Continuing our journey into all things Dornoch in preparation for the Dornoch Whisky Festival, I speak to Melissa Anderson from the fantastically luxurious, yet homely Links House, about their role within the festival and about the hotel.
Tell us a little about yourself Melissa?
I was born here in Dornoch, and with that comes a real love and passion for the area which can’t be taught. I am a very keen golfer and was a junior at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, and as you can imagine I am very passionate about the sport, our fantastic golf course and also the other wonderful courses in the area.
I have a very experienced background in events and working in the F&B industry and I really enjoy seeing events that may have taken months of planning come together for the final result.
It’s so exciting working here and being part of a growing thriving business, and of course now that we have the new building in progress things are really interesting.
Links House is very involved in the Whisky Festival, hosting several events, how did this involvement come about?
Links House, like many other businesses in the area are very involved with the DACIC, which is a community business forum, which was set up for the benefit of businesses in the Dornoch area, but also for the community and Dornoch itself.
Our community is very important to all of us here at Links House and we all want to see the area flourish and this business forum helps to promote that.
One of the biggest sources of tourism in the Dornoch area is the Whisky Industry, we wanted to incorporate that into an event which would bring people to Dornoch outside of the busy golfing period, and what better way to celebrate whisky than with a whisky festival.
Links House is hosting the opening dinner with Charles MacLean hosting, can you tell us about this?
This is going to be a really wonderful event. It’s very bespoke and intimate, with only 14 places available, which are all sold and I am absolutely delighted to have been part of creating this event over several months.
We are very excited to have partnered with Balblair and our chef Jon-Paul Saint, and the Balblair team have paired four courses to four fantastic Balblair expressions.
After a view of the Angel’s Share Charles MacLean and I will be there to welcome guests, Charlie will have a few anecdotes to tell. When we come to the meal itself Charles MacLean will talk our guests through each of the whiskies as we come to each course. We will have the fire lit and enjoy good food, good whisky and good company.
Why did Links House choose to partner with Balblair specifically?
We are very lucky to have access to many fantastic distilleries, and last year in fact, we partnered with Glenmorangie. We actually work very closely with Balblair throughout the year.
We often host any VIP guests that they may have visiting the distillery and we arrange and recommend tours with Balblair for our visiting guests if they so wish. It was a natural progression to work with them on this project.
You are also hosting a Sunday Lunch using Balblair expressions, tell us about it?
We are very lucky to have Jon-Paul Saint as our chef. He is incredibly talented, experienced and passionate. Jon-Paul grew up in the Highlands and is one of the most exciting new talents in the culinary world.
The opening dinner we are hosting on Friday was very much pairing the dishes to the whisky, however the inspiration behind this event is to use the whisky as part of the cooking process in many different ways.
Jon-Paul isn’t only using the whisky during cooking but also is using wood chips from a Balblair barrel during the process of smoking the pigeon.
How important is the choice of menu and innovation of the whisky to Jon-Paul?
Very important indeed. Jon-Paul is very passionate about using only the freshest local produce, as such our menu changes on a daily basis around the produce that our suppliers have each day.
Jon-Paul and the Balblair team spent a lot of time discussing the flavour structures of the whisky, how they complement or differ from certain flavours and how they would stand up to use during the cooking process.
Jon-Paul already had some fantastic ideas as to how he wanted to experiment with the whisky, and knew that he could use not only the whisky itself, but also how to impart the flavour from the actual barrels of the whisky itself.
If people haven’t already booked this event, why would you recommend it?
It really is a one off event, we very rarely run such a bespoke event and open it to the public. People will have the chance to experience fine dining from an exceptionally talented chef, using the freshest local produce available in surroundings that go hand in hand with such fine dining yet in a way which is still relaxed and hopefully makes people feel at home.
It’s highly limited and we would recommend booking as soon as possible, we will be unable to seat people without reservations. Availability is limited so to avoid disappointment we recommend booking as soon as possible as we will be unable to seat people “without reservations”.
You also have some accommodation available?
That’s correct yes. We currently have eight rooms with some availability still for the festival, although we would recommend anybody attending the whisky festival who are looking for accommodation calls for further information.
We are the only five star hotel in Dornoch and our rooms really reflect this, all of which are decorated tastefully and boast fantastic views.
Our style is very much country house, albeit a high end country house, with our building dating back to 1843 and restored to reflect both its location and space, however our most important criteria is that guests feel as relaxed with us as they do in their own homes. The rooms themselves can been seen on our website.
Outside of times such as the whisky festival, people can hire the entire house if they wish, that could be for an event, maybe a wedding, or just as a relaxing way for friends and family to spend some time together.
How important is the relationship between Links House and Whisky?
It’s very important to us indeed, we actually have our own bottle from the Balblair Distillery and we think one of the best places to enjoy a dram is in our oak panelled library, which is where we house our collection of malts, alongside our honesty bar.
You can relax in style and just enjoy whichever dram you have chosen. We are able to arrange tours of neighbouring distilleries for our guests and are always happy to help recommend a whisky should that be required.
Aside from our library we also have our terrace which boasts a fire pit, and is a fine way to enjoy a dram. If you enjoy a cigar than where better to do so then whilst taking in the views, the warmth of the fire and the peace and quiet.
For people that are yet to visit Dornoch, why would you recommend it?
It’s a hidden gem, you could easily drive past and not know that Dornoch was there, but once you have discovered it, you never forget it. We have our own microclimate here are we are surrounded by hills which shied us from the worst of the weather, so even in October we still have plenty of sunshine and very little rain.
The local scenery is stunning and we have miles and miles of golden sand on our beaches. It’s such a quaint, picturesque town with some fantastic wildlife also.
Many a time the golfers on the green are having to play round the sheep, or the deer that happen to wander through the course.
Dornoch itself is steeped in history, we have recently celebrated 400 years of golf in Dornoch, which really is something else.
Thanks Melissa, the events are really interesting and I look forward to seeing you at some point over the weekend of the Whisky Festival and catching up over a dram! See you soon.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)