'Oscars' toast best restaurateur in Britain
IT IS a much sought-after accolade that has been awarded to top celebrity chefs, including Terence Conran, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.
Now James Thomson, owner of Edinburgh's The Witchery By The Castle, has been named Restaurateur of the Year at the prestigious Catey awards.
Thomson – who founded The Witchery in 1979 when he was only 20 years old and now owns three restaurants in the capital – beat competition from high-profile London chefs the Galvin Brothers and Michelin-starred Hibiscus in Mayfair to take the top prize at a ceremony this week.
The Cateys, which are often described as the catering industry's equivalent of the Oscars, also named London chef Angela Hartnett as the first female winner of the Chef of the Year title, while Raymond Blanc won a prize for lifetime achievement in the food industry.
Thomson, who also runs the Tower restaurant at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh's Chambers Street and owns the five-star Prestonfield Hotel and its luxury Rhubarb restaurant, was praised by the Catey awards' judges for his business's longevity.
The judging panel of the restaurant of the year category, which included Pascal Aussignac, chef at London's Michelin-starred Club Gascon, described The Witchery as an "Edinburgh institution".
They said: "Thomson is a restaurateur who has been running a successful restaurant for 30 years and truly deserves the Catey.
"Thomson's high standards, business acumen and dedication to the industry have seen him rise way above many of his competitors."
They added: "Thomson's goal of creating magical dining experiences within unique and atmospheric settings has proved a major tourist magnet for the Scottish capital."
Winners are nominated and shortlisted by the industry through The Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine.
Malcolm Duck, head of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs' Association, said: "I am absolutely delighted for him – he has done very well over the years and he deserves everything he has got. James has worked extremely hard in the industry and has done a lot for Edinburgh."
He added: "It is richly deserved and it is fantastic when nice things happen to nice people."
Mr Thomson, who won an OBE in 2005 for his commitment to the hospitality industry, was the youngest licensee in Scotland when he opened The Witchery in a 16th-century building in Castlehill 30 years ago. He now employs more than 250 staff at his three restaurants and two hotels.
David Cochrane, chief executive of the Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland, was at the awards ceremony in London.
He said: "We are absolutely delighted and thrilled that it has gone to someone who has remained consistent with quality in the industry for over 30 years."
He added: "When his name was announced at the awards ceremony, a massive cheer went up, which I think is testament to how high he is held in regard, not just in Scotland, but among chefs in London and the rest of the UK."
Paul McLaughlin of Scotland Food and Drink said: "He sets the standards for restaurants in Scotland, and an award like this can only be reflected throughout Scotland's restaurant industry."
Mr Thomson has previously held the post of vice-chairman of the British Hospitality Association and was the founder member and a past chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association.
Restaurateur of the Year (independent):
James Thomson, owner, The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh
Restaurateur of the Year (Group):
Eren Ali, managing director, Las Iguanas
Lifetime Achievement Award: Raymond Blanc
Chef of the Year Award:
Angela Hartnett – Murano, London
Hotel of the Year (Group):
South Lodge, Lower Beeding
Hotel of the Year (Independent):
The Goring, London
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