Our regular blogger Michelle McAnally interviews the owners of the Pierhouse Hotel, Port Appin - Nick and Nikki Horne:
What did you and Nikki do before you bought the Pierhouse in 2006?
I've been fortunate to have a very varied working life starting out as a young officer in Scotland’s Own 4th Royal Tank Regiment, an expedition leader for Operation Raleigh and director roles in the sponsorship and special events industry. Nikki started and still runs Raindrops Scandinavia, a small children’s outdoor clothing company supplying youngsters across the UK with high performance waterproof and ski clothing.
How did you get into the hotel and restaurant business?
I was looking for a new business challenge - we had always wanted to live our dream of working together and living by the sea with our three children. The Pierhouse on the shores of Loch Linnhe in Port Appin fit the bill perfectly.
What has your experience been running a family business. What, if any, part do your three children play in the day to day operation?
Running a family business in the hotel industry, or any business for that matter, takes an incredible amount of hard work, particularly in the summer months. In my experience, the trick is to make sure you find a balance between family life and the needs of the business. Nikki and I are very ‘hands on’ in the hotel and restaurant and we’ve build a strong team around us, of which we are very proud. We know though the importance of spending time together as a family with the children.
Our children have all been actively involved in the hotel over the years in between their studies – helping out in all areas from the kitchen sink to housekeeping and to the bar and restaurant.
A lot of people would dream to run a business like yours in such an idyllic part of the world. But we know that this business is a lot more difficult, even just running a restaurant is practically a 24 hour a day job. What would you say has been the biggest challenge in regards to the restaurant aspect of your hotel? The biggest reward?
We are indeed very fortunate to run a business in such an idyllic part of the world.
The biggest challenge? The two cornerstones of customer satisfaction - the service you provide and the quality of your food. Working hard to get both of these aspects right is vital and a continuous process. At The Pierhouse we have a fantastic team of people who help create the relaxed, informal atmosphere for which we’re known. We are also very lucky to have developed long-standing relationships with local suppliers who share our commitment to high quality, fresh, sustainable, local produce.
The biggest reward is seeing happy guests at the end of an evening and hearing how much they have enjoyed their meal in our restaurant or bar, their delight at the stunning west coast sunsets and tales of their day.
What is your personal ethos when it comes to the food on your menu?
Our ethos is simple: we source the very best fresh fish and seafood fished straight from local waters whenever possible. The provenance of the meat we serve is also a top priority for us: our beef and venison come from locally reared animals on Highland estates. We let the quality of the food shine through with dishes simply cooked and complemented by fresh, seasonal produce.
What is your head chef, Laura Milne’s approach to the menu, and how does local produce play into it? How has her background influenced her choices and cooking?
Originally from the Scottish Borders, Head Chef Laura Milne's career took her to the Isle of Skye (and later Inverness) where she drew inspiration from the island's culinary history and traditional recipes that use the best of the land, the sea and the seashore.
Here at The Pierhouse, Laura's cooking is traditional Scottish with a modern twist, utilising fresh, locally sourced, seasonal ingredients wherever possible.
Laura's hard work and commitment to creating deliciously fresh, seasonal dishes was rewarded in 2014 when she was the worthy recipient of the Scottish Hotel Awards 2014 Hotel Chef Medaille D'Or.
Away from The Pierhouse kitchen, you might spot Laura, along with her constant shadow, Spot the cross collie, foraging for mushrooms in the woods or scouring the seashore with a trowel and a pot of salt for those elusive razor clams!
Pierhouse Mussels Recipe
Here we share Head Chef Laura's method for preparing Pierhouse Mussels, cooked in a rich white wine cream sauce and her signature ingredient of Inverawe smoked salmon, which gives a smoky flavour to the dish.
As Laura explains: "The Pierhouse is perfectly placed to make full use of an incredible range of sustainable fresh fish and seafood fished straight from local waters. Each dish is simply cooked to let the food speak for itself."
Method of preparing and cooking mussels
Always ensure that the mussels are closed, as this means they are still alive. Before cooking, squeeze the mussels sideways between finger and thumb to make sure they are not full of sand, then give a scrub to remove any barnacles and pull off the beards. Rinse in cold water and they are ready to go.
First heat a small amount of dry white wine (roughly 500g mussels to 50ml wine) in a pan then add chopped garlic and shallots (1 clove of garlic and 2 shallots) then pop mussels in and cover with lid. Once mussels have opened after a minute or so (giving a shake of the pan in between) drain off 1/4 of the liquid and add a splash of double cream and a pinch of diced Inverawe smoked salmon. Put back on a high heat for a minute and serve topped with chopped chives.