Friday 15th July 2016.
At the Mackays B&B, Oban, the complimentary decanted sherry makes a welcome fillip after a seven hour drive. The oppressive mist over the bay, the unrelenting drizzle: a seaview as picturesque as the empty bottom of a sherry glass. Aperitifs dispatched, we braved the outdoor elements with intrepidity: a previous appointment with the Taj Mahal.
The greeting on arrival dreary and inhospitable as the weather outside. We chalked one off later to dignified reserve; the other to clinical depression. The booth seating a relief after our last outing to Rajput, at least: stray conversations invading our space like midges in the Mull twilight.
We were largely oblivious to the restaurant bustle in our dining booth isolation, but it’s clearly popular. And despite the taciturn waitering turns the service, it has to be said, was both efficient and timely, commencing with a round of bottled Cobras (no draught beer on tap), plus Skippy’s coke and rogue lemon.
What about a chorus of hip-hip-hurrahs at the sighting of lime pickle on a restaurant pickle tray? Curious phenomenon unearthed by this blogging expedition: lime pickle is going out of fashion like bell bottom trousers on Southampton docks! So hurrah, Taj Mahal, and, by the way, it was exquisite. Won Sweet Mamma Pickles’ acclaim – her first visit to an Indian since “Donald Where’s Your Trousers” charted. Just the four standard pickle dishes but each one finely rendered.
The onion bhajis were only okay, lacking kick and pizzaz; the tandoori mixed starter and duck tikka faired better without wowing. A jiffy to decry those ubiquitous ‘sizzling’ onion scraps they heap on your starter portion: warmed raw onion smeared in claggy marinade – let’s exit this lazy routine from the Indian dining experience, renegotiate our onion prep strategies…
The next course came as something of a surprise, mixed Trip Advisor reviews suggesting so-so standards: chilli garlic duck – robust, roasted spice flavours with garlicky depths; punchy, fresh chilli hits; a sudorific pleasure fix. Skippy’s lamb kashmir also scored well. A word though for our dignified, reserved waiter who’s da-da moment (lifting the bowl off Sweet Mamma’s biryani rice dome) was crushingly marred by a tepid, tumbleweed reception. “And she doesn’t say anything,” he mumbled.
As usual, the lavatories were pretty grubby, functional necessities. The sight of the far off oasis of Calypso liqueur coffees restoring faith in humanity as I ventured unsteadily back toward civilisation – After Eight chocolate solace; warm “Lemontree Fresh Hand Wipes ‘Thank you for your custom’ ”. Not entirely convincing this pre-printed outpouring of gratitude – completely Missing from the waiting staff’s dead-eyed gaze ushering us to the door; more like grudging acknowledgement that we weren’t ‘doing a runner’. Thus we departed into the familiar, ceaseless drizzle of Scotland’s western fringes.
Sweet Mamma Pickles
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles