WAY back when my mum used to put all five of us kids in the car and shoot us out the damp, dour Highlands in a fire red Austin Maxi we'd always go via Inveraray and we'd always roar up that long, wide glen that made the car feel so tiny until we popped over the Rest and Be Thankful and wound down through forests towards the gritty warmth of Glasgow.

Not once did we ever turn right down this road but we knew that there be the way to Dunoon. And ballistic missiles, and submarines and hot dang American badness.

Tonight, having taken that Dunoon road for the first time, the map suddenly switches us away from it and onto an atmospheric single track road, past a lonely church, before stopping us right before a loch with a river running into it and a castle on its edge.

It's a June evening and we would stop to gape but, of course, it's pouring down. So we bolt for the Inver and step momentarily and disconcertingly into the 1970s. There is a wood fire smouldering lazily in a sparse yet kitschily decorated bar which has benches and couches laid out like a waiting room; seating people, it seems, at awkward angles to each other.

We arrive at the bar, look at the chalkboard and are met with a sharp, "that's not tonight's menu" before being sent to find somewhere to sit and wait for our drinks order to be taken.

Frankly? Hmmm. Especially as the front door welcome with its mention of us being a whole 30 minutes early was hardly textbook.

Is this nerves on a busy-ish night I wonder, watching a lot of thundering about from bar to dining room to kitchen and back round again? Or having recently opened to acclaim for their Nordic food menu, have they already accidentally disappeared up their own backsides?

Fortunately, for everybody concerned, a plate of piping hot asparagus with flax butter arrives which is as delicious as its simple. Freshly made and fabulous sourdough bread with more of that yellowy made-here butter meets us when we're seated in the spartan dining room of pine tables, white walls and wood floors.

We order more. And then more. By the time we're eating Isle of Bute lamb, slow cooked, unbelievably dark and delicious, and also served a cut from the rack with the skin salted and super crunchy-crisp, things have mellowed out significantly.

Another word on that lamb. It is perfection. Served simply with seared fennel, fennel fronds, tangy local little wild white garlic flowers. I have never eaten better lamb in my life. Ever.

Funnily enough, we earlier balked at the sparse dessert description on the sparse little set menu - no choices here - of "strawberries and curdled sheep milk". Ugh?

Actually, the curdled milk turns out to look and taste like the best salty sweet crumble you've ever had in your life and then to magically melt away on the palate like an ice cream. It's made, or some of it apparently is, from baked milk powder, topped with snow flakes of curds.

Nordic cuisine? Foraging and local food and foodie reverence for the ingredients, of course. The concept summed up by our second course being introduced with catchy words: "The scallops are from out there," with a nod to Loch Fyne right outside the window, and "'the spruce from up there', with another nod this time to the forest behind the restaurant.

Raw sliced scallops and, yes, spruce needles, with a light bergamot cream. Taste? At first the scallops are fresh, sweet but those sharp and pointy green spruce needles? Umm. I'm getting...shower gel? Air freshener? And far too much of it obliterating the scallops from the palate.

Powerful flavours worked better in the new season garlic soup and pheasant egg. Still outdoor flavours, but in a more-ish way.

Inver then? It's way off the beaten culinary track and that's a good thing. For thrill seekers.


Strathlachlan, Strachur

(inverrestaurant.co.uk, 01369 860537)

Set menu of six courses of stimulating food; flax butter, perfect Bute lamb, raw scallop and spruce needles. Prepare to be jolted. 5/5

Adaptation of a cutting edge Nordic operation in an awkward and not very comfortable building. Nice view, though. 3/5

They need to work on that welcome and rethink the bar area, but when the food got flowing and everybody relaxed, it was good. 4/5

Considering so much is made in house or very locally and the supreme cooking skills, a bargain at £35 including coffee. 5/5

The Bute lamb alone is worth the trip. The dessert is fun and the cooking wonderful. Always interesting. 9/10