheeting rain, they weren’t doing brilliant business but a few intrepid diners joined me on my quest.
Their standard fish n chips (£8) came with some good slaw and pish peas. Items were cooked to order by the friendly counter women.
The breaded haddock and chunky chips were soon with me looking quite bonnie. The chips were really good. They had really good crispness and were floury in the middle.
I prefer battered to breaded haddock but the coating had done its job in lightly steaming the fish to good advantage. I enjoyed it.
So overall, MacGillivray’s showed off the local seafood treats of Oban in fine fashion. On a sunnier day I imagine it would have been an absolute joy to dine in such splendid al fresco style. Give it a go when next you’re here.
Brew & Co
I didn’t particularly hold out much hope of good coffee on my jaunt to the west coast so I dutifully packed my stovetop and Williams & Johnson peaberry. But just as we were about to board the ferry to Mull, I spotted a place called Brew & Co which forms part of the Perle Hotel.
The place has a hotel lobby feel to it, which isn’t too surprising. There are good views across the harbour although it was a pisser of a day.
Some of their menu descriptions were a little odd. The water jar was labelled “homemade fruit water” and the burger apparently featured “house crushed beef”. The mind boggles.
I was in the mood simply for coffee so ordered their Burundi Brazilian blend espresso (£1.60).
The friendly counter women prepared this then had a good go at giving me way too much change in return for my couple of shiny pound coins.
I took a seat at a window table and sipped. It proved surprisingly good with excellent texture and brightness. I’m not sure who is doing their bespoke roasting but they’re certainly preparing the product to a very good standard.
So overall, it was a very welcome surprise to find such good coffee in this part of the world. It set me off on my trip to Mull with a spring in my step. Make sure to visit when next you’re in Oban.
The Ninth Wave
My time on Mull gave my friends Iain and Aileen, along with Iain’s brother Allan, the opportunity to introduce me to their favourite restaurant, the Ninth Wave. A one hundred mile roundtrip from where we were staying on the island, this was no small undertaking with a lengthy taxi ride each way in the hands of one of the island’s most amiable cabbies.
The Ninth Wave is a compact little place. Tonight it fed sixteen diners. Another couple could be accommodated in a different seating configuration but it’s a wee place however you slice it.
Carla and John, a husband and wife team, run the operation. Carla does the cooking with John looking after front of house. He also leads on landing much of the seafood that graces their menu.
The evening opened with cocktails. These were strong on local ingredients. I sampled one with gin and sea buckthorn. It was a good palette livener.
The menu is divided into five sections with firsts, seconds, mains, desserts and cheese. I started with mussels mouclade, then scallops, mackerel, chocolate and coffee dessert, then the cheese selection.
Other dishes to cross our table featured smoked haddock, pigeon, lamb, crab, lobster, sticky toffee pudding and strawberries.
First up was what proved my strongest dish of the evening: Inverlussa mussels mouclade with carrots, cherry-wood smoked mussels and crisp little sesame-topped biscuits. It was a beautiful dish with a lovely balance of elements and on-point seasoning.
The pigeon was warmly received and the haddock proclaimed the best of the starter dishes, with its blue cheese gougeres outstanding.
My raw and cooked scallop dish was another smart combination. The sashimi was served in a cucumber and lime broth with little bursting pearls. The seared scallop was topped with salmon caviar for more popped flavour goodness.
The rest of the table opted for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the crab cheesecake with crab claw. The cheesecake was heralded as the dish of the night and crab was wonderfully fresh.
My main course was the only weak dish of the evening. The mackerel and potato salad was just a trifle ordinary in comparison with the rest of the excellence on show. This was a crying shame as the local lamb and freshly caught lobster were roundly praised. The lobster in particularly drew rhapsodic noises from Aileen.
We were back on a surer footing with the desserts. My chocolate and coffee ensemble came together very nicely. Approval was given to the Drambuie ice cream and sticky toffee pudding, while seasonal strawberries are always a winner.
The selection of local cheeses was very nicely judged. The highlight was the Isle of Mull farmhouse cheese which was a joy to behold in its natural habitat. The Blue Murder which had illuminated Aileen’s starter was another welcome treat.
Things were accompanied by a very good Gruner Veltliner and a well-matched Primitivo. Allan and I played with dessert wines with my Pedro Ximinez typically satisfying.
So overall, I was glad to finally get acquainted with the Ninth Wave after hearing many tales of it from Iain down the years. It was easy to see why they love it so much. It’s a very special destination restaurant serving knockout local produce with heart and spirit and a real connection to the community. Make sure to visit this very precious little outposting soon.
We wore: raspberry beret, purple train, rhombus, rattling jewellery
Total bill: £361
On a much brighter following day we took to the road and headed for Calgary beach to stick our toes in the water. But before that we stopped at the Calgary Farmhouse for a light lunch.
