Reviews

Did you know that we are one of Alexander McCall Smith's top 5 restaurants in the world?

(Evening Standard May 2011- we have not yet managed to get a copy of this!)

The Rough Guide To Scotland 2010

The best reason to stop here (Lochaline), however, is to eat at the superb Whitehouse Restaurant, which specialises in delicious, freshly-prepared dishes using local meat and seafood. It's a relaxed, friendly place, and not too expensive, particularly if you're in for lunch or coffee and home-baked scones.

The Scotsman Sat 1 Dec 2007

It may be slow to cook, you’ll be quick to praise

Restaurant Review
George Kerevan
WHITEHOUSE RESTAURANT
Lochaline,
Argyll
(01967 421777) The bill

Dinner per head, about £29, excluding drinks

Slow food is not a particular method of cooking but a grassroots movement to encourage the survival of real food and eating in company. It's eco-gastronomy plus the conviviality of dinner with friends. The latter is important as it stops the idea becoming po-faced.

This philosophy has been around a long time but the organised slow food movement got going in 1986 when a charismatic Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini, was mortified to see a new McDonalds had opened at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Rather than trash the joint, Petrini decided to launch a "slow food" insurgency to counteract the domination of global tastebuds by American "fast food" and to subvert the notion that eating is merely refuelling to keep you at work.

The manifesto was: "Let us rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food." There are now 80,000 members worldwide, with a clutch of branches ("convivia") in Scotland.

Slow food adherents aren't out just for a good time. They actively promote small farmers and artisan food producers whose products face extinction from industrialised eating, or whose sustainable agricultural methods are kind to the environment. A wonderful example of this missionary zeal is the Whitehouse Restaurant in Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula.

The Whitehouse was founded five years ago by Jane Stuart-Smith - who also runs a legal practice from Lochaline by internet -and her friend Sarah Jones. The restaurant itself is domestic in scale and décor, though the location is breathtaking. But the kitchen, under chef Andy Fox, is as far from hand-knitted as you can get. The combination of flavourful local ingredients combined with attention to preparation makes the Whitehouse one of Scotland's top rural restaurants, and the best advertisement for the slow food movement I've come across.

There were a quartet of starters on the menu, so - there being four of us - we had them all. If we'd anticipated the large portions, they might have substituted as main courses.

The Sound of Mull scallops (£7.95) had been hand-dived for the Whitehouse by the local electrician. They were huge and each arrived on a separate bed of aromatic salt. We weren't sure what the salt was intended for - apart from its maritime presentation values - as we were sternly forbidden to eat it. Aromatic salt is a favourite in Venetian cooking, where it adds flavour without being intrusive, but in this case it seemed oddly superfluous.

The elegant smoked haddock and Mull cheddar soufflé (£7.50) was firm enough on the plate to support being topped by a soft-boiled bantam's egg - fresh from the restaurant's own flock - but it still proved fluffy on the inside. This dish was more cheesy than fishy, but delicious when contrasted with the runny egg yolk - very inventive.

The hill of beefy, tender Mull mussels (£6.95) came in a quintessential white wine, garlic and cream soup that was not too rich for us to spoon up avidly. The risotto of local shitake and cep mushrooms (£6.95) arrived wafting a perfume of truffle oil. To my taste, it was a bit soupy, but I prefer this dish Milanese style. A native Venetian would have said it was perfect.

As everything is truly fresh at the Whitehouse, you only get what is in season. For mains, we went for the braised Mull mutton and winter kale (£16.50). This was falling-off-the-bone tender like lamb shank and not the sinuous texture and gaminess I expected. We would have been happy with more of the wilted kale that cut neatly across the mellowness of the mutton. Once a Scottish staple, kale is out of fashion in today's kitchens, which is a pity: it has a wonderful edge compared to today's anaemic, processed vegetables.

We also tried the Lochaber Grouse (£17.50). This had an uncompromisingly powerful taste - not for the faint of heart - but was tender and juicy. I was disappointed there was only one fish dish available - a rather perfunctory sautéed halibut (£16.50) - but that is the part of the adventure of going seasonal and local.

To round off, we shared a couple of rounds of passionfruit pannacotta with pear poached in red wine (£5.95). The red wine sauce benefited from being light and subtle rather than thick and jammy, and enriched the pannacotta.

To drink, we had experimented with a fairtrade Chilean Carmaneres. This grape is often mistaken for - or passed off as - Merlot, so it was good to see it being bravely honest. There not being many vineyards in the Highlands, the Whitehouse imports organic and fairtrade wines. Their present list is a bit eclectic and not up to the standard of the food. They need a Gamay, perhaps, and a more convincing Côte de Rhône.

The prices at the Whitehouse are not cheap, which might put off backpackers or casual visitors. However, the pricing structure reflects the attention paid to giving suppliers a fair deal in order to encourage more local production. If you are an impecunious backpacker, you can always treat yourself to one of the gigantic starter portions. Stuart-Smith defines "slow food" as food that has been prepared with love. Try the Whitehouse: you'll love it.