The Pierhouse

Port Appin, near Oban, Argyll, PA38 4DE
Tel: 01631 730302
GPS: 56.552975, -5.414427

March 2023

I have a confession to make; I have fallen in love with a tiny corner of the west coast of Scotland. The village of Port Appin overlooks Loch Linnhe, the only sea loch on Scotland’s Great Glen Fault, the others being the freshwater Loch Lochy (shades of Boaty McBoatface there) and of course the great Loch Ness. The landscape of Port Appin is one of sheer beauty, the bright and shimmering clear blue waters of the loch home to a scattering of islands, all of which sit beneath the scarred grey-green hills of the Morvern peninsula. Squint, and you can make out the hills of Mull in the distance, sitting across the mouth of the loch.

I have found, on visiting this place, I have taken to simply staring with wonder at my surroundings. My photograph, taken on a rather misty morning, certainly does not do it justice.

The Pierhouse

To reach Port Appin from the east coast my drive takes me through the ruggedly majestic Glen Coe, a fact which only adds to its draw. And there is of course one other feature of Port Appin that appeals; this little coastal village is home to not one but two hotel-restaurant combinations. One of these is The Pierhouse (the other, by the way, is the Airds Hotel).

The Pierhouse sits overlooking the jetty from where the passenger ferry departs for the island of Lismore, and this is no coincidence. This little collection of buildings include the original residence of the Pier Master, built during the 19th century. Today they have been reconfigured, the result a twelve-bedroom hotel and restaurant. The hotel is part of the Wee Hotel Company, a relatively new project run by Gordon Campbell Gray, perhaps better-known for his chain of luxury hotels under the Campbell Gray banner. He purchased The Pierhouse in 2019, before snapping up the somewhat more renowned Three Chimneys on Skye just a few weeks later.

I didn’t stay at The Pierhouse (hmmm, where did I stay, do you think?) so I bravely endured the three-minute walk down the road from one Port Appin address to another, arriving at The Pierhouse just in time for Saturday lunchtime service. What fortuitous timing!

It seems to me that any restaurant perched on the edge of such an imposing sea loch should focus on locally sourced seafood, and indeed this forms the core of the menu here, including oysters from Loch Creran (a small inlet of Loch Linnhe, at the mouth of which sits the Isle of Eriska), rope-grown mussels from Loch Leven (another inlet of Loch Linnhe), langoustines from Loch Linnhe and creel-caught Scottish lobster. As I was seated looking out across the waters of Linnhe itself, my choice was an easy one.

The Pierhouse

They look pretty good, I hope you agree. Available in small or large portions (this is a large portion), and served cold or warm (I opted for the latter) these were langoustines of a good size, big enough to make it worthwhile digging into the claws (not always the case with smaller creatures) as well as the tail. They were served on a large metal skillet with a wedge of charred lemon and melted butter in an oyster shell, a nice touch I thought. And of course I took a side of hand-cut chips (well, who wouldn’t?).

About half of these langoustines tasted as good as they looked, the meat plump, sweet and firm. Top marks. The others, sadly, were disappointing, and within the tails I found a mushy slop. I do not know if this is caused by enzymatic degradation, is a side effect of the freezing-thawing process (but these should be fresh, no?), or results from cooling in water after the first cook, and I am not sure anyone else knows either, but whatever the cause about half of these otherwise beautiful crustaceans had succumbed. The flavour was still good though, and with the erstwhile assistance given by the lemon and butter I had no problem working my way through these.

The chips were top notch, by the way.

Wishing to prove my commitment to the cause I continued to dessert, in the full knowledge that it may well lead to an afternoon nap (well, somebody has to do it). From a shortlist of five I plumped for the apple and thyme tarte tatin which is served with, to quote the menu precisely, proper custard. Even as I ordered it I had my suspicions about what would appear, and these fears were realised; The Pierhouse is yet another establishment that has joined the trend of naming anything with an apple in it tarte tatin.

The Pierhouse

That is not a tarte tatin. It is, however, a quite brilliantly executed and richly textured apple pie which has a distinctive and complex construct, and of which the chef should be proud. The filling is essentially a three-mile long ribbon (I might be exaggerating a little) of apple wound into a disk, and then cooked within a rich, slightly sticky pastry case. It was lipsmackingly delicious, and the custard – while it does have a slightly nuclear-yellow sheen to it – was indeed ‘proper’. Properly delicious I mean. The biscuit and thyme fripperies didn’t detract (and in truth the biscuit was skilfully done) and in the end I had to restrain myself from licking the bowl clean.

Instead of calling it tarte tatin, can I suggest the chef puts his or her name to it. I am sure Simon Rogan, who I am sure has been creating something similar for years (albeit closer to a tarte tatin in style), won’t mind.

And did I have a glass of wine? Well it wouldn’t be lunch without one, so I pointed my finger at the by-the-glass list and it landed on the Gladstone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, vintage unspecified. No, there was no Muscadet listed by the glass (the Fédération des Vins de Nantes still have some work to do, I think), and no cooler climate Sauvignon either. This was certainly a decent choice, although it needed more time to sort itself out in the glass than I expected, as it started off with some less appealing sweet cool-fermentation estery aromas, but once these had blown off I was left with a more appealing and honest fruit profile. By this time, admittedly, I was already onto my not tarte tatin.

Would I go back to The Pierhouse? Yes I think I would. I was unlucky with the langoustines, but much I tasted here (I might have had a mouthful of my dining companion’s beer battered haddock, served with a superb gherkin-rich tartar sauce) was good. The view from the dining room is close to heavenly, the service absolutely spot on, and the prices friendly. All they need to do now is list a Muscadet (or preferably two – these days you need traditional and cru communal styles on the list) and I simply won’t be able to resist the draw. Of the restaurant, and of Port Appin of course.

Prices: The langoustines are sold at market price, which on the day I visited was £18 for a small portion, and £36 for a large portion. Haddock and chips was £17, my hand-cut chips £4.50 and the not tarte tatin was £8. A 250 ml glass of Gladstone Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc was £14. Lunch for two including all drinks was £85.45. (24/3/23)