The Highland Restaurant in Oban no longer exists. This will not be a surprise when you read what follows, though like many bad experiences viewed with the benefit of hindsight, I somehow have a sneaking wish it were still there, maybe in that masochistic way that drives otherwise sane people to travel hundreds of miles to be insulted and abused by the waiters at the Wong Kei, where such feats are the stuff of legend. By contrast, the service at the Highland was charm personified… the problems lay in the kitchen.
This was one Easter, many years ago, and Oban was just opening up for the season. I say opening up, though open restaurants were in short supply that evening. A nice Indian would have done us proud, but none were to be found. And then we chanced upon the Highland, apparently opening its doors for the first time in the year. We were not alone, either – a large party of Americans were already there when we arrived and were being served drinks by two 16-year old waitresses.
We ordered our drinks and food, then waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually the starters came, brought by a flushed waitress. I spoke to her in a kindly voice: “What’s going on?”
“There’s only one chef in the kitchen so we’re helping out.” In other words, the chef had opened the restaurant, not anticipating the surge in demand from the American contingent, and was now struggling!
More waiting followed. We debated whether to walk out but given the lack of alternative options, sat tight. After about an hour, my lasagne arrived. Considering this specimen had emerged from the freezer and been microwaved, it appeared not only very late but looked in a very sorry state. That apart, it tasted roughly edible.
Sadly, my wife’s steak did not appear at the same time, so more waiting was required. Things got so bad that the Americans, who evidently had more of a sense of humour than some of their fellow countrymen, applauded whenever a plate of food made it out of the kitchen.
Then at long last, the steak finally appeared. It looked roughly like steak, though maybe not the finest example of the ilk ever to appear. However, it turned out to be made of mahogany and to defy all attempts at cutting, even with a steak knife. One suspects a chain saw might have been more effective, but we were sadly under-equipped for such eventualities.
In the end, we did not pay for the steak, but did leave large tips for the poor, harassed waitresses, then went to the nearest pub for a couple of large malt whiskies. I doubt I will ever have a meal so bad ever again, nor to have to wait so long in the process, but thank you Oban – you set the standard!