“It’ll just be a little detour” I promise him as we leave Stirling “Apparently there’s a couple of nice stretches of water not far from here and we should be able to see a lot of it in an afternoon.”
That’ll be me completely under-estimating the size of the Trossachs region and the 22 lochs. Yes, 22. And underestimating quite how beautiful they’ll be on a crisp, clear November day and how hard it’ll be to tear ourselves away from each one. We’d spent the previous night in a fabulous hotel on the shore of Loch Ard, scoffing fish and chips in Callander (OMG truffle chips!) and had to be back in Manchester that evening. However there’s a rule, should you find yourself in Scotland on a gloriously sunny day, you must get out and see as much blue skied lushness as humanly possible. To be near the ‘Trossachs’ – a unique word for the area of sparkling lochs, tumbling hills and incredible views around Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow and and west of Stirling – under the winter sun also means exploring the waters’ edges without the dreaded midges – bonus.
So we leave Loch Ard after a full Scottish breakfast and have the most wonderful day full of crystal clear waters, reflective views, peaceful loch-side moments and mini-adventures. Lunch iss nailed by an astonishingly good bowl of Cullen Skink topped with a haddock Scotch egg in the The Pier, Stronachlachar at the head of Loch Katrine. This little cafe has views to die for, a seriously impressive menu and fabulous service too.
15 lochs and a brew in Dunbarton later, we’d a choice. Either get on the road and be home for 9, or drive through Glasgow and visit a seafood restaurant I’d read great things about. Bit of a no brainer really.
Crabbshack sits in a narrow sliver on the busy Argyle St in Finnieston, clearly popular and successful, this year celebrating their 10th birthday. There are some pithy online reviews for being tight on space, but we know what to expect so aren’t much fussed by that as a twosome. As a last minute decision there’s no time to book in advance and all the tables are reserved – not bad for a cold Sunday night – but there’s plenty of space to perch at the bar leaning on the crisp white top, or further to the rear watching the action at the front. Diners are at one with the staff, the close proximity of tables & thoroughfare making you feel you might actually be asked to just pop a platter to Table 4. Talking of platters, that’s my thing as you know, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at £90, the most costly offering so far on all our travels. Not on a Sunday night perched on a stool. The regular menu it’s going to be.
Platterless doesn’t mean shell-less though right? I’ve been craving oysters all weekend after setting my heart on them at MhorFish but being thwarted by a maintenance closure of the cafe. Six on ice with a starter portion of mussels, please.
After the recent beasts from Whitstable and Bamburgh, I gotta say these little Loch Fyne oysters were indeed that. Speaking as a person of 5’4″ stature of course, big isn’t necessarily beautiful and though small, they’ve a lovely taste, delicate and light. Their Oyster Bar and Restaurant is firmly on on my list of To Visits, an hour north of Glasgow, farming their shellfish in a crystal clear sea water loch. Much preferred them without the vinaigrette, it has to be said.
The deep pan of mussels makes it very difficult to slurp ’em without an ensuing domestic as there isn’t enough room for two sets of hands. One is forced to be polite and wait your shellfish turn. At Crabbshack, dishes come out when the chef says they come out, as opposed to in a starter-mains order. Makes it a challenge when you’ve not much space at an elevated bench and you’re trying to stab your partner when it isn’t his turn to mussel dive. Excellent marinière sauce, not too creamy, not too sharp, the sort you want to spoon up and finish off.
We’re unbelievably lucky here in M14 to have both Fuzion and Mi & Pho turning out incredible salt & pepper squid. Done well it’s a mouth sizzling hit of crispy heat balanced by succulent sweet meat, a far cry from the chewy takeaway specials. I love the zingy fresh salad in Crabbshack’s take on the dish, but not the squid or gurnard. Very salty and no chilli, it isn’t a success for me. Every restaurant has their stand out dishes, the ones which endear themselves to regulars and become signature dishes over the years. I think we choose wrongly. The vongole pasta dish doesn’t score highly with me either, and this is quite a hard dish to get wrong. A bit too oily and not much flavour. I’m feeling a bit sad by this time and wishing we were somewhere south of Penrith already.
But here’s where a good eaterie will always pick up points, some excellent customer service kicks in. Our waitress asks if all was ok and I’m polite but honest. Immediately there is management attention at the table. Every chef has off days, it’s just a fact of kitchen life, but how a restaurant deals with it means the difference between avoidance and return. Crabbshack deals with it brilliantly, whipping away our dishes of disappointment and insisting we try two of the firm house favourites – seared scallops in anchovy butter and tempura squid with soy sauce. Blimey, they’re good. I mean skillet sizzlingly, fat splutteringly, chin drippingly good. Your brain tells you there’s no sodding way that much butter should be on one dish and then you dive in anyway, cutting through silky but firm scallop flesh and mopping up anchovy juices with fresh bread. Divine.
The tempura squid is also much more successful, in the sense that we fought over the last piece, ever a good marital meal sign. Loads piled on the dish to share, light and fairly dry too. Is this much food good idea before a three hour drive on a motorway? Possibly not. Is it a cracking fishy spread and are we glad we did it? Yep.The space is compact but cleverly laid out, with a city buzz layered on beautiful original features and a decadent bar area. Smart idea to write up the menu on the glass metro tiles too! I’d return, if in Glasgow again, for the bustling atmosphere and vibe of the place. And definitely for the scallops.