INCONSPICUOUS doesn’t cover it. My partner and I had driven right past the spot a few times, walked to the abandoned castle with which it shares a shore, stayed on a beach nearby. We had seen the name “Inver” on maps and roadsigns, but hardly taken notice.

But the unassuming converted crofters’ cottage on the banks of Loch Fyne harbours a not-so-well-kept secret – the “best restaurant in Scotland”, if the National Restaurant Awards are to be believed.

The site picked up the accolade from the Estrella Damm-sponsored awards in mid-June, beating Scotland’s more famous, Michelin-starred restaurants in the process.

Inver does have a Michelin star of its own, a “green” one, awarded for “gastronomy and sustainability”.

The National:

“Sustainability is what we’ve built the business on, those principles,” chef and co-owner Pam Brunton (above) told The National. “It should be important to everybody – it is important to everybody whether they recognise it or not.

“Sustainability is as much about investing in communities and people as it is investing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so working with local people also helps to support the place that we live as well.”

Perhaps nowhere is Scotland’s bounty more clear than on the north coast of the Cowal peninsula. Old-growth forests brim with mushroom life, hedgerows burst with berries and edible flowers, and the water’s surface is often broken by fish leaping, seals, dolphins, or even whales coming up for air.

“It’s like walking through a fresh produce market on the way to work,” Brunton says. “That’s why we chose this spot – it was quite intentional.”

The National:

Approaching the restaurant (above) from Old Lachlan Castle, we spotted a large porcini mushroom among the undergrowth. We left the insect-eaten fungus where it grew, but it is a sure sign of a healthy forest.

We would soon find further crops from the local area on our plates. Chanterelles from the forest, langoustines from the water, strawberries from Inver’s garden.

On arrival, we sat on the terrace, sipping on drinks and eating four of the largest oysters I have ever seen.

The National:

These monsters of their species, easily twice as large as the fare from Loch Fyne we’d had in the past, had come down from Loch Creran, a sea loch just north of the more famous Loch Etive above Oban. Served with horseradish shavings, they were fresh and light – despite their size.

Then we moved inside, sitting in the dog-friendly area between the cosy bar – which still feels like a well-kept crofters’ cottage – and the restaurant room – which has more of an air of a minimalist Scandinavian restaurant.

The National:

A salad – if you can call it that – of smoked mackerel, cucumbers, and grilled berries was my starter (above), while my partner had a “cheese cake” – if they can call it that – with elderflower, pea and onion (below).

The National:

I’m not a food critic, but this course was incredible. Every mouthful was one you’d want to savour. The small plates lasted a long while as we ate slowly, eating each constituent part by itself, then in combination, to explore the variety of flavours on our plates.

The National:

For mains, I had something you’d expect more on a pub menu – langoustines and chips – while my partner opted for the potato tortellini with a more than generous helping of winter chanterelles and some kind of garlic froth – much more in fitting with the gastronomy scene.

The National:

Once again, the food was exceptional. Something in the tortellini bordered on the too salty for us – but we are not heavy salt eaters and, given the sea-loch setting and the huge book entitled Salt on the shelves behind us, that may well have been an intentional part of the theme.

Dessert we shared, stuffed far more than we thought we would be at this point. It was a kind of baked meringue, topped with sliced gooseberries and a sorbet of the same flavour. The meringue honestly was nothing to write home about, but the sorbet was easily the best I have ever had. The tartness of the gooseberries just sat perfectly. We joked that if we go back (we already have another booking, to be honest) we’d ask for three scoops of that instead of any other dessert.

The National:

Then came the part of a meal no one really likes, the bill. But the damage wasn’t bad. For a restaurant of Inver’s quality, it was downright reasonable. For everything described above, ordered a la carte, it came to £97 plus tip.

There is also a tasting menu which would have been more expensive, at £79 per person, and rooms which come as part of a package which would be more again, starting at £185 (for the room and breakfast alone).

For another overnight option, they did offer us space to park our campervan had we wanted. But we left that evening instead, planning to go back in the near future.

As I mentioned, we already have another booking.

Inver restaurant is at Strathlachlan on the north coast of the Cowal peninsula. Bookings and sample menus – they change with the seasons – can be found at