Chewing it over
Donald Reid digests the culinary year in view
That the most widely used phrase to describe the current economic downturn has a culinary connotation is a crumb of comfort to the restaurant world. You can’t dwell on the credit crunch for long without feeling just a bit peckish. And while the Christmas feeding frenzy may simply be delaying the onset of a chilly financial winter for many restaurants, the rate of new openings we’re recording in Glasgow and Edinburgh remains unexpectedly perky. Since the publication of our annual Eating & Drinking Guide in April we’ve recorded over 80 new ventures in Glasgow and Edinburgh – easily matching, if not exceeding, the figures of recent years. Maybe a credit crunch lunch is still able to serve up a dose of optimism.
The Local Chains
One pronounced phenomenon in 2008 has been the number of openings connected to an existing local operator. In Glasgow, Balbir’s, Tapa, Two Fat Ladies, Republic Bier Halle, La Vita, Shimla Pinks and Cail Bruich have all built on established operations by adding a second or further outlet. In Edinburgh, a similar trend has been seen with Urban Angel, Olive Branch, La P’tite Folie (with Le De-Vin), Fishers (with The Shore), A Room in Leith and Calistoga among others. Even delis, such as Delizique in Hyndland or Relish in Leith, have been adding a linked restaurant, while a couple of Glasgow operators, Mother India and Cafe Andaluz, have expanded east to open up in the capital.
Yes, Beanscene did go into administration, but the enthusiasm of its suitors, including new owner Fiona Hamilton of Fifi & Ally, spoke volumes for the perceived potential of the sector. The unveiling of locally owned Pico in Glasgow’s West End and Coffee Angels in Edinburgh’s Canonmills, both with expansionist ideas, emphasised that coffee is still kicking.
If Robert the Bruce hadn’t taken inspiration from a spider, he might well have found encouragement in the restaurants scene to try, try and try again. Comeback kids in 2008 have included Pierre Levicky with Chez Pierre, David Ramsden with The Dogs, Ferrier Richardson with his recent take over of Catch 22, and most sensational of all, James Stocks, whose return with the opening of Wild Sorrel in Edinburgh in October was in tatters before November was out. A much more poignant passing was that of Carlo Contini of Valvona & Crolla at age 83, one of the great characters of Edinburgh’s food and drink scene.
With the year of Homecoming imminent, it’s perhaps fitting that local diners are relocating their expectations of food. The rallying call was once the outrage that so much of our top-grade shellfish was coming out of Scottish waters and straight onto an airplane for Spain. Now farmers’ markets and food festivals present the convincing case that with so much great local food of all descriptions under our noses we’re mad not to make more use of it. While such attitudes were nudged by national celebrity campaigns on issues such as chicken farming, they’ve been positively encouraged by the developing profile of small-scale local farmers, artisans and food producers. Credit should go to the Fife Dieters and others who have taken their hint. Might Scotland be about to shake off its culinary cringe in 2009?
Take Three: Restaurants with a hunch about the crunch
Roseleaf Bar Café, 23–24 Sandport Place, Leith, Edinburgh www.roseleaf.co.uk
‘Even though people are tighter on money, we feel that it’s still a release to go out for a meal or drinks. We think people are cutting back on other spending like CDs, clothing, shoes, etc. Our regular clientele seem to give a higher priority to going out.’
Two Fat Ladies, Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery and the Shandon Belles, Glasgow, www.twofatladiesrestaurant.com
‘Most people are living more carefully because they have been brow-beaten, not because they are skint. People are more likely to patronise places they trust and know are good value, so restaurants like ourselves are doing the same level of business.’
Wedgwood the Restaurant, 267 Canongate, Edinburgh www.wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk
‘We are, in fact, selling more of our top end wines and more expensive dishes, occupancy rates are still as high as ever, and even through the notoriously dead month of November we were full nearly all of the time. Spend per head was up on same month last year.’