Thursday, 18 November 2010


Ferries still excite me. The prospect of sailing across the sea in a little Noah's Arc filled with all the things that probably shouldn't get saved come the floods.

The smell of chips cooking slowly in old fat. Patterned carpets that could start a fit. Fun Zones. People.

Freed from the insulation of the car, a motley collection of this shore's inhabitants get a captive audience and the chance to express themselves. If you ever fancy shining a light into contemporary Britain, ferry travel gives 'Come Dine With Me' a run for it's money. The only drawback being, unlike TV, once on you can't turn it off.

My formative ferry years were different. Back then it was called 'abroad'. We'd leave these floating sociological melting pots and drive out, onto the wrong side of the road, into smells of garlic, seafood and real coffee. Cherbourg, Le Harve, Santander... nowadays it's more like Dunoon, Stornoway and on this occasion Brodick. At Brodick you disembark straight into the smell of fish and chips.

Despite the greeting aroma, Arran's gone to some lengths to punt itself as the home of great food. Unfortunately, the impressive "Taste of Arran" marketing campaign doesn't seem to have made getting hold of the stuff on the island particularly easy.

In a small complex on the outskirts of Brodick several businesses group together. Creelers, a restaurant that's closed for winter but also a fishmonger is ok, the Arran Cheese Shop has been good to me in the past but this time their Arran Blue was well past it's best. Across the road at the local brewery they were selling my favourite of their brews Arran Blonde for £2.12 a bottle. In Brodick's Co-op it was £2.10. It was even cheaper in Sainsbury's in Glasgow the week before. Am I being penalised for visiting the brewery in November?

After a beautiful walk through cliffs, bogs and endless startled wild deer, I popped next door to pick up something local.

Determinedly I walked up the driveway to a lean-to on the side of a house. After negotiating my way past a man intensely staring at the gravel he was sweeping, I went in. "Yes?" asked another man behind a tiny display counter, which also happened to be empty. "Hello, I'm staying next door for the week"... "Yes"..."Well, funnily enough I'm after some meat"..."Any particular sort?"..."I was thinking something local would be nice"..."All I've got local just now is venison". Stewing venison it was then. I bought some onions and carrots too.

This is what I did: Sauted an onion till golden in clarified butter. May have been local. Popped the onions into a casserole, reserving the oniony butter in the frying pan to brown the meat with a bashed clove of garlic (skin still on). After browning, put the meat with the onions then added a tablespoon of flour to the left over butter in the frying pan, stirred until lumpless then added Arran Dark Ale a bit at a time. Used about half a bottle. Added something sweet to balance the bitter hops... a tablespoon of heather honey found in the cupboard. Brought it to the boil, poured over the meat and onions, popped the peeled carrots, lid on and into an oven at 160 c for about 2 hours.

Quality bit of venison in a really tasty, straightforward dish served with tagliatelle. Something they do a lot with rich daube stews in Provence. Although tagliatelle's not strictly local there either it works brilliantly. Unfortunately the Arran Dark Ale was so tasty it was gone by the time the stew was ready. So drank this from the local Co-op instead....

This has to be the best value red wine I've had all year. Delicious blackberry fruit and a nice, dusty mid palate with good structure. The fruit's so powerful even the vanilla oak taste, presumably added for the English speaking market, seems in balance. Utterly incredible value for £5.19.

Actually Brodick Co-op's wine's worth a mention. It stocks one of the best Cru Beaujolais I've ever drunk, the 2004, only ever found by me in Stornoway's Co-op way back in 2007, was sublime. This one would have been fermenting while I was drinking Stornoway's bounty, it's good, but maybe needs a year or two to show it's charmes.

It's in good company too. The shelves boast cru class Bordeaux, Muga Rioja and good German wines.

They've also got a tasty own label Chablis and a selection from the US that goes beyond Blossom Hill. Not exactly a taste of Arran, but damn tasty none the less.

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