The key stories of 2019 in Scotland’s restaurant sector so far

It has been a summer of fervent activity and ongoing evolution in Scotland’s restaurant sector, as canny culinary operators adapt to the changing demands of an increasingly adventurous public.

Prestigious brand The Ivy cemented its Scottish presence with the opening of a Glasgow outlet in Buchanan Street following the success of its St Andrew Square venture in the Capital.

Edinburgh City Council also announced that it was considering relaxing rules on restaurants and bars operating on Princes Street, which could begin the transformation of the thoroughfare into one of the country’s top culinary locations.

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At the western end of that street, The Huxley shone the spotlight on inclusivity in the restaurant sector through its launch of an audio menu for blind and partially-sighted people, in partnership with the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Looking northwards, Aberdeen’s foodies will receive double helpings this month when two restaurants open in the former Esslemont & Macintosh building on the city’s Union Street.

Back in the Capital, Chinese restaurant group Tattu has announced that it will be opening a new Edinburgh eaterie in the autumn.

The Tattu announcement shows the continued appetite of the Scottish restaurant-going public for fresh dining experiences.

Huxley sounds out the market

Edinburgh restaurant The Huxley has teamed up with the Royal National Institute of Blind People to introduce an audio menu for blind and partially sighted diners.

The innovation was initiated by employee Kirsty Cameron, who also volunteers with the RNIB, when she realised that dining out can often be an intimidating experience for those with sight loss.

Cameron actioned change with the backing of Signature Pubs, owners of The Huxley, and RNIB to create the new menu service.

Guests are offered the option of hearing the menu on a tablet or having it sent to their smartphones, and the fare is read to them using speech software.

Daniel Meikle, a volunteer facilitator at RNIB, who has a sight-loss condition himself, welcomes the move: “People who have sight loss enjoy eating out with family and friends, just like everybody else. But too often we’re simply not able to make out what choices are on the menu. It can be embarrassing to have to rely on somebody else to read it out to you.

“Some restaurants like to present their menus in fancy, stylish scripts or in small font-sizes. In other cases, the contrast between the lettering and the background colour can be very poor.

“It’s great to be able to just come in and know you can make your choice of meal in your own time without having to rely on a companion to read it out.”

Mike Lewis, general manager of The Huxley, says: “We’re launching this new initiative to help make dining out a great experience for everyone.

“When Kirsty brought this to our attention, we knew we could do something to make a difference and it’s been fantastic to work with the RNIB to make it happen.”

Two fresh dining options open in iconic Grantite City building

Two new Aberdeen restaurants are set to welcome epicurean Aberdonians in one of the city’s landmark buildings.

The Esslemont Bar & Restaurant and Mac’s Pizzeria, will officially open to the public tomorrow, Friday, 23 August, in the former Esslemont & Macintosh department store building on Union Street.

Local hospitality operators McGinty’s Group are behind the six-figure transformation of the one-time Aberdonian shopping institution.

The 100-seater bar and restaurant is on the ground floor and features a luxury glass-fronted private dining space for 12, with a modern bar for laid-back lunches and pre or post-dinner drinks.

Meanwhile, the pizzeria will be situated upstairs and plans to serve authentic Neapolitan pizza, with the benefit of a bespoke pizza oven for a capacity 120 customers.

Mac’s will also boast sharing tables and a semi-private area for group bookings.

Allan Henderson, a director at McGinty’s, says: “We are delighted to open The Esslemont and Mac’s Pizzeria. This project has been our biggest to date and it has been amazing to see the building transform into our vision.

“With two concepts in the one building, we are aiming to appeal to a wide audience, while creating something new and exciting for the city, and we cannot wait to get doors open and reveal the full transformation.”

Alan Aitken, operations director at the group, adds: “Over the last few months, we have been working hard with our local contractors to bring this iconic building back to life, so it is fantastic to now reach the final stages.

“We are officially taking reservations now via the venue websites, and we look forward to welcoming everyone for some good times.”

An invitation to the Edinburgh Tattu

UK chain Chinese restaurant group Tattu is set to open a new venture in Edinburgh this autumn.

The 140-cover split-level restaurant will occupy the ground and basement level of the newly refurbished Mint Building on West Register Street at the east end of Princes Street.