This place forms part of a smart arts complex which includes some lodgings. It’s a beautiful setting and was seen to good advantage in the sunshine.
Their menu focuses on light lunch options with a specials board containing much of the interesting whatnots. We all dined from there with Aileen opting for the mezze platter, Iain choosing the mackerel salad while I plumped for the locally reared pork salad.
We sat outside in their sculpture garden. Dishes were soon with us looking generous in their portion size.
I think Iain was the overall winner as the mackerel salad looked a real treat, but my pork was of really good quality, too. Generous chunks of flavourful meat were accompanied by a fruity cous cous with the accompanying salad vegetables all fresh and crisp. It was just what was required.
So overall, the Farmhouse served our needs very nicely indeed. In very pleasant surroundings, it was a bonus to find food to match the impact of the artwork. I’d recommend it to you as an ideal spot for a pre or post-Calgary beach meal.
We wore: gecko, team sarongs, flip-flops
Total bill: £28.75
As my last item of business before boarding the ferry back from Mull to the mainland, I stopped for breakfast at Arlene’s in Craignure.
Just over the road from the ferry terminal, it does a brisk trade from those coming and going from the island.
My requirement was for a breakfast roll and some coffee. The latter didn’t look like an inviting prospect as their coffee machine was filthy, but they just about managed to serve Iain and I a mediocre brew.
I’d opted for bacon and Stornoway black pudding as my roll filling. Encased in a good crisp morning roll this made for hearty eating and was unexpectedly good. It was an enjoyable final munch on Mull.
So overall, Arlene’s could usefully spend some time cleaning their coffee machine but their breakfast rolls need little work as they’re delivered to a very good standard. If I’m ever back in these parts I look forward to another quality roll from here before and after I embark on the ferry journey.
Total bill: £6
On my return to the busy little town that is Oban, my first stop was at the bustling and contemporary Cuan Mor, a bar restaurant on the harbour front.
Unlike most of the rest of the town’s eateries, their emphasis isn’t quite so strongly on seafood with a gourmet burger menu front and centre. There is still seafood available, though, so I took a blended approach.
Their lunch menu offers a range of dishes priced at £6.99 each. From this I chose their seafood chowder then followed with the house burger, which came with chips.
The soup arrived first accompanied with white baguette slices. It was beautifully creamy and packed with chunky seafood including a trio of mussels. It was really tasty stuff.
The main course burger maintained the very good standard. I suspect their evening burgers are chunky meat mountains, but this was of the thinner variety and all the better for it.
It packed good succulence and deep flavour. It put me in mind of the burgers from Jones & Son and whilst not quite to that level was an impressive item. The chips were damn good, too, with excellent crunch. It was another very satisfying dish.
So overall, Cuan Mor was a really good find. You’ll have been in places similar to it, wherever you’re from – the upbeat burger bar with broad appeal – but it’s done as well as I’ve seen it done in quite a while. I’d strongly recommend it to you next time you’re in these parts.
Total bill: £16.48
Postscript – what I didn’t realise at the time was that the place is home to the Oban Bay Brewery. Shows how much I pay attention…
On my first night in Oban I thought a smart seafood restaurant would be the place to go. Accordingly, I dropped Coast a line and booked a table.
I arrived to quite a quiet room but within minutes it was packed out with expectant diners.
Their menu was a veritable list of delights so it took me a good while to narrow down the options. Even then, I had to enlist the help of my friendly waitress to offer further advice.
This led me to choose the grilled langoustines in preference to the house hot smoked salmon, then follow with the hake rather than the halibut. I matched things with their two white wines by the glass which were fine.
The starter promptly arrived with the expected toolkit for prizing and cracking. It was the most messily enjoyable fun I’ve had in a restaurant for a while with the pile of langos taking me a good half hour to finally dismember and demolish. They were excellent.
The main course reflected further assured cooking. It didn’t pack quite the verve or pizzazz but the hake was accurately cooked and the accompanying tagliatelle, crab, salsify and samphire were spot on.
I couldn’t resist the cheeseboard and added an excellent tawny port to accompany things. The selection was simple with an Aiket brie, Strathdon blue and Mull of Kintyre cheddar. The brie was a little cold but upon enquiry it was confirmed that it’s a struggle to keep it at room temperature without it wandering the walls, which made sense.
So overall, Coast served me very nicely. Everything I sampled was well-considered and very pleasing. The langoustines will live long in the memory. I’d be happy to return and would recommend it to you.
Total bill: £49.15
Little Potting Shed Cafe
Breakfast on a bright morning in a new town usually prompts me to find the biggest pile of grease available then commence shovelling into my face while locals leave the premises aghast.
But I seem to be on some sort of weird vegan veggie kick at the moment so I headed to Oban’s healthiest looking breakfast spot which proved to be the Little Potting Shed Cafe.
