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Eating out at Knockinaam... keep it local and sustainable

Chef Tony Pierce and his team in the kitchen at Knockinaam Lodge know the way to produce the best most flavoursome dishes and that’s by selecting the best ingredients. Reducing food miles and using the pick of what’s available on their doorstep are also vital elements of the food philosophy at Knockinaam Lodge. Sustainability through sourcing fresh local ingredients and just enough that you need also leads to less wastage. Tony explains: “I love using everything from an item. You can do so much to use up what is in your food store, including making stocks and powders to use another day.”

Owners David and Sian Ibbotson are a driving force behind this approach to restaurant dining alongside Tony, who has nurtured relationships with the very best local producers and suppliers of local ingredients as well as a chosen few delicacies from beyond the local areas of Port Patrick, Stranraer, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright, Newton Stewart and Dumfries.

Searching for a Restaurant Near Me or a Guest from Far-away – a Taste Sensation Awaits

Tony has been Head Chef at Knockinaam Lodge for over 25 years. He has ensured that the team always cook to high standards, building a strong reputation amongst local diners and guests who travel from far and wide to enjoy the peace and solitude at this 10 bedroom hotel, as well as the dining experience. So how does chef deliver outstanding dishes, night after night? Tony shares his approach to delivering the best menu: “We look at what we can get that’s the freshest. We don’t compromise and only want the best quality produce. Then it’s about handling it and using it correctly. Before our menu for lunch and dinner that day is settled upon, we need to consider what’s the best catch of the day for example and of course using seasonal only produce is a key component.” 

As Tony explains: “Choosing the right ingredients and the best quality produce go hand in hand along with a judgement on what components to put together to create the best-balanced menu for the restaurant. Getting a balance of flavours and textures leads to an overall dining experience that is both a taste journey and a pleasurable event. Coming to dinner (or for a special lunch) at Knockinaam Lodge should be all about the experience and we are very conscious that we deliver something very special for our guests.”

What does Tony mean by well-balance?

“When I speak of a menu being well balanced it is a simple decision such as the lightness of the menu. It’s about not overpowering a dish with multiple components or a menu that has for example beef as your main, you would not follow with a chocolate dessert. I want our guests to enjoy the journey of a 5-course dinner and feel satisfied at the end; not bloated. I always think simplicity is best. If you have chosen the best ingredients, let the food speak for itself and the favours shine through.”     

Tony says that attention to detail is crucial: “As a good chef you soon realise how important the quality of ingredients are, and that includes everything: the herbs you use, a cheese you choose, the type of veg that is the best in season as well as the bigger elements of fish and meats. After selecting the best ingredients is all about the skills of how to handle the food and how to create clean flavours.” Tony adds: “Giving clear guidelines to your suppliers, who understand your ethos and a kitchen team who follow those clear guidelines too, ensures that the outcome will be as expected: dining perfection.”  

Strong links with the local Stranraer Community

It’s not just the ingredients that are local. The business seeks to recruit from the local area too and has trained up a number of young local chefs who have gone on to fresh pastures, taking with them the foundations of their skills learned while working in Knockinaam’s kitchen. Tony is a local boy now too. From Salford to Stranraer, he may originally have been a city boy but he has embraced country life; “Now during a break from the kitchen I have only to take 30 strides and I’m looking across the beach to the Irish Sea. This is the life for me.”

Having fallen in love and married a local lass who spent a summer working at the hotel while training as a nurse, they are now happily settled with a family. Tony also enjoys giving back to the local community, involving himself in local events such as the now well renowned Stranraer Oyster Festival and supporting work placements through the local colleges.

So, what are some of Tony’s favourite ingredients?

“The abundance of fish we have access to locally and throughout Scotland makes it hard to choose. I love Isle of Sky sea scallops, caught and delivered fresh that same day and Drummore lobster - delicious. Also, you can’t beat Galloway Beef but don’t overpower it with other ingredients; enhance the beef with just two or three other ingredients.” He also says that vegetables can be the star of a dish too: “I love picking the best of the crop from our own hotel kitchen garden at Knockinaam. Our new gardener, Diana has some great ideas and makes her own preserves too. We make a lot from scratch here, from ingredients picked straight from our garden – you don’t get more local than that.”  

With a Michelin Star, retained for longer than any chef in Scotland at a straight 20 years and the restaurant being awarded 3 AA Rosettes, it’s clear that Tony knows his stuff. He also received the prestigious accolade of Scottish Chef of the Year in 2008. Up for this Oscar in the chef world for 4 years in the running, by then he had retained his Micheline Star for 14 years, so had demonstrated his consistency. “I always seemed to be pipped at the post by a chef from Glasgow or Edinburgh. I was ready to give up, thinking a chef from a quiet patch in Dumfries & Galloway would remain overlooked but my mother-in-law encouraged me to try again and I am very glad that she did.”

He may be award-winning but he’s not in it for the awards; Tony is passionate about what he does and says that the best bit of his day is when at 6.30pm, just before service, he goes out to the garden to pick the fresh herbs to garnish the food. Guidelines again, he says never more than one herb on a dish. His chosen herb picked, it’s back to the kitchen for the finishing touches and his day as Head Chef at Knockinaam is complete as diners settle down to savour his culinary delights.     

Dining as a guest or a local looking for a new idea for eating out in Stranraer area or eating out in Dumfries and Galloway, Knockinaam is an experience awaiting your discovery. Find out more about dining at Knockinaam here or more about Chef Tony click here