21-year-old Michael Neave takes an impressively confident approach to opening his first restaurant
Young chef opens Edinburgh restaurant
Michael Neave took a different approach when he launched his first restaurant six weeks ago. There was no loud, proud social media campaign, no advertising and no worrying about not being full from day one. Instead he’s relying on word of mouth to smoothly push those covers up, and picking up feedback as he and his staff find their feet. It’s a confident approach, and even more impressive considering Neave is only 21 years old.
There’s a rash of young chefs coming through, highlighted by awards such as the Young Scottish Chef of the Year, for which Neave was runner-up in 2010. They’ve done time at the bottom, in this case at his father’s restaurants, before taking on their own projects or head chef positions. They’re connected, through social media and savvy interest, to what’s going on throughout the UK and they’re keen to be noticed on that stage.
Neave hopes to attract special occasion groups – there’s deliberately only one table of two – and business meals from the nearby lawyers. At present it feels well placed for the latter. He’s had feedback that atmosphere is lacking, and this is a fair judgement. The venue has changed little since its previous incarnation as Mai Thai, with the same set-up of basement restaurant and ground floor bar, now concentrating on whisky, with a bar snacks menu imminent. The restaurant will benefit from the hoped-for Renato Guttuso artwork, whose ‘Caffe Greco’ is the menu image. The food, however, is good enough and unfussy enough to impress clients (or a birthday girl/first date).
Flavours are interesting and occasionally playful – a chocolate brownie served with avocado cream, for example. The menu varies from a pretty starter of moist quail breast with poached pear and pesto, to gutsy, as a hearty portion of crayfish ravioli with a crab bisque made of excellent stock.
Other than a dry loin of pork, cooking is consistently good – champagne sabayon is foam light with the perfect kick of wine.
Neave admits he’s ‘not happy yet’, but is self-assured enough to be talking about the ambiance. He’s justifiably confident about his kitchen. After all, as he says: ‘If it all goes wrong, I’m young – I can just try again.’