Opinion: Rise of the gastro-distillery

Opinion: Rise of the gastro-distillery

Reflecting on the Three Chimneys at Talisker — a unique experience marrying the whisky and culinary arts

As I turn my car northwest at Sligachan, under the shadow of the imposing Glamaig massif, I contemplate the reputation of Scotland’s famous Isle of Skye. Though most widely known for its spectacular landscape, for decades now Skye has also been the poster child of Scottish cuisine. Home to several destination restaurants, the isle has a track record of punching above its weight and has played a significant role in shifting the perception of Scotland being somewhere one visited despite the food, to a gastronomic destination in its own right. One of the key players in this success story is the famous Three Chimneys Restaurant at Colbost.

 

Rising to prominence during the 34 years it was owned and operated by Shirley and Eddie Spear, the critically acclaimed restaurant with rooms was acquired by veteran hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray in April 2019, becoming one half of his Scottish passion project the Wee Hotel Company, which also operates the excellent, seafood-focused Pierhouse Hotel and Restaurant in Port Appin. (Campbell Gray was also behind the relaunch of the Machrie on Islay back in 2018.) But on the dreich day I find myself bumping along a single-track road heading to check-in at the Three Chimneys’ charming on-site accommodation, the House Over By, it’s not the famous restaurant that’s brought me thither. Well, not entirely.

The Three Chimneys at Talisker is located in a newly built restaurant adjacent to the distillery.

I’ve written before of my dream that one day an entire itinerary could be built around touring distilleries, tasting in the warehouses, and then dining at on-site restaurants. At a time when the whisky world is reaching out to new audiences, I firmly believe that the path to newcomers’ hearts is through their stomachs. While the Glenturret’s two-Michelin-starred Lalique Restaurant has aptly demonstrated what can be achieved if one has the will, the Crieff distiller is no longer alone in building this dream. The Macallan, LVMH’s Glenmorangie House, and Isle of Raasay Distillery’s Borodale House also now boast modern Scottish restaurants, while more casual offerings are also to be found at Ardbeg, Port of Leith, Johnnie Walker Princes Street, and for now, Talisker.

 

Running as a pop-up in the distillery’s newly designed waterfront dining space, it’s the Three Chimneys at Talisker that’s brought me on the six-hour drive north from Edinburgh. The partnership has transplanted the restaurant from Colbost to Carbost and yielded two well-thought-out lunch offerings that deliver a culinary experience worthy of Skye’s oldest distillery. Casual diners will be enticed by the pop-up’s ‘Lighter Fare’ menu, comprising a seafood bar (Skye Smokehouse fish, oysters, seafood bisque, and sourdough for £35pp); a delightful range of ‘Scottish tacos’ (£15 for three), and Talisker cocktails. However, the real star of the show is the elevated five-course tasting menu (£65pp, with optional wine pairing supplement) called ‘The Journey’.

'Barley' features fermented risotto, malt, wheat grass, and toasted yeast.

The concept-driven experience created by head chef Scott Davies and general manager Krzysztof Dudkowski is presented in the ‘relaxed fine dining’ style and treads a path from whisky’s ‘Humble Beginnings’ with Water (dulse tea, Orbost herbs, seaweed), Yeast (stoneground Orkney beremeal sourdough with miso and seaweed butters) and Barley (fermented risotto, malt, wheat grass, toasted yeast), before honouring the New Make Spirit (roasted Sconser double-dived scallops, langoustine tartar, caviar, chawanmushi). Next comes the Barrel (whisky barrel smoked venison, haggis, BBQ celeriac, whisky bone sauce) and the Age (single-origin chocolate, Skye salt, toffee, dates, Sichuan pepper ice cream), before concluding with Talisker Storm whisky ganache, black pepper madeleines, and whisky sour jelly.

 

The concept is exceptionally well executed and feels like a natural fit for Talisker. As food is increasingly a feature of Diageo’s brand-home experiences (see also: platters at Glenkinchie, whisky and canapés at Glen Ord), I believe that this collaboration provides a blueprint for success that other distilleries should take note of. Though only slated to run until the end of April, I truly hope the Three Chimneys at Talisker remains a permanent fixture, because the time of the gastro-distillery is now. 

'Barrel' features whisky barrel smoked venison, haggis, BBQ celeriac, and whisky bone sauce.
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