I’m not going to lie. I was nervous about interviewing Gordon Ramsay at his new Bread Street Kitchen and Bar restaurant in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square.
No matter that his eatery, the first iteration of his landmark London casual dining restaurant concept in the UK, has been making a mark since it opened last month, would the cancellation of that night’s official launch event in line with new guidance on socialising put a scowl on the famous face and earn me the verbal equivalent of one of his Sunday roasts?
When Ramsay greets me upstairs in front of floor to ceiling windows overlooking St Andrew Square and the capital’s most prestigious food addresses, framed by the light he’s an imposing figure in charcoal jacket, black jeans and T-shirt. As he welcomes me he exudes energy, in one fluid movement pulling off his jacket, tossing it aside and taking a seat opposite on the rich caramel leather sofa. Yet his blue eyes are crinkled with smiles and he looks relaxed and happy, his bouncy blond quiff reaching for the stars, for this is a man who currently has seven, Michelin.
Up from London and in town for a few days with his wife Tana and some of their five children (Megan, twins Holly and Jack, Tilly and Oscar), he’s overseeing the restaurant’s launch and doing press while they hit the shops for some Christmas shopping.
He has reason to smile as the restaurant is doing well, he tells me, taking £100,000 a week (the first week’s takings being donated to specialist charity Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus (SBH) Scotland, of which he is honorary patron). He’s pleased with the way this latest venture is being received, not least because it’s his first restaurant in Edinburgh, and delighted to back in his homeland.
“The regulations are the regulations,” he says of the latest restrictions. “You have to abide by them and respect them and move on. Having a son in the Royal Marines and having the army involved in the roll out of the vaccines, the boosters, and rightly so, that’s brilliant. So if we all get boosters… We’re fully booked and that’s the most important thing. I’m close to customers. They vote with their feet. And they’ll be quick enough to tell us if it’s no good. Especially here in Edinburgh,” he says and laughs.
It’s becoming apparent that Ramsay is disarmingly pleasant and unfailingly polite, he remembers your name, shows an interest, asks about your kids, offers refreshments. He’s not the expletive-spewing scary chef who gets stuck in to the slackers who populate the nightmare kitchen hells of some of his TV shows, or the competitive alpha male who enjoys besting his buddies Gino and Fred on their foodie road trips. In fact he doesn’t swear at all during the entire interview, but he is a straight, and fast, talker.
“I think in this business you’ve got to get to the point. Quickly,” he says. “And there’s a level of resilience that you need to tolerate to get to the top and that’s dependent on each individual. Some want it, some don’t want it. But I’d never force someone to do something they’re not happy with. Food is an emotional thing and when it goes pear-shaped it’s upsetting. Flipping burgers and dressing Caesar salads, anyone can do but at this level there’s a difference. There’s a different respect for it.”
So he doesn’t scream and shout or swear in the kitchen?
“What do you think?” he laughs. “Do you think I come up here to scream and shout? It’s important when the shit hits the fan to deal with it, but the trade’s moved on and I’ve moved on. Do I run a restaurant the way I did in 1999? Of course I don’t.”
Outside of London, there are Bread Street Kitchen branches in Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sanya (China) so why was Ramsay keen to locate his latest venture in Edinburgh.
“Firstly, it’s so cool coming back to Scotland. Born in Johnstone, not far away. The first Bread Street Kitchen opened in St Paul’s back in 2010 to a huge success - it’s an all-day, family style restaurant - and it was going to be Glasgow or Edinburgh, so when this site came up, yeah. Look at the location,” he says and gestures at the impressive Georgian Square and its high-end neighbours. “It was a no-brainer. I’ve been attached to Scottish ingredients for many years and to come back to Scotland and open up here was a dream come true.”
“I think you’ve got to be certain of the location and know your market before you pinpoint an area that you want to open up in. So yeah, this was the perfect spot.”
Was he nervous about the restaurant opening and returning to Scotland?
“I’ve never left Scotland. One Devonshire bringing a Michelin Star to Glasgow nearly 20 years ago was wonderful, and look at what’s happened to Scotland since with Martin Wishart, Tom Kitchin, the late Andrew Fairlie… God no, I’m not nervous, I’m excited.”
Even so, is it a good time to open a new restaurant, with the pandemic hitting hospitality?
“It depends who you are,” he says.
“Because you’re Gordon Ramsay…? I begin.
