Pam Brunton and Rob Latimer, the co-owners of Inver restaurant, are sitting in their kitchen at home, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the landscape of land, loch and hill. Coffee cup held in two hands, Pam begins to recount their shared journey to opening their restaurant on Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland. Inver is just a few minutes away and when working, Pam will be found cooking while Rob runs the restaurant.
The two Scots met in London. Pam, a chef, and Rob, an animator, had a shared love of food and drink. As their careers unfurled, Pam began to travel and worked for a year in an old walnut mill in South West France – an experience that would shape her vision for a future restaurant with Rob. “Local people would come to the back door and bring baskets of mushrooms, raspberries still warm from the sun,” she says. “If I was going to have a restaurant of my own, this is what I wanted. Not just the produce, but the connection with people.”
Drawn to the parallels between the physical and cultural landscapes of Scandinavia and Scotland, the couple's drive for experience and knowledge led them to the stage first at Noma in Copenhagen and then at Magnus Nilsson’s restaurant Faviken in Sweden. Both restaurants were at the heart of “the new Nordic food movement”, and it was here that Rob gained valuable experience in high-end contemporary restaurants.
After nearly a decade in restaurant kitchens, Pam took a break from cheffing to complete a masters in food policy and sustainability. “It gave me a way to articulate the principles and values that I had,” she explains, “to better understand how to act and make decisions on my own, according to these principles.” She gestures to the view outside the window. “I feel that we are part of an ecosystem, both the human ecosystem and the natural environment. When you are this close to the water, this close to the hillside and the landscape, I feel you can immediately see the results of what you are doing.”
It’s time to visit Inver. On the winding single track to the restaurant Rob remembers their first visit in 2015. He describes the “ethereal light and sleeting rain, the remote beauty and the proximity to abundant seafood” that swayed their decision. Part former boat store, part croft house, Inver sits on the shore of Loch Fyne with windows overlooking the ruined 15th century Old Castle Lachlan that seems to reach out from the water.
Once a trading post and thriving community of around 300 people, the loch was the heart of the community. Pam sees Inver as part of the continued history of the bay, “I like to think of myself as one in a long line of cooks on the bay, steaming cockles and grinding hazelnuts,” she says. Pam’s food looks to the food of past and present Scotland and her travels and experiences cooking around the world. “As a cook, you can, quite literally, bring anything you like to the table – your imagination, your experience, your knowledge, your values. Here you can see the waters and hillside that have produced the food in front of you.”
From the outset, Pam and Rob filled Inver with handmade crockery, fabrics and materials crafted by their family and friends. “We had always intended to build something that was very personal, that celebrated meaningful connections – be it with family, friends or the local community.” Pam’s dad designed and built the Bothies, Rob’s sister and brother-in-law built the shepherd's huts, and were a large part of renovations. It’s a family endeavour.
While standing next to the wood fired grill, Pam proudly speaks of the close network of producers - most of whom are neighbours and friends. There is a wonderful array of individuals that bring them produce, Mary, a former PE teacher, brings shellfish along with her partner, a fisherman called Col, “Most of the fish and shellfish is straight out of the loch. They bring us creeled langoustine, and hand-dived scallops and crab every Friday. Their neighbour Robin goes fishing with his children and brings buckets of mackerel to their back door in summertime. In return, he gets fresh loaves of bread and drinks at the bar. Many of their vegetables are grown in a polytunnel just a mile or two away. This system of small scale bartering blurs the lines for Pam and Rob between what is work and what is life, grounding Inver in the community.
Alongside the seafood, depending on the season, there is local lamb, venison shot on local estate, rare breed pork and free range poultry, all cooked over the wood grill. “We want our guests to sit with a plate in front of them and understand that this food could only have come from here,” Pam says. “We use up produce or even waste ingredients from the kitchen – coffee grounds for kombucha, carrot brine from the fermenting process for dirty martinis,” adds Rob, who leads on the drinks menu, and makes all their syrups, infusions and shrubs. The shrubs – a traditional drink using their homemade vinegar – uses a glut of fruit or veg from the garden. The wine list comprises European natural and small production wines. The synergy between kitchen and bar is clear.
Back at home, Pam filets the sea bass for a TOAST Time to Make recipe, and Rob reignites the fire as they discuss the future of Inver. They are at a transition point in their journey, moving into a position that allows them to support and mentor the talent that comes into their kitchen. They want to give space to chefs that love to celebrate food in the way that they do. They want to help nurture that passion. “Inver is in a beautiful spot with a fantastic network of suppliers, it’s a great place for someone with ideas of their own and the space to articulate them, and we’ll always be there with a bit of guidance,” says Pam.
The measure of success at Inver is underpinned by Pam’s background in food policy and sustainability. “For us, it involves happy staff and prioritising our own well being. We want people to flourish in enjoyable, rewarding jobs and be a part of the community,” she says. “After all, we are sharing the landscape, the community hall, the schools, the post office and the weather – why not share Inver, too.”
Interview by Jack Adair Bevan.
Photographs by Richard Gaston.
Discover more about Inver, the characterful restaurant on the shores of Loch Fyne, on Scotland’s west coast.