With a strong commitment to local sourcing this looked a fresh and welcoming place. This was reinforced by a warm welcome from the woman behind the counter.
My eye was caught by talk of poached eggs on toast for the princely sum of £3. I added a pot of green tea for another £1.50.
Things were prepared to order and soon with me. The eggs, locally sourced from the nearby Balvicar Farm, were accurately cooked and delicious. The toast was one of the better bread experiences of what had been a trip notable for weak bread options. I enjoyed it muchly.
So overall, the Little Potting Shed is a great breakfast and light lunch option. I liked their work a lot and would recommend it to you. The plate of grease will inevitably follow tomorrow, though.
Total bill: £4.50
I suppose there’s a limit to how much seafood one can eat but I was in no danger of reaching it as lunchtime approached on my second day in Oban.
With Ee-usk safely booked for the evening, I toddled along Railway Pier to the Waterfront Fishouse, which I believe is in the same ownership as Cuan Mor.
A smart place with views across the bay, I found it fairly sparsely populated. I’m guessing at lunchtime people favour the little green seafood shack for their top-value al fresco grub rather than sitting-in in this more formal setting.
At lunchtime they offer a set list of two courses for £13.99 which sounded pretty good to me. Their full a la carte was also available so I added three oysters as a pre-starter. I then followed with their house hot smoked salmon pate then their baked local coley for main.
The oysters quickly appeared and were plump and fresh. They were very good.
As per the repeating theme throughout my time in this part of the world, the bread that accompanied the pate was shite and there were only two small slices of it. There should have been double the amount and toasting it would have made sense considering how poor it was.
This was a shame as the pate itself was excellent. The salmon had a lovely smoky sweetness to it and fragrant dill enhanced things splendidly. It was first rate.
The main course wasn’t quite so good. A rather ordinary and underseasoned piece of coley sat atop a mound of decent pea, pancetta and leek mash. An oily pesto brought a herb kick but it all didn’t quite come together. It was solid but unspectacular.
So overall, the Waterside Fishouse is a smart spot but there’s some room for improvement on the food. The quality of the seafood is at the expected high levels but some of the dishes need tweaking to make more coherent. Take a look next time you feel the need for bright and stylish surroundings in which to consume your local seafood.
Total bill: £24.14
On my final night in the town, I headed to much-vaunted seafood purveyor Ee-usk for some fishy delights, bathed in mid-evening sunshine.
Out on the harbour edge, the place has a bustling canteen style vibe. It reminded me of the seafood roadhouses on Long Island where I remember driving endlessly to sample the freshest seafood you could hope for. It’s a notch or two smarter than that but it brought back fond memories of those fun times.
Service was friendly but chaotic with a really frenetic feel and a few mistakes peppered throughout the evening. The quality of the fare on offer largely made up for it, but there’s definitely room for improvement on that front.
I started with half a dozen oysters from nearby Loch Creran. These were outstanding; quite the best oysters I’ve been served in an age.
Next up was their signature fish cake which was a hearty beast. The coating was shard-crisp and the filling a lovely balance of potato and fresh and smoked salmon. It was excellent.
I opted for their white fish selection for main course. This brought together halibut, monkfish and seabass baked in a simple parsley sauce with potato croquettes on the side.
This was beautiful simplicity and let the excellent fish shine through. The halibut was outstanding and each other element highly impressive.
The cheeseboard featured a rather sweaty cheddar and hard goat’s cheese. The accompanying vintage port was pretty good.
So overall, Ee-usk is a really excellent, informal fish restaurant. It packs considerable charm and quality. It’s likely to be popular at all times so be prepared for the service to be a little askew, but focus on just how good their seafood is and bask in its glory.
Total bill: £67.55
For my final substantive meal in Oban I headed for a traditional breakfast at compact local cafe Abbie’s, on Argyll Street.
Their breakfast menu kept things simple and flexible with a fry-up comprising either five or seven items at its core.
With thirteen options to choose from, narrowing things down to seven was a slight challenge. I eventually settled upon the combo of bacon, lorne sausage, mushrooms, tattie scone, black pudding, haggis and scrambled eggs. Toast came as part of the price and I added some regulation builders’ tea.
Things were cooked to order but arrived very promptly looking pretty good.
The scrambled eggs were completely unseasoned, but everything else was delivered to a very good standard. The local lorne was particularly good, as was the haggis. It was just the breakfast I was looking for.
So overall, it was good to end my time in Oban on such a happy food note. Of course, I may have snaffled a prawn sandwich or two for the train from the Green Shack, but that seemed only fitting.
Oban and Mull are really good places for a few days away, particularly for seafood fans. Get yourself to this glorious part of the world in the very near future.
Total bill: £7.15