“No, not at all,” he explains. “The pandemic has been catastrophic for our industry and we’ve shut so many businesses down. If there’s one positive way of looking at that, it’s cleared all the shit out, and now we have a grassroots effect where we’re rebuilding and remembering the importance of good food and having fun in restaurants. So it’s the right time. Landlords are off their pedestals, desperate for strong names and there’s that resurgence of the connect with food, and that’s especially true at Bread Street. So I think it’s a great time to open up and we’re being well supported.
“We don’t have a board room that dictates where we go, the business is family owned, so yeah, the right opportunity comes along, the investment goes in, we train the team and all of a sudden, bang, you open up. It’s beautiful.”
And he’s not just talking about the decor, all wooden wall panelling, parquet floors and shiny lights.
“One thing that attracts me about Scotland is the produce, because it’s second to none. That’s something I got used to at a young age working in Paris, seeing it coming to the best restaurants in France. I remind Fred and Gino every day where the best produce comes from. So yeah, to have another showcase here, in Scotland, with Bread Street Kitchen, it’s a dream.”
Ramsay isn’t a man who shies away from hard decisions - you don’t get to his level of success, stars, awards, OBEs, if you can’t.
“I think you need to be decisive. And you need to be thorough and confident. I live and die by the sword. Definitely without a doubt. I have no problem putting my neck on the chopping block. The consequences are huge but the successes are even greater. I think I’ve learned so much from opening my first restaurant to where I am now.”
Since opening Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in London in 1998 at the age of 35, and winning three Michelin stars which it still has, Ramsay has opened how many restaurants, from Singapore to the US to China?
“It’s not the kind of thing you sit down and count,” he says. “There’s got to be in excess of 50? 60? 70? Leases run out, places shut down and things move on. In business you don’t continue working with a problem. You shut it down and move on and don’t cry over spilt milk, as my mum would say.”
“We’re looking at another one in Edinburgh already, at the new St James Quarter, that beautiful site over there,” he gestures past Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh Grand and the imminent Gleneagles Townhouse. “Oh my god, what a transformation. So Gordon Ramsay Burger, opening next summer. And I’m looking at opening a Bread Street Kitchen in Glasgow. If I don’t open in Glasgow I’ll get beat up!” he says and laughs.
“I love Glasgow. It’s the DNA of Scotland, the heartbeat. Edinburgh’s the sort of the Fairy Godmother, so I would never do one without the other.”
Where in Glasgow?
“Can’t say. Top secret.”
Something else that’s top secret is the recipe for the salt’n’sauce condiment that goes with his famous fish and chips, a Ramsay leitmotif referencing his Scottish credentials.
“Secret. Chefs are desperate to keep their secrets.”
Ok, but is it made in-house?
“Of course it’s made here. Did you think it was bought in?” he says, brow furrowing in disbelief.
Just checking. What’s the recipe?
“I’d be stupid to tell a journalist my secret recipe. That’s for me to know and you to find out,” he says and chuckles.
“Everyone thinks I’ve forgotten I’m Scottish but I haven’t. It’s weird when you come back and install that level of confidence and create an exciting business and everyone thinks you’re not Scottish. I’m 100% Scottish through and through. 100%.”
As Ramsay says, “everyone’s a critic” but whether it’s reviews or social media comments, it’s not something that appears to touch the sides. Do negative ones ever bother him?
“No, no, no, no, no. The social media following now, combine all those platforms, is 100 million people so just …no…” he says. “Because my biggest critics are my customers, and above all of them is an even bigger critic on top - me.”
It was surely this Teflon coating that made him the ideal person to advise daughter Tilly over scrutiny on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.
“Tilly’s never been wrapped up in fame. She’s a hard working young woman - she’s just turned 20 - and I’ve taught her from an early age to find her passion. Tilly was very fortunate to show that kind of excitement in the kitchen early on and she’s been used to the camera from the age of 12, fronting her own CBBC series. And then we’ve kept them all normal, and Tana’s done an amazing job on that. So in terms of fame, Tilly had no idea 20 million people were watching her. She just wanted to dance and to wear heels.
“My kids don’t sit there and think ‘it’s fame’, they think ‘it’s a job’. With Tilly it’s ‘I got taught how to dance and I got a lot further than I expected’ so yeah, she’s very normal.”
Certainly their relationship sounds normal in the sense that she delighted in capturing her dad’s dancing and posting it on social media, particularly to her TikTok fans.
