THE old man used to have a scientific book about Scottish fish and shellfish that hung about in the kitchen to be picked up and pored over by him as various sea creatures were despatched in various ways and loaded into pots and pans.
With the exception of the scent of prawns flash-frying in butter, garlic and paprika that occasionally crept up the stairs late at night like a culinary pied piper we generally turned our childish noses up at such monsters of the deep.
Now, as I sit on the banks of Loch Lomond eating sardines – good, meaty, crisped-up sardines – on posh toast and really want to know if there is such a thing as a Scottish sardine, or what a sardine even really is, he isn’t around to ask.
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I always think of my dad when interesting seafood suddenly appears. Take these clams steamed in cider, with pancetta, celery and shallots. I had the same the other week in St Andrews, grilled in their tiny shells and stuffed with garlic and herbs, as surprising then to see them in a Scottish restaurant as it is now.
I’m presuming they are Italian vongole – for years only available tinned or frozen – that some fish merchant has suddenly made available to Scottish restaurants. Are they, though?
And is this the best way to cook them, steamed in their shells like mussels, I ask Leo as we sit here on a balmy afternoon with shoals of tourists mulling round the tight, pretty little streets of Luss outside. I’m not entirely sure. Answers to these and many other questions on a postcard please.
To get down here into this restaurant area we came through the gift shop with its hanging plaid stag heads and upmarket tartan kitsch and took seats amid black tables and fashionable duck-egg hues.
Around us young couples coo, cuddle and murmur their way through the menu. Let’s face it, if you are on holiday from abroad this is what you expect to eat in Scotland. And Luss is probably pretty much what you expect, make that even hope, Scotland is going to look like.
Before us we have a good beech-smoked salmon from the smokehouse up the road and then the inevitable seafood platter for two at £48. I’m not generally a fan of these platters on the grounds that they’re usually more show than go and in one of those ordering disasters that is probably entirely our fault more sardines appear with it, identical to the ones we already fought to finish off.
Is that more salmon? There’s definitely a dressed crab in its shell of the sort the old man would take hours and hours cracking, scooping, sorting and repacking, though his would sometimes end up being popped under the grill, shell and all. Here it’s cold and filled, yet lightly packed. Pleasant.
There are oysters, too, fresh and salty and slippery, and as a diversion we have some very good Mull scallops atop a saffron and parmesan risotto. I’ve got to say the risotto is the only car crash dish of the meal. It's the colour and texture of scrambled eggs – something has gone badly wrong back there. Too much cheese perhaps.
I would have guided it back to the kitchen were it not for the fact that by now we are already full and casting our eyes around the debris of a meal well tackled.
There is something of the feel of an experiment about this restaurant, open only during the day at the moment, staff with the rosy-cheeked enthusiasm that comes with newish ventures.
Leo knows the owners. I don’t. I suggest that if he is speaking to them he could mention that building their restaurant around their smoked salmon is a good idea, but to raise it up a notch then maybe some nice grilled freshwater fish would be a welcome addition. Otherwise it’s a pleasant diversion in a pretty setting.
Luss Seafood Bar
Church Road, Luss (01436 860524)
Menu: The clue is in the name: seafood a gogo, seafood platters, sardines on sourdough bread, clams in cider. 4/5
Atmosphere: An attractive little restaurant in an attractive little village. Pretty much what you would expect. 4/5
Service: Pleasant, friendly and helpful as staff generally are in Scottish restaurants these days. 4/5
Price: It’s seafood so it's never going to be cheap in touristy Scotland. They should probably get points for restraint, but it's not cheap. 3/5
Food: We liked the grilled sardines on posh toast, their own very good smoked salmon and the clams. More boldness would be good. 6/10