WHAT do you do with degrees in international relations and zoology? If you are committed foodies like Charlotte and Chris Thompson you open a restaurant.
Despite being on a limited student budget, the couple loved to spend what little cash they had on dining out whenever they could and one day dreamed of opening up their own place. Now nearly a decade on since they met in St Andrews, their dream has become a reality with The Pantry Farm Shop and Kitchen, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge.
“It started because Chris and I share a love of food,” says 28-year-old Charlotte. “We met while I was at university in St Andrews after he had graduated and returned home there, and we worked together in a restaurant and discovered our love of food together. With no money, we still managed to spend a lot of time eating out in nice places and always worked in the hospitality industry as students.
“Then we moved back to Edinburgh, and realised there was nowhere that fitted that casual yet refined niche where the focus is on food rather than everything else. We really love food, but wanted to go and eat in our jeans.
“We wanted a place where we could go for a meal with friends, the kind of places we’d seen in Melbourne, London, Manchester, full of people our age who can afford to eat out but might not want to go for a formal three courses. Chris likes to call it ‘casual refined’, especially the evening menu,” she says.
Chris recalls Kensington eateries where the dress code was informal yet the food taken very seriously.
“The idea for The Pantry came from a trip down to London when we were wandering around and there were all these fab cafés serving great breakfast stuff, with the staff in relaxed, casual clothes. It made us much more comfortable about going in and having all this great food,” says the 29-year-old.
The bejeaned are welcome in The Pantry, as are those who just can’t resist dressing to the nines, but there’s nothing casual about what goes on the plate. Along with the Scandinavian vibe of the decor, there are quotes from Chris’s hero Keith Floyd deconstructed in the artwork on the white walls, including the maxim, “You have to treat an egg with the same respect as you would treat a lobster.”
Dishes from the kitchen, run by Ian Henderson, who has 15 years’ experience of working in restaurants across Europe and previously worked in the city’s Tigerlily, feature a star ingredient from the ‘urban farmshop’ section of The Pantry, which stocks hand-made, mainly Scottish, artisanal goodies. The venison steaks, Buccleuch black pudding and crowdie all wind up in a menu that covers everything from breakfast to lunch and dinner, and all day snacks and baking.
“So far we’ve been attracting families with babies in buggies and kids throwing cheesy Wotsits along with couples who like to go out for gourmet meals, like Chris and I did before we had our son Finlay nine months ago,” says Charlotte. “We’ve been getting really good feedback on Facebook and with Tweeters and bloggers. So much so, we’ve introduced Facebook Friday and Twitter Tuesday, where you get a free coffee if you Tweet or post about The Pantry while you’re in.”
This week saw the formal launch of their evening offerings, where Henderson will flex his culinary muscles, with a taster menu at near cost price, and the BYOB policy helping to keep down the bill. Pigeon breast and caramelised leek and crowdie risotto were featuring, along with Burns-themed dishes such as glazed venison haunch and deconstructed cranachan.
With Chris working full time in The Pantry while Charlotte returns to work at event caterers Heritage Portfolio post maternity leave, and her brother also on board, it’s a real family affair.
“It’s a family business, in the wider sense too – we never want it to be like ‘we are the bosses’. We’re all a team and we’re all in it together,” says Charlotte.
“We want to share our love of food and respect for our local produce and producers; it’s cheaper, fresher, is in synergy with the seasons, and we think you can taste the difference.”
For Chris, who always wanted to be a chef, and once applied for Masterchef, “the best thing is working together and working for ourselves. Charlotte and I met working in a restaurant. It’s fate”. n
• The Pantry, 1 North West Circus Place, Edinburgh (07595 432 214, www.thepantryedinburgh.co.uk)