When it came to catering for big events, the balls, awards ceremonies and banquets, Ardoe House Hotel had both the capacity and the experience.
From proms and university balls, to weddings and conferences, it could cater for 450 guests.
The 19th-Century mansion house offered a choice of formal dining in its Blairs Restaurant, or less formal meals at Laings Bar where 80 varieties of whisky were available. Afternoon teas, light lunches and suppers were hosted in the Drawing Room.
But it was those larger functions, for which the hotel will perhaps be best remembered – and it was the sudden loss of income when public events were banned back in March with no imminent sign of them returning, that has proved a devastating blow.
Speaking to the Press and Journal earlier this year, Michael Leathley, who worked as a chef at the hotel several years ago recalled fond memories of big “blank cheque” oil banquets.
Now the head chef at The Pierhouse Hotel and Seafood Restaurant in Port Appin, Argyll, he said he was tasked at Ardoe House with sourcing the best of local ingredients.
“There was a lot of banqueting to cater for, especially for oil companies. So it would mean blank cheques and doing all these wonderfully elaborate dishes. There was a restaurant there too but it was the head chef that encouraged me to really look closer at the local produce.
“He wanted to create a restaurant menu that was only with Scottish produce, then he sent us out to go and find it. So I spent months doing research and got to go out and see Scottish farms etc. I knew Scottish produce was good but I knew it for the basics but Scotland has things like wagyu beef and homegrown chillies, which is amazing.”
Former chef at Ardoe House Hotel, Alan Clarke, spoke to food and drink writer Julia Bryce in 2018 about the efforts that went into food innovation, and delivering when it came to the big events.
He said: “We have kitchen meetings every Friday where we discuss business for the week and brainstorm as a team. We’ll take an ingredient and brainstorm various techniques and ingredients which will go with it and build a dish from there.
“We do this with a lot of different ingredients and create a menu with it. We then have a big cook-off and put the dishes through a taste test which is really fun and everyone gets involved.
“The Ardoe is obviously a popular spot for weddings and events which would require a lot of teamwork in the kitchen. Everyone gets stuck in at all times and is super dedicated.
“It’s definitely a case of one team, one dream – and teamwork definitely makes the dream work. We get really good feedback and reviews and that really means a lot to us as chefs.
“Our job is very rewarding. For us, with having a full restaurant and also being able to feed over 500 people successfully in the ballroom too at the same time is really amazing.”
Speaking to sister title Society Aberdeen last year, head chef at the hotel, Antonio Capuccio [pictured, main image] spoke of the venue’s focus on using local, seasonal produce, and of the efforts that went into catering for these large-scale events and banquets.
He said: “We specialise in both Scottish and Mediterranean. One of the great things about Scotland is the quality of your food, so it’s really important to showcase this as much as we can in our menus.
“There are 12 of us in the kitchen, and we’ll all get together as a team and do different tastings because it’s definitely better to get as many views as possible.
“But this isn’t only done by the kitchen staff, it’s also our sales team, waitresses, waiters and anyone else that’s up for giving the dishes a try.
“We certainly like to do things this way when planning dishes for events or banquets because it’s our sales team that know the clients better than anyone else.”