Douglas Blyde meets Tom Eveling, who co-manages Skye's Kinloch Lodge hotel and restaurant with his wife, Isabella
Need-to-know Skye is paradise for geologists, walkers, peace seekers and, increasingly, gourmets. Situated amid mountains on the sea loch, Na Dal in Sleat, with views to the Scottish mainland, Kinloch Lodge is reached by a private track which is almost a mile long.
The Highland home of Claire and Godfrey Macdonald, High Chief of Clan Donald, parts of the main building date to the sixteenth century when it served as a hunting lodge.
As well as its Michelin-starred restaurant, bar and loch-facing lounges, the hotel features a demonstration kitchen for three-day residential cookery courses and a shop selling the wares of cook and food writer, Claire, recipient of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Target audience In 2007, Albert Roux-trained head chef Marcello Tully became the second Brazilian to win a Michelin star. Previously he worked in upmarket food development. He claims that the award has led to a 25% increase in covers. He says: "It puts you in an international arena, which no other guide does."
As well as being more food focused, most guests are affluent couples. However, Tom Eveling, who co-manages the hotel with his wife, Isabella, stresses that families are welcome, with an earlier dinner service for much younger guests always offered as an option. Up to 75% of guests are UK based, with 65% of those coming from the central belt of Scotland. These are generally aged 40-60.
How do we stand out? Food has always been at the core of Kinloch Lodge considering Claire MacDonald's culinary pedigree. However, there is also a tremendous sense of history within the building's walls reflecting the Clan Donald. These include oil paintings of ancestors in the dining room, while other artefacts include a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's blonde hair. Eveling, who co-manages the hotel with his wife, Isa says: "This being a family home as well as hotel, people often make friends here."
He stresses that service is key, from providing arrivals with flutes of sparkling wine to candles at turndown and a breakfast delivered as two courses. Featuring Claire MacDonald's jams with home-made scones, eggs from Drumfearn, Buccleuch sausages and Stornoway black pudding, this scooped Best Breakfast in Scotland in 2009 in the Scottish Hotel Awards.
Why customers choose it Eveling says customers love the hotel's commanding position. "You're not going to get a bad view on Skye. But here - the Garden of Skye - is especially well known for peace and tranquillity and spectacular views."
Adding to the personal touch, Eveling always allow time for "a little bit of chat". He says: "We're welcoming someone into our home after all and guests will meet at least one family member."
Future growth Eveling is currently working on a growth plan with government economic and community development agency HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprises) to gently move the business forward over the next five years. Some former family accommodation will soon be converted into three extra bedrooms. A new shop will be built, with a private dining room taking over the existing premises.
Further down the line, Kinloch Lodge will feature a small spa. Eveling stresses the gradual changes will not alter the homely feel of the hotel, however.
Eveling and Tully are always looking for ways to boost "shoulder month" occupancy and Tully wants to enlarge his "currently tiny" kitchen which was to all intents and purposes, "domestic", when he arrived in 2007.
Best business advice "To know your audience and every aspect of your business", says Eveling. "Be hands on and put your heart and soul into it. If you let the business slip for a bit, it goes."
In quieter periods, Eveling sends his team on wine tastings and even trips to wine regions through his wine suppliers.
He says: "To bring out a bit of bonding, staff recently enjoyed a day out paintballing. It is essential to keep a constantly open dialogue, too, so issues can't fester."
Eveling has also "spruced up" staff accommodation and put satellite TV in their rooms. Recognising the reality of the hotel's far-flung location, he also supplies Wi-Fi. "They're in a remote area and may want to talk to relatives across the world."
Spotlight on wild walks and fly fishing
By arrangement with the hotel, ex-Royal Marine Mitchell Partridge (pictured) offers guests informative, historical walks along the fauna- and flora-rich coast of the 12,500 acres Kingsburgh Sporting Estate as well as more challenging scrambles amid the hills of Glenhinnisdal. Here, in what he terms "the survivalists' garden of Eden", he teaches bush craft including foraging for ingredients as diverse as sphagnum moss and limpets.
Along the way, they may spot golden eagles, falcons, otters and red deer. Partridge also offers fishing for wild west coast salmon, sea trout and brown trout and pollock. He is always equipped with a pan, cooker and butter should guests wish to instantly turn their catch into nourishing fast food.
tom evelinG's revelations
Favourite hotel Gleneagles
Favourite restaurant Number One at the Balmoral
What book has inspired you Philip Larkin's poetry and The Great Gatsby. My father, Stanley, was a playwright, best known for Dear Janet Rosenberg
Motto Never stand still
If you weren't an hotelier, what would have been I used to be a sports reporter and might still be doing that. Getting paid to watch live sport was no chore
Which hotelier do you most admire Malmaison
Describe your business in five words Welcoming, friendly and relaxing atmosphere
Facts and statS
Owners Lady Claire and Lord Godfrey Macdonald
General managers Tom and Isabella Eveling
Head chef Marcello Tully
Number of rooms 15 (one is a suite)
Average weekly occupancy 75%
Average weekly covers 200 (lunch and dinner)