“No, I don’t do dancing on TikTok,” he corrects me, “that’s called having a stroke. Definitely not dancing.” He laughs. “Those platforms are fun but it can be a double-edged sword. I always say if you’re going to go on it, have fun with it, so in lockdown TikTok was a chance for us to bond, take the piss out of each other, and be a normal family. Except Tilly would take the piss out of me and post it to her ten million followers.”
So far so normal, apart from the sheer number of followers.
“Yes, and that generation,” he says, “they deserve to have fun. As parents and at our age we know how to handle serious times because of what we’ve been through, but for kids coming into this pandemic as 16, 17, 18 year olds, it’s been bloody tough. So who cares what they post on their phone, good luck to them.”
As Ramsay says you need longevity and resilience to keep going whether it’s in football (his first career choice which saw him trial for Rangers before injury derailed it), or in the hospitality industry, or life in general, so where does he think his comes from?
“I think it goes back to my Scottish roots if I’m honest. I grew up with my mum having three jobs. I grew up watching my mum work her arse off, and I grew up with the utmost respect for my mum.”
Helen Mitchell Ramsay worked as a cook, a cleaner and a night nurse and is responsible for his favourite childhood food memory, bread and butter pudding.
“We didn’t have… you know food like a starter, main, dessert. Puddings were a treat at the weekend, and that was bread and butter pudding that she made. Beautifully done, glazed with apricot jam, and at Christmas we’d make it with leftover Christmas pudding and Baileys.”
Did she let him swear as a child?
Family and hard work, these are the core values from his Scottish childhood that Ramsay still upholds.
“I don’t think I’ve changed from opening my first restaurant. I just get excited about the pressure, about the teaching. I loved last summer when we had this team in London for R&D and training. I know how hard they work. There’s a responsibility when you open a restaurant for welfare, families. They’ve all got commitments, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and so treat this thing as their own and that’s the platform I give them. That’s no different to back in 1998 when I opened up Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. In January next month, we celebrate 21 years holding on to three MIchelin stars and I have the same Maitre d’ from day one. Everyone thinks from watching TV they know how I behave in my restaurants.” He shakes his head to indicate this is not the case.
“I have a massive following with my team. It’s ALWAYS about the team. No one works under me. They work with me. That’s really important.”
Ask Ramsay what his Bread Street Kitchen signature dish is and he comes back with “The menu. All of it. It’s unique. hat we pride ourselves on here is the langoustines and Dublin Bay prawns and scallops from Keltic Seafare [in Dingwall], beef from Gilmour Butchers [John Gilmour Butchers, Macmerry, Tranent] and hand-dived scallops from The Ethical Shellfish Company on the West Coast - depending how blustery and windy it is. Sometimes scallops are off for two or three days and that’s the importance of running a restaurant that is in season. If you ask what’s our best seller since opening? We’ve sold over 500 Wellingtons in four weeks. It’s a beauty. Scottish beef wrapped in an amazing pastry. That’s quite extraordinary. That’s a lot of Wellingtons.”
It’s a lot of welly.
“Yeah, and that’s good news.”
With that, my 15 minutes with fame is running out as Ramsay’s family arrive back from their shopping trip. What does he think they’ve got him for Christmas?
“I’m really easy to please. Honestly. It’ll be pyjamas, slippers. We don’t spend more than £100 on one another which I think is enough. So I’m hoping for … yeah, I just get socks and pants. And they last me the year.”
Which just leaves time to check his age.
“How old am I? 45… plus ten,” he says and chuckles. “1966 - a great year for food and wine. And football. England won the World Cup, we shouldn’t say that too loud,” he says and seques into talking about Scotland’s chances in the qualifiers.
“Are we going to the next World Cup, who knows… Fingers crossed. It’s one of the most incredible teams we’ve had, and long overdue. I was there in France in ‘98, behind the goal, watching them score against Brazil, beautiful.”
Does he regret that his football career didn’t work out?
“I think things happen for a reason. That was one thing Scotland taught me - don’t sit and cry over spilt milk. Get off and look for the next cow. No, never one to sit and ponder. Do I miss it? Yeah, absolutely. But that buzz I get equally as much, more if I’m honest, in the excitement in setting up a business, and when you see that line of customers coming through the door and their excitement at eating some good proper Scottish home cooked food. Yeah, that’s a buzz and a half.”
Bread Street Kitchen and Bar, 4 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2BD, 0131 252 5200 www.gordonramsayrestaurants.com/bread-street-kitchen/edinburgh
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