Neil Forbes named chef of the year as top Scottish restuarants revealed

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LEADING chef Neil Forbes has picked up one of the industry's top honours – just weeks after his flagship restaurant in Edinburgh was forced to close.

• Neil Forbes

Mr Forbes, who was at the helm of Atrium in Edinburgh for 12 years, was named chef of the year at the Scottish Restaurant Awards last night.

However, it emerged last month that Atrium, near the Usher Hall, had been suddenly closed down, with long-time owner Andrew Radford blaming a "catalogue" of problems trying to keep the business running.

Mr Forbes had been executive chef at Atrium and sister caf-bar Blue. He is still in charge of the kitchen in Caf St Honor, in Edinburgh's New Town, which was under separate ownership.

• Full list of winners

The other main honour at last night's ceremony, held at the Glasgow Science Centre, for restaurant of the year, went to Smiths, a small French-style eaterie in the Lanarkshire village of Uddingston, which was also named urban restaurant of the year. It was opened in 1999 by owner Michael Smith, who decided to leave his job as a lecturer at Motherwell College.

The judges' citation for Smiths read: "Could find no fault with it at all. It is a hidden gem that people will return to time and again."

Scotland's best newcomer was Castle Terrace, the second restaurant to be opened in the city by Michelin-starred Tom Kitchin, who has joined forces with fellow chef Dominic Jack.

Other major winners included Mr Kitchin's Leith rival, Martin Wishart, who scooped the prestigious "fine dining" honour ahead of Hotel du Vin in Glasgow and The Three Chimneys in Skye.

However, the latter did win the best rural restaurant prize.

The Isle of Eriska Hotel was recognised for having the best hotel food, while Stravaigin, in Glasgow, claimed the best pub food honour.

The Scotsman revealed how Atrium, which was widely regarded as one of the capital's first fine-dining restaurants, had closed suddenly with the loss of 20 jobs after Mr Radford, who was previously head chef, said he had been left with no option to admit defeat due to poor trading over recent months.

At the time, industry leaders warned independent restaurants were having increasing difficulty coping with the impact of the number of chains offering cut-price deals, previously loyal customers cutting back on their spending, and the rise in VAT.

Once a protg of Nick Nairn, Mr Forbes also worked aboard the Royal Scotsman train and for big-name chefs including Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux, before being appointed head chef at the Atrium.

Ronnie Sommerville, organiser of the Scottish Restaurant Awards, said: "Although Atrium and Blue have closed, the reasons for giving Neil Forbes the award didn't suddenly disappear.

"His contribution to the Scottish restaurant scene still stands, and many of the chefs who have benefited from his quarter-century of experience will testify to that, as will the local producers whose businesses can continue, at least in part, because of his passion for Scottish produce.

"There's no doubt Neil will continue to contribute to Scottish food for many years to come."

Malcolm Duck, the chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association, said: "I've very pleased for Neil.

"He's a great chef and has been very underrated in Scotland until now."