Edinburgh’s reputation as a city for top-end dining will swell when Paul Kitching’s restaurant opens in May. Donald Reid talks to the capital’s latest arrivals
Next month, chef Paul Kitching and his partner Katie O’Brien complete their move from Juniper, Manchester’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, to a full townhouse on Royal Terrace on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. A £4m project, this 38-cover restaurant – plus three bedrooms – will open under the name 21212 – a description of the choices available at each of the five courses on the evening menu: two starters, two main courses and two desserts with single ‘taster dishes’ in between.
Their decision to leave Juniper aroused the curiosity of many commentators who had admired Kitching as one of the country’s more creative and original chefs. What surprised most of them was their decision to come to Edinburgh. The couple, however, had long admired the city’s dining culture and its capacity to support four Michelin-starred restaurants.‘People assumed I was dragging Paul up to Scotland,’ says O’Brien, who grew up in northeast Scotland. ‘But being from Newcastle, Paul was probably more familiar with Edinburgh than I was.’
They moved up last August to plan, design and set up the restaurant. It will incorporate a number of features that flow from Kitching’s instinctive creativity, such as a glass pass that separates dining area from the open kitchen allowing light to travel from one side of the Georgian townhouse to the other. His approach to cooking is left-field but, despite his history of odd-ball dishes such as Branston pickle ice-cream and beef with lemon curd, he’s not a molecular gastronomist like Heston Blumenthal, nor the kind of chef who pulls on wellington boots to view cattle in a field.
‘There are two things cooking is definitely not,’ says Kitching, dispelling expectations of celebrity chefdom. ‘Cooking is not art and it’s not passionate. Cooking is a horrible job and it’s a tough job. We’ve got to think about it a different way. We’re compiling things, we’re building things, making things. We’re not artists. We’re tradesmen, trained as cooks.’
The location of Juniper encouraged an approach he now regards as ‘gimmicky’. ‘We had to put things on the plate to say, “We know it’s not the best restaurant in the world, it’s a shop-front conversion, but look what we’re doing as well.” Here, we don’t have to try as hard in that way.’
Instead, he believes Edinburgh will inspire him to reach even higher. ‘It will be my style of cooking, but it won’t be Juniper’s food, it will be Edinburgh’s food,’ he says. ‘The food has to be better than it was at Juniper, because that was just not good enough. It will be a more sophisticated version.’ Yet, as much as Edinburgh is excited by what 21212 will bring, it’s Kitching himself who seems most enthralled of all. ‘To be part of this city, to serve it – wow, it’s a great, great feeling.’
21212 opens Wed 20 May.
3 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh
Bookings on 0845 2221212 for lunch and dinner Tue–Sat.
Five-course dinner £60.