Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on our shores and waterways; celebrating all they have to offer and encouraging people to explore Scotland’s natural beauty.
Each month we’re showcasing the people who live, work and have a passion for our waters and in celebration of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight, we’ve spoken to people who make the most of Scotland’s natural larder.
Tucked away on the shores of Loch Linnhe looking out to the islands of Lismore and Mull is The Pierhouse Hotel & Seafood Restaurant. This small hotel and renowned Scottish seafood restaurant is one of Argyll’s most idyllic and romantic destinations. Food and drink are an integral part of the philosophy and experience at The Pierhouse, with menus showcasing local producing and celebrating the west of Scotland. Dishes include the freshest langoustines and mussels harvested from Loch Linnhe and Loch Etive as well as hand-picked oysters from the oyster beds of Loch Creran. We spoke to Michael Leathley, Head Chef, at The Pierhouse Seafood Restaurant to find out more...
Can you tell us about your role and how you first got involved with the Pierhouse?
I’d previously worked with Fiona Mclean when she was General Manager at A’Challtainn, a fish restaurant in Glasgow. My partner Leva and I left to start a zero-waste bakery and fruit and veg shop in the heart of Glasgow but kept in touch with Fiona throughout which then materialised when she moved to The Pierhouse and was looking got a new chef to join the team.
Being such a city boy, I had no idea what to expect from a move to such a rural location, however, on my first trip to The Pierhouse to meet Gordon Campbell Gray and Fiona, we ate oysters from Loch Creran on the terrace looking out over the pier, with the island of Lismore in the background, which was just magical and any worries or doubts were immediately quashed. I joined the team at The Pierhouse in September 2018 and haven’t looked back.
How important is locally sourced & sustainable produce to you?
Really what could be more important to a chef? Sourcing and sustainability touch everything we do here at The Pierhouse. The environmental aspects of fishing and farming are important in the process of choosing suppliers. The locality of our produce represents the time, landscape, the sea, and the community behind each bit of produce that arrives in our kitchen. To be able to share all of this with our guests is a privilege.
We’re currently celebrating Scottish food & Drink Fortnight. What do you think makes Scottish produce special, and do you have any personal favourite dishes?
Scottish produce has such vivid flavours, born out of a hard landscape and rough seas. There is a depth and subtlety to the produce from whisky, oysters and langoustines, to our milk from The Wee Isle Dairy on Gigha. Seeing traditional recipes written down, you can be mistaken for thinking Scottish food is simple, however, its complexity comes from the produce served seasonally and in its purest form. Any chance to be part of the promotion of all the hard work and passion of our suppliers is too good an opportunity to miss.
My favourite thing has not been a dish as such, but tasting the langoustines served at The Pierhouse that come straight from Eoghan's boat with warm butter feels ridiculously luxurious.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
It's the chance to share, cooking can mean so many different things to people. For me, it's the chance in a small way to contribute something to a moment in people's lives. We have guests come in for all different kinds of reasons; a romantic getaway, coming off bikes and kayaks, a celebration, a quick hot bowl of Cullen Skink before or after a long walk. I never take for granted that they have chosen The Pierhouse as a piece of that special time, it's a pleasure to contribute in a small way to that.
How has the pandemic impacted & changed the business?
With the initial shock obviously, my first thoughts were with family, friends, and colleagues. There is often very little time for reflection in the hospitality industry and it can feel a little frenetic at times. Lockdown and then the provision of furlough offered security to staff and their families, but also gave ourselves a chance to stop and think, and revaluate our priorities and the values we share with our guests, supplier's, colleagues, and the wider community. We have been very lucky to work for a hotelier such as Gordon Campbell Gray whose priority was the safety and wellbeing of all his staff.
As it’s Scotland's Year of Coasts & Waters, do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland’s coasts or waters?
After we initially moved to Appin, we took our young son Jonas for a walk down to the beach at Castle Stalker. Getting to see him run freely on the pebble beach in the fresh air with such delight is something I’ll never forget. I remember feeling excited about the opportunity to explore this vast coastline with him as he grows. It was our first steps as a family in our new community. Despite being one year on, I’m still astounded daily by the natural beauty of Appin and Argyll, and each day never fails to bring a new view and adventure.