“Hospitality, smiles, and a bit of craic”, that’s how celebrated chef Paul Rankin has described his latest venture after taking over Skye’s oldest pub.
Mr Rankin and his partner Charlie Haddock purchased the Stein Inn in July having fallen in love with the 18th century pub during a camping trip a few years ago. Speaking to the Free Press last week in the dining room of the inn, the couple spoke about their move to the island and their plans for the historic establishment.
“We came up to go wild camping in the Outer Hebrides and swerved up to Skye because Paul is good friends with Michael Smith at Loch Bay,” said Charlie. “We came to stay with them and went to the pub (The Stein Inn) and thought wouldn’t it be amazing to run this place.
“Then we were on holiday in Greece with the kids in November and Michael called us and said that the pub has come up for sale – so I thought ‘brilliant’ this was our calling if you like, it was fate.”
Born in Glasgow but raised in County Down in Northern Ireland, Paul Rankin opened his restaurant ‘Roscoff’ in 1989, which become the first in Northern Ireland to be awarded a Michelin Star. The Irishman became a household name as a regular on the TV programme Ready, Steady, Cook and has cultivated a reputation as one of the finest chefs in the UK over the last three decades.
Commenting on his culinary vision for the Waternish institution, he told the Free Press: “Beautiful, simple Scottish food, I feel a lot of the country houses – a lot of good places to stay both in Scotland and in Ireland – take the food too upmarket for my taste. When I’m in the country, I want proper, simple, country stuff cooked with love.
“The word naked comes to mind; it’s naked food, simple food. It’s transparent, so the quality of the produce and the cooking shines through.
He added: “Fine dining has its place, of course, but we’re the oldest in Skye here, this is all about hospitality, smiles, a bit of craic.”
Touching on the longer-term vision for the inn Charlie, who has a background in events and festival management and moved to the island from the Cotswolds, said: “We are just going to keep the pub as a pub, it’s not going to be formal dining.
“It was quite renowned for music, so we are trying to bring that back. My dad was a poet, a musician, and an artist, so I want to put on nights.”
She went on to say: “The food sells itself and Paul is quite happy to be back in the kitchen after some time off, the vision to make it a little bit more rock and roll, you want it to be a destination place.”
“It is all about using local produce, and about local people. It’s a community hub where we want locals to come as well as tourists.”
Brimming with enthusiasm for the new venture, she added: “When we got the call from the lawyers two weeks ago, it was like ‘full Stein ahead’ and we were serving food that night.”
While the couple are already opened for business, they are “desperately” in need of some new recruits to the kitchen.
Paul added: “I need chefs. I am in the kitchen myself, so this is a great opportunity for kids that are keen to learn. Chefs are generally quite bumptious – I don’t think I am – but I’m a good teacher for young kids, and I desperately need a hand.”
Looking beyond the work, Mr Rankin said the island would provide the perfect playground for their eight-year-old son, who will start school next month.
He said: “I love the sense of nature that Skye has. I grew up beside the sea in County Down, and wee Jack is full of beans, he’s exactly like me, it’s run, jump, fish, swim, and building forts – knees skinned but there’s a smile on his face!”
Article by Adam Gordon