40 years of Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant - a look behind the scenes
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at Cairndow is one of those places that is a landmark when you are on a drive. It always seems to have been there, and now I know why - Loch Fyne Oysters have been around for forty years. The Foodie Explorers clan have been visiting for a good number of years. Here's a photo from back in 2006.
Founded by local landowner Johnny Noble and micro biologist Andy Lane in the 70's. Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant has grown and grown. Starting as a two-man operation to now having around 150 employees, the business has gone from loch-side stall to sending seafood to the luxury hotel Burj al Arab in Dubai.
Just along from Ardkinglas House on the shore of Loch Fyne, I got to meet Aquaculture Manager Iain MacKay. He's extremely proud of his operation, and rightly so. I had no idea that underneath the calm waters are around a thousand oyster frames.
Iain set one up at the side of the loch to show me how the oysters grow and are harvested. Each cage rocks around with the waves giving the oysters a workout, no fatty oysters here. Strong, sleek oysters are wanted. If the oysters don't work out, their shells get too thick so there's less meat to eat.
The seed oysters come from the companies hatchery at Morecombe Bay as the water in Loch Fyne is too cold for the numbers required. Once they are transferred to Loch Fyne, it takes three years to get from seed to market. That's a lot longer than I imagined. Almost like a whisky, the tastiest things are worth the wait.
After harvesting, the oysters are taken to the depuration area. This is where the oysters are kept in free-flowing clean water to flush out impurities and contaminants. The water at Loch Fyne is generally class A, which means they don't have to place the oysters in depuration, However, each oyster is placed through this system to ensure it has a clean bill of health. Each oyster is also checked by hand. Did you know that you can listen to the health of an oyster by tapping two together? If they make a full sound, a bit like the sound of stones tapping together, the oysters are healthy. If they sound hollow or they are open, discard them as they won't be worth eating.
Whilst waiting for the oysters to grow a company needs to make money. So smoked salmon, mussels and langoustines are also sold. I headed back to base at the restaurant to visit the salmon preparation room and smokehouse. The smell of the curing salt and sugar mixed with the smoke was divine. I could happily spend the day watching the folks at work, filling up the kilns with whisky cask wood chips.
First up, a look at the salmon curing. The sweet smell of the sugar lingered around the room. Once the curing process is over, the salmon are washed down and moved into the smokehouse.
The fillets of salmon were stacked up in trays inside the smokehouse. Opening the door let out a waft of smokey aroma. Not too strong to overpower, but enough to give the salmon a wonderful smokey taste.
Loch Fyne Produce
It was now time to taste the products - back amongst familiar territory for me!
A selection of Loch Fyne smoked salmon. Clockwise from top left: Classic smoked salmon,;whisky smoked salmon with 21 yr old Glengoyne; Gin Smoked Salmon with Makar Gin (Read more about the Maker Gin infused Loch Fyne smoked salmon here); Gravadlax Salmon; and Beetroot-infused smoked salmon.
My favourites here were the Glengoyne 21yr old Smoked Salmon and the lemony Makar Gin salmon. I think that says a lot about me!
The Kinglas filet is the pride of Loch Fyne. Meaty, succulent and would be a perfect ingredient for some sushi, or just on its own with a chilled white wine. In the middle is Bradan Rost. Salmon fillets that are dry-cured with salt and sugar, then hot smoked and kiln roasted. Last, but not least, Bradan Orach, a salmon fillet which is dry-cured in salt only and smoked for a little bit longer to give it a more golden finish. The Kinglas was my favourite here, I can just imagine sitting in the garden with some of this, wine in hand...I can dream!
On the menu at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant are all sorts of goodies from oysters grilled with garlic breadcrumbs to grilled langoustines with garlic butter to scallops and black pudding. One to try is the lightly smoked salmon fillet served with a cream sauce. 😍
A visit to Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant is well worth it. It's around an hour away from Glasgow on the road to Inverary. Whether you are stopping for a cuppa, a full meal or to fill up your fridge with goodies, its worth turning off the A83.
If you are in the area it is also worth visiting Fyne Ales Brewery, Shop and Bar just along the road.
Thank you to Loch Fyne Oyster Bar and Restaurant for letting me see behind the scenes!
Loch Fyne Oysters
Cairndow, PA26 8BL
Tel +44 (0)1499 600264
Just as well Mr Noble took his hobby up!