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The Seafield Arms: Cullen’s coastal treasure

The Seafield Arms is a top spot for food, drinks and hospitality in Cullen. Pictured is the Flirtini cocktail.
The Seafield Arms is a top spot for food, drinks and hospitality in Cullen. Pictured is the Flirtini cocktail.

The seaside town of Cullen is revered for many things.

From the local delicacy Cullen skink to its popular beach, the town is a haven for crowds come the warmer summer weather.

But one of Cullen’s longest standing institutions, which has served guests for two centuries as of this year, comes in the form of The Seafield Arms.

The Seafield Arms, Cullen.

The four-star hotel prides itself upon offering luxury, boutique experiences for its varied clientele.

From fine dining to bistro style cuisine, the venue makes the most of local produce and houses an impressive array of drinks in its bar, restaurant and lounge spaces.

Yet, more importantly, The Seafield Arms is a place where guests can treasure memories for years to come as it has done for generations.

Spirits at The Seafield Arms.

“We get people telling us stories of when they used to come in here as children many moons ago,” explains general manager of The Seafield Arms, Donald Thain.

“It’s always been a successful hotel and it holds a lot of nice, fond memories for people.

“I would say it’s always been the heart of Cullen.”

General manager Donald Thain.

Hospitality buzz

Donald, aged 56, has had an extensive career working in hospitality in the north and north-east.

Originally from Banff, he went to Aberdeen College after leaving school and quickly found himself on the career ladder in hospitality and management.

Skiing and squash have also been regular hobbies for Donald over the years, who also enjoys spending downtime with his wife, two daughters and dog, Roxy.

“Over the years, I’ve met and served a lot of lovely people,” says Donald.

The Findlater Lounge.

“Hotels and restaurants are what I’m accustomed to. I worked at Banff Springs Hotel for 10 years, I also bought Fife Lodge Hotel in Banff with another three partners, which we owned and ran for 12 years.

“You get a buzz out of having a busy restaurant or event that you’re catering to because you’re helping make special memories for people – it’s very sociable.”

The Seafield Arms

Donald’s opportunity to join the team at The Seafield Arms came in 2019.

For eight years prior to then, the hotel was closed until its current owner, Charles Milne, sought to renovate the venue and bring out the best of its original, opulent features.

Now after an estimated £3 million worth of investment, Donald says that the hotel is able to deliver quality experiences for its guests.

Highland Cow and Haggis.

“Everything inside is brand new, so there’s an excellent product here within the building and its furnishings itself,” says Donald.

“It’s a four-star, luxury boutique hotel. We’re supported hugely by the local community, with regular guests coming from places like Buckie, Portsoy and Banff.

“But overall, we have a wide range of clientele from tourists to corporate guests to families. It’s a good mix.”

Decor at The Seafield Arms.

Like all businesses in the hospitality industry, Covid brought challenges for The Seafield Arms to overcome.

But Donald mentions that the owner’s forward thinking has helped the venue stay afloat.

“With regards to Covid, I would say that the owner has always been thinking a step ahead, which has helped us ensure our best chance for survival,” says Donald.

The Ski Lodge.

“We erected this new area in the hotel recently which allowed us to utilise more dining space during the pandemic.

“It was a former patio area which we partially enclosed with glass, meaning it could still be classed as an outdoor dining area.

“We called it the Ski Lodge over winter and a lot more people have been able to come and enjoy it now.

“We’ll be about to change the its name to a summerier theme shortly.”

Fine dining to bistro

One feature that makes The Seafield Arms stand out is its scale of food and drink experiences on offer.

As well as the Ski Lodge, the venue also has two separate dining areas.

The Grant Dining Room is fit for more formal, fine dining experiences while Bar 19 is ideal for guests looking for classic food options in more casual surroundings.

“Bar 19 is an informal bistro area which seats around 26 guests,” says Donald.

Scallops with salmon fishcakes.

“You can have things like burgers and chips and locally caught battered haddock here. Whereas in the Grant Dining Room, which seats up to 40 guests, it’s an a la carte, fine dining style menu.

“It’s great to be able to give people the choice between both menu types.

“All of our food supplies are locally sourced and of course, we couldn’t not have Cullen skink on the menu.

“I joke with the the chef that he makes an excellent Cullen skink, but it will always be second to mine!”

From left to right: Flirtini, Bombay Bramble and Monk cocktails.

Drink in style

Wines, whiskies, gins, cocktails… The Seafield Arms has tons of options available for those in search of a little tipple.

In The Findlater Lounge, guests can make the most of the experience and relax in snug surroundings.

“We now have a massive range of around 100 malt whiskies to choose from, as well 80 to 90 gins,” says Donald.

Local spirits available at The Seafield Arms.

“Promoting local drinks is important to us, especially the whiskies which have distilleries local to the hotel.

“We have our own private wine cellar. Our cocktail list is what we’re now becoming fairly renowned for.

Anastazja Sowinska preparing cocktails in the Findlater Lounge.

“One of the classics is our Seafield 75, which has clarified mango and passion fruit, gin, prosecco and lemon.

“The Roxanne is also popular. This comes with gin, Chambord, lime juice, peach schnapps and crushed berry syrup.

Monk cocktail.

“We tend to change the cocktails as we do the menus every three months to reflect the seasons and the produce available around certain times of the year.

“We do also have some alcohol-free beers, wines and ciders available for guests.”

Team effort

Having closed for eight years during the 2010s, Donald explains that The Seafield Arms has been building back its reputation for being the top food, drink and hospitality venue in Cullen.

However, he adds that none of what it has achieved so far would have been possible without the support of the team around him.

Flirtini cocktail.

“I have an excellent team. We’ve all got an eye for detail and for standard, which comes from every one of us right up to the owner,” says Donald.

“We’re always looking to try new things and are looking forward to hopefully another busy summer this year.

“To me, it’s like we’re all one big family and I’m very grateful for that.”

The Seafield Arms management team, (L-R) chef Ileana Green, deputy general manager Eilidh Flett, food and beverage manager Brett Johnston, head receptionist Arlene Addison. In the front is general manager Donald Thain.

A round of questions with Donald Thain of The Seafield Arms…

Whisky or wine?

Wine.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

I would be a nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine. It’s robust and flavoursome.

Favourite food or drink you serve at Seafield Arms?

Anything that involves scallops or halibut. Drink-wise, I do love a Rangpur gin.

Most unusual food you’ve ever tried?

L’escargot. Never again!

You have to serve an Easter themed drink to a customer. What would it be?

I would do a twist on an espresso martini with Bailey’s and crème egg.

Any secret tips of the hospitality trade?

Treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Make experiences as memorable for guests as you can.

Best food and drink pairing?

I would say our venison with a nice malbec wine.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would be there with you?

My family, some alcohol and my dog, Roxy.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve them?

I would say Tina Turner and I would serve her a Seafield 75 cocktail.

www.seafieldarmscullen.co.uk

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