Founded by brothers Adam and Drew Jones, it will be the restaurant’s first outlet in Scotland, and only the fourth in the UK, joining sites in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

With an opening date earmarked for October, Tattu plans to run a soft-launch period where diners can sample the cuisine and service.

Inspired by the sophisticated nature of the Capital, Tattu Edinburgh will pay homage to the stylistic relationship between old and new, complete with a Chinois-style interior which will feature intricate wooden fretwork, antique furnishings and chinoiserie fabric panelling, partnered with polished marble walls and reflective finishes to provide a modern twist.

Managing director Adam Jones says:“As a cosmopolitan city where ‘traditional meets contemporary’, Edinburgh completely resonates with Tattu and the kind of unique experience we want to create for our diners.

“The offering in the city is incredibly diverse and contains some amazing operators.

“We hope that Tattu will be a welcome addition to this exciting dining scene with our twist on modern Chinese cuisine.”

Renowned for its Oriental-inspired offerings, Tattu restaurants combine traditional ingredients and classic flavours with fresh ideas to create a distinctive dining experience with innovative and exciting dim sum and delicious sharing plates.

In their other restaurants around the UK, Tattu’s signature dishes include beef fillet and caramel soy and a delicate seared tuna with truffle aioli, but the Edinburgh menu will also include a number of exclusive dishes developed by the group’s executive chef, Andrew Lassetter, and his team, which will include dedicated tempura and raw sections.

Potential feast for Princes Street

More restaurants and bars could be allowed to open on Edinburgh’s Princes Street.

Strict guidelines currently restricts planning permission for food and drink outlets and leisure facilities on the Capital’s main shopping thoroughfare, but the new move has been mooted to help ensure the historic area “remains vibrant”.

Edinburgh City Council is set to embark on a public consultation about the proposals.

Council officials want to ensure Princes Street remains an attractive destination even after the adjacent revamped £1 billion St James shopping centre reopens.

Edinburgh planning convener Neil Gardiner, pictured, says: “Despite pressures from online shopping nationally, Edinburgh has a buoyant retail industry evidenced by the £1bn investment in the St James development due to open in 2020.

“It is important, though, that we look to the future and regularly review our planning policies to make sure they are flexible enough to move with the times.”

A leading business group hopes the changes will encourage other firms to take on vacant units and fill “unsightly empty premises”.

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses states: “Central Edinburgh is still a great retail destination but like many shopping strips, Princess Street has found it tough to fill every unit.

“By loosening planning restrictions, we could see some non-retail businesses – like bars or restaurants – take up some hard-to-fill spaces. These operators could bring important footfall to the existing shops.

“Furthermore, it would be great to see more high-quality independent firms in this historic area – not just more chains.”

Dear Green Place welcomes The Ivy

The Ivy has opened a new venue in Glasgow building on its presence in Scotland.

With talks of the second Scottish eatery in the pipeline since 2017 – not long after the opening of The Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh – the restaurant opened its doors to the public in late July.

Located in the city centre, in the former Nationwide Building Society premises at 106 Buchanan Street, the group obtained two floors, making the space ideal for a large outlet and akin to what is available in Edinburgh’s The Ivy on the Square.

Accommodating about 222 diners, the new brasserie will be open seven days a week and will be home to two bars, a private dining space and Parisian-style outdoor seating.

Live music from DJs and musicians broaden the offering at weekends, while the bars offer locally inspired cocktails and a Champagne and wine list.

Head chef Brian Scanlan oversees a relaxed menu, serving everything from breakfast, brunch, light snacks, afternoon tea and dinner.

Dishes include refreshing heritage tomato and feta salad with avocado, watermelon, pistachio and olives; lobster linguine, and chargrilled halloumi with Padrón peppers, as well as Ivy classics.

Notable interior features include
local-referencing artwork, bold and colourful prints, pendant lighting, marble floor tiles, polished parquet panel flooring and a mixture of leather banquettes and bar
stools – all of which create a vibrant, stylish environment for Ivy guests to enjoy.

The brasserie will be overseen by general manager, Kevin Lightbody, who has worked at a number of the city’s leading restaurants.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Food and Drink 2019 supplement. A digital version can be found here.