Two-star Michelin chef Michel Roux Jr has introduced a new immersive dining experience to the Highlands, inspired by the culinary history of one of Scotland’s most exclusive country house hotels. The concept launched on 12 April at five-star Inverlochy Castle near Fort William

Seasgair by Michel Roux Jr is a theatrical affair, with chefs shucking oysters, carving terrines and plating dishes in front of guests before sharing platters and individual courses from the tasting menu are presented on traditional silver or fine bone china. The menu has a hyperlocal focus, predominantly showcasing food from producers neighbouring the castle.

Everything is overseen by Inverlochy’s head chef Coalin Finn, who recently joined the team and has worked closely with Michel Roux Jr to bring the concept to life. The menu will change with the best of what’s available and in season. Expect wild boar charcuterie, Highland venison wellington and Loch Linnhe langoustines.

HeraldScotland:

Albert Roux and his younger brother Michel opened Le Gavroche in London in 1967. By 1982, it was the first three Michelin star restaurant in the country and the starting point for a generation of chefs including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Pierre Koffmann. In 2016 Albert collaborated with his son Michel Roux Jr to open restaurants at Inverlochy Castle and Crossbasket Castle – Michel had previously taken over Le Gavroche in 1993 when his father retired.

Michel and his family have had a strong relationship with the Scottish hospitality community over the years. “We’ve always had lots of Scottish chefs working in amongst the Roux restaurants and they have always been super motivated and keen to learn” Michel says, mentioning his friend Brian Maule from Glasgow’s Chardon d’Or and the late Andrew Fairlie, the first winner of the Roux Scolarship in 1984.

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The idea for the menu started with a desire to accentuate the feel of walking into a magnificent private house when you arrive at Inverlochy. The dining solution was to present the best produce available on the day.

“What you have got here as a larder is just unbelievable” Michel says. “Then we have this wonderful castle and the chance to make food part of the experience. We have the opportunity to plan a menu for the week around the fact that a wild boar or a turbot arrives into the kitchen.

“With boar you can salt down the leg, put that aside for a month’s time when it is cured, you can braze the belly, you can make a broth with the head, and you’re chefing, it gets the juices flowing, you can serve the ingredients in a completely different way.

"We want to have fun with the presentation and the way the chefs are coming out to introduce the courses. I think it’s important that they are seen and the chefs are valued. I like the idea of letting them move into the dining room”

The evening feels more of a shared meal than in a traditional restaurant with each table served at the same time: “it will bring people together and get them talking I think, even the way we will gather in the great hall and have a welcome drink and a snack, it’s like you’re being treated as family” Michel says.

HeraldScotland:

The ambition is to lay down a culinary marker for the produce from the area around Fort William. “I’m fed up with having stuff flown in from the other side of the world. We have to realise what’s on our doorstep. I said that to Coalin when I first met him and he immediately fell in love with the whole concept. He was just so enthused, and he still is. He is learning about the neighbouring producers.” Local langoustines have already caught Michel’s attention: “I like them just lightly seared, when the produce is that fresh it’s just wonderful” he says, “I think Scottish seafood is the envy of the world”.

Coalin Finn grew up in Kilkenny in Ireland before training as a pastry chef. He worked in Dubai, then made a move to London, taking a role for Gordon Ramsay’s group at the Savoy Grill and then at Petrus. He was off to Dubai again, where he met his wife, before they both moved to take up jobs at a hotel in Windsor with Coalin as head chef.

The chance arose to work as sous chef for Pierre Gagnaire at three Michelin-starred Sketch in Mayfair, London: “it was amazing, I was there for a year and then lockdown happened. We stayed open doing takeaways and kept the kitchen going. I went to Claridge’s and worked for Davies and Brook, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Dmitri Magi, the head chef there was a very inspirational person and changed my philosophy on food and team orientation. He’s very interested in what I’m doing here.”

What is Coalin’s approach in the kitchen? “Everything is about communication. Flavours and ideas generally come from me but the menu is an open canvas for everybody to contribute. It’s a collective and it’s a calm kitchen. With this new concept, I think it’s great for the guest but it also helps with a better work/life balance for the staff.”

“Thinking about the food itself, it’s really about how we can elevate the ingredients. You’ll see in the plate style that it’s quite clean, borderline minimal. But if I’m going to do a lobster dish, I’m going to use every part of the lobster to highlight it” he explains.

Coalin’s sister lives in Gullane in East Lothian and his parents live in the Borders, so he knew parts of Scotland but the Highlands was new territory. When he was offered the job he made his first visit to Fort William, having just bought a house online.

The change from city life has been a positive adjustment. “It’s amazing having this nature around us” he says. “The people are nice and welcoming. My wife is the breakfast chef here at the castle, we try to get our days off a the same time. We will go up to Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge. It’s out of this world. We’ve travelled to Mallaig and been to Glenfinnan. Then, I spend most of my time out of the kitchen going around the small businesses in the area to meet them.”

HeraldScotland:

The menu is led by these new local relationships. “My fish man is Ian Stewart, his shop is about five minutes drive from my house so I come up and we have a look at things that have landed at Lochaber.

“The lobsters are from Mallaig, sometimes a bit further north, the scallops are from the Isle of Mull. My butcher is Stewart MacLachlan from Lochaber Larder. He opened just before the pandemic so he’s had a tough start. We’re buying exclusively from him which feeds back into the local economy. He has connections that go out shooting and they get the venison which is outstanding. He’s a former chef so he knows exactly what I’m looking for.

“Jim Breckenridge is down in Oban and he will get us anything we need in terms of vegetables at short notice. He will tell me the best stuff that we can get our hands on and that’s what we will work with.”

The dining experience is priced at £125pp, including canapes, a five-course menu, petit fours with tea and coffee and a welcome drink from Inverlochy Castle’s sommelier. This feature was published in Best of Scotland magazine.

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