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Alumni Interview: Tom Tsappis at Killiecrankie house

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Alumni Interview: Tom Tsappis at Killiecrankie house

We last caught up with Leiths Diploma Graduate Tom Tsappis when he and his sommelier girlfriend (now wife) Matilda Ruffle were running their successful supper club Elia in south London. Since then Londoner Tom and Matilda, who grew up in Scotland, have upped sticks to the Cairngorms National Park where they opened their five-bedroom property Killiecrankie House in November 2021. The Irn Bru pâte de fruits and Stornaway black pudding madeleines are two reasons to start planning a trip. Tom tells us more.

What drew you to Killiecrankie House?

Killiecrankie House is like a postcard of Scotland. We’re surrounded by mountains and our neighbour is a river. The building we bought was a ten-bedroom hotel so it was a very different thing. It was the sort of twee country hotel you’d go to if you were elderly and liked to walk your dog, so there was a lot of renovating to end up with what we wanted.

What kind of produce is available to you there?

It’s not always easy to get hold of stuff, even stuff you’d think is relatively normal, so we have to be slightly more creative. We’ve got four acres of land and we’re surrounded by woods and rivers so there’s a whole other larder that has opened up to us. My wife is half-Japanese and we met in Japan so we’re planting a lot of unusual Japanese stuff that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to buy like wasabi and yuzu in the polytunnel which I’m still not convinced is going to work! We’ve got Japanese beach rose, shiso, myoga ginger and we’re also trying to plant heritage Scottish varieties that nobody’s ever heard of like spignel. It’s year one so there will be a lot of trial and error.

How would you describe the restaurant?

We are a narrative-led restaurant. We try and build into stories all the things we serve. Our tasting menu is long; it’s 17 courses at the moment and it’s sometimes quite challenging. We’re a very modern restaurant but at the heart of everything is the question ‘what is the reason why this has to be served at Killiecrankie?’ We always knew we were were going to be a Scottish restaurant. It didn’t feel right to do anything else.

Can you tell us about some of your dishes?

Dripping fried porridge is our signature dish, based on the Scottish tradition of the ‘porridge drawer’ where you’d fill the top drawer of a dresser with porridge and leave it to set overnight. The next morning everybody cuts off their piece which is why the word ‘piece’ in Scotland is now synonymous with lunch. When it gets cold here – it was -16℃ in January – the local guys would fry theirs in dripping to keep themselves warm. We’ve elaborated the dish somewhat so it’s still a solid piece of porridge, but filled with Perthshire wagyu oxtail, cooked in wagyu stock, and fried in wagyu fat. On top is pickled walnut purée and Isle of Mull cheddar. In some ways, it resembles a posh Lorne sausage and brown sauce. Another dish, the drunken oyster, is about the Glenmorangie distillery who have reseeded the Dornoch Firth with oysters after they were overfished. We barbecue them in their shells until they pop, then finish with Glenmorangie Hollandaise and PX sherry vinegar. It’s a single bite, a snack, but it’s got a whole load of story built into it.

What about on the drinks side?

We have a cocktail bar which is quite an unusual thing in the Scottish Highlands. We have a really good wine list with proper big-hitting wines (we serve Yquem by the glass) and properly made wine from places you wouldn’t often pick up a bottle from like China and Cyprus. Most people opt for the pairing, which is fairly eclectic. It’s not just wine; there’s also a sake made in a style that stopped being made about 300 years ago, and a beer made for us by a local brewery.

How has the response been so far?

The response has been very good. People are enjoying themselves which is sort of the point of a restaurant like this, isn’t it? I guess as soon as you get to a tasting menu, you’re not really talking about just filling someone’s belly. We got in the Michelin guide after nine weeks with only three of us in the kitchen.

What ambitions do you hold for Killiecrankie House?

Best restaurant in the country, start with that? We keep pushing, try to get better every service and we’ll go from there. Obviously right now my ambition is not to go bankrupt.

Other than Killiecrankie House, what other attractions should be on the visitor’s itinerary?

Most come for the outdoor pursuits like hiking, cycling, golf, or skiing. Food-wise, there’s Gleneagles and Crieff is only 40 minutes where Mark [Donald] has just got a star at The Glenturret Lalique. There’s a weird sort of upspring of people doing quite unusual, creative food-adjacent businesses round here like the microbrewery and in Dunkeld, Flora [Shedden] who was on Bake Off a few years ago, she runs Aran Bakery. We’re not too far from the Fife Arms, essentially an art gallery where you can go and have dinner. I believe it’s the only place you can sit in the pub and look at a Caravaggio.

killiecrankiehouse.com

Author: Hilary Armstrong

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