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Try the Heilan power of fish; Tam had a dodgy stomach on the way to the Royal Hotel in Tighnabruaich but its top seafood had him feeling no pain.

Byline: Tam Cowan

Eating out: The Royal Hotel

IF YOU like seafood, you'll love this place.

Yes, I know, not exactly a very original opening line. In fact, in terms of hackneyed expressions, it's probably right up there with Indian restaurants which boast: "You're tried the rest, now try the best."

However, just like the wonderful grub at the Royal Hotel in Tighnabruaich, I thought I'd keep it nice and simple.

I've been dying to visit this place for a number of years, ever since I clocked their regular newspaper adverts explaining how all the fresh goodies are delivered by Peter and Arthur - "our local fishermen" - and I suppose National Seafood Week was the perfect opportunity.

The hotel's waterside location overlooking the Kyles of Bute is absolutely stunning. And so was the scenic car journey all the way down this beautiful stretch of the Argyll coastline.

My mate Graeme - totally allergic to all types of seafood, but that doesn't stop him being a capable chauffeur - brought along his big sister Steph and, having spent the past 10 years of her working life in London, I can assure you the picture postcard views left her absolutely gob-smacked.

To be honest, I think she was only a glass of Irn Bru and a Tunnock's teacake away from handing in her notice and waving goodbye to the smog.

A dicky tummy meant I saw more of the scenery than I'd originally planned and the car stopped four times before we'd even reached the Erskine Bridge.

I'd obviously eaten something dodgy the night before, although I must say I thought the 37 bottles of Miller would have flushed it out of my system.

Feeling much better by the time we arrived in sunny Tighnabruaich, we stepped inside the cosy brasserie that's open for lunch from noon until 3pm.

Sensible hours, I'm sure you'll agree. And such is the warm welcome you receive, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't kick anyone out if they arrived on the doorstep at quarter-to-five.

Of course, the Royal Hotel also boasts an award-winning fine dining restaurant, but that's only open in the evenings.

Don't worry, the snug bistro with its real wood fire serves exactly the same quality of food - and the view from the front window is one you won't forget.

The entire line-up of dishes is chalked on to a huge blackboard above the fireplace and, even when you've placed your order, I bet you'll struggle to keep your eyes off it.

In fact, our three sets of peepers only strayed when the waitress appeared with massive plates of steaks and burgers for some of our fellow diners.

Yes, it's not all fish at the Royal Hotel - and I now think I'll have to make plans for a return visit to coincide with National Beef Week.

Apart from meat-eaters, it would appear this place also caters for kosher cannibals as, according to a misprint in one of the guide books next to the fireplace, the kitchen also specialises in venison, pheasant and "rabbi".

Anyway, Steph started with the local jumbo langoustine. There were seven of them on the plate, each one looking like a sea monster David Attenborough had unearthed on the Blue Planet.

Graeme's fierce allergy - he can't eat anything that comes out of the water, perhaps not even a boiled egg - didn't exactly endear him to these creatures and he thought they looked like magnified pictures of wood lice.

But Steph was too busy cracking shells and dipping plump bits of fish into her garlic mayo to listen to any of this rubbish.

In fact, she only raised her head once - to say this was the best seafood she could remember eating.

While Graeme consoled himself with a red onion and parmesan tart - perhaps a wider non-seafood selection on the starters front wouldn't be a bad idea - I slurped happily at my salmon and monkfish bisque.

Big chunks of fresh fish in a thick, tasty broth topped with three of the biggest, meatiest mussels I've ever seen. Superb.

The bread on the side was also very good - particularly the cheesy type that we really wanted to cook at the open fire with a toasting fork.

In saying that, I don't agree with charging 50p for the bread when it's ordered separately. What's all that about?

On a menu featuring lobster at pounds 22.95, I'd suggest that asking 10 bob for a bit of bread appears stingy.

The main courses were faultless.

I enjoyed the salmon fillet - lightly poached then finished under the grill, with leek mash and a particularly tasty spinach sauce.

Still suffering a little from the previous night, I must have left about half of it on my plate. I think I've been regretting it ever since.

Graeme's "locally stalked venison" (if the police catch the pervert responsible, let's hope he's thrown behind bars) was "brilliant" and he'd like to pass on a little tip for all my readers.

Order some of the black pudding - along with bacon, cheddar and blue cheese it's on the board as pounds 1 extra with the burgers - to accompany the wonderful meat.

He reckons it's the best black pudding you'll taste and the cheerful young waitress who took our order agreed.

Now, black pudding is one thing ... but what about blackcurrant jelly?

Graeme left it at the side of his plate, convinced that sort of sweet stuff just spoils the wonderful flavour of the meat.

As someone who'd never take a pineapple on top of my gammon steak, I'd say he's got a valid point.

To help commemorate National Seafood Week, I'd like to give Steph's main course top billing - hand-dived Loch Fyne king scallops wrapped in Ayrshire bacon.

Sounds utterly magnificent, eh?

The four enormous scallops - each one the size of a golf ball - were "very meaty, very filling and very delicious".

And, speaking like a girl who's definitely been in London far too long, Steph added: "At last - proper bacon with plenty of taste."

Dessert was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax, but I'm glad to say the Royal Hotel still came up trumps.

The home-made treacle tart was scrumptious and, after just one forkful of the incredibly rich chocolate biscuit cake, I'm convinced I've now got gout.

Listen, folks, please don't wait until National Seafood Week 2002 before visiting the Royal Hotel.

Go now. I promise you'll love it.

The Royal Hotel, Shore Road, Tighnabruaich, Argyll.

Tel: 01700 811239

Open: Every day for lunch and dinner

Bill for three: pounds 75
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 6, 2001
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