Late chef Paul Kitching's Edinburgh restaurant, 21212, may have now closed but he has left an enduring legacy of wonderful food – Stephen Jardine

Food and drink in Edinburgh has never been more exciting. The latest edition of the Michelin Guide awarded stars to Timberyard and Heron, taking the number of restaurants in the city with the accolade to five.

Add in new openings like Tipo and ground-breaking projects like the Port of Leith Distillery and it’s a brilliant time to be eating and drinking here. That makes it all the more important to remember the pioneering spirits who led the way. Last weekend, a great Edinburgh restaurant, 21212, closed for the saddest of reasons.

It arrived in the capital like a whirlwind. Chef Paul Kitching had earned a Michelin star and a rock star following at his previous restaurant Juniper in Greater Manchester. When he subsequently moved on with his wife Katie, Edinburgh was lucky enough to be graced with his magic. The couple went on to win a Michelin star and just about every award in the book. Restaurant critic Jay Rayner said Paul Kitching “is on more than nodding terms with genius”. And then he died.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Paul passed away in December at just 61. For three months, Katie and the team soldiered on until the sad yet inevitable announcement. “The passion that runs through every fibre of the restaurant is not as evident as it was when he was alive – to us that is unacceptable to his memory,” she tweeted. Last Saturday, the last plates went across the pass and the door closed for a final time.

Paul Kitching dreamed of studying at art college but left school at 16 and ended up working in a bakery and on building sites before finding his way into restaurant kitchens and discovering his passion. For him, it was about much more than food. From the Caravaggio print to the exquisite cutlery, everything in his restaurant was chosen to help create beauty and tell a story.

One afternoon he showed me the sketchbooks packed with notes and intricate drawings that were the first step to creating a dish for his menu. It all started on a pad, not in a pan. Those incredible illustrations should have been the heart of the most amazing cookbook ever, alongside his funky recipes for dishes like curried scallops with meringue or lemon tart with black grape juice. Like so much else, however, that wasn’t to be.

So what is the legacy of yet another closed restaurant? In this case, it is huge. Across the land, there are chefs who worked with Paul Kitching and have taken his piratical approach to food away with them. He made Branston Pickle ice cream sound awful but taste delicious so they know that is possible and won’t be afraid to push the boundaries and challenge conventions.

But more than that, in a world where big-name chefs compete for social media followers and fight for TV shows, Paul was not remotely interested in any of that. His approach to the craft of cooking was an echo of the great chefs first honoured by the Michelin Guide. The lights may have gone out but Paul Kitching lives on in every chef up and down the land who wants not passing fame but instead the lasting satisfaction of quietly making people happy through the simple magic of wonderful food.

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.