Stephen Jardine: Easter offers hope for ambitious

They say March is the cruellest month when it comes to restaurant closures. Banks will carry struggling businesses through Christmas and the New Year in the hope of squeezing out any value at the busiest of times, but once the books are balanced, spring is when the axe often falls.

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

So far, so gloomy, but in Scotland, something else is in the air. While trade is undoubtedly tough and plenty of people are retrenching, others are investing and expanding.

Easter weekend brings three fine examples.

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The team behind Monachyle Mhor have just opened their boutique-take on a Scottish motel and roadhouse. In a refurbished building close to the main tourist route north from Callander, Mhor84 has a tea room, restaurant, bar, shop and event space and with rooms starting at just £60 night, owner Tom Lewis reckons the investment will pay off.

“We’ve lit fires unlit for 40 years and have revealed the beauty of a building which was built 300 years ago” he said.

“We’ve really strived to make sure the prices are accessible for everyone. It’s a recession-proof alternative for lovers of boutique hotels and we’re aiming for everyone from young couples to seasoned hillwalkers”.

Over in the west, another old building is enjoying a new lease of life. Twenty five years after the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar opened at Cairndow in Argyll, the restaurant has undergone a complete refurbishment and reopens this weekend with Ondine owner Roy Brett as Culinary Director.

“The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar is a Scottish culinary institution. In these tough times, when you have a great brand like Loch Fyne, you need to use that to your advantage”, said Roy. “After quarter of a century, it just needed a facelift and I’m looking forward to helping take it to the next level.”

The final new boy on the block this weekend is a familiar face. Tom Kitchin has teamed with fellow Michelin chef Dominic Jack to open a pub in Stockbridge in Edinburgh.

But not a pub as you may know it. On the opening night I enjoyed haggis bon bons, crispy pigs ear and oysters all washed down by a lovely craft beer from the Isle of Skye.

With a stylish interior of tweed, tartan and stripped back brickwork, The Scran and Scallie is going to change the way we think about food in pubs.

With a special space to keep children entertained, it will also challenge pubs who think children should just be grateful to be allowed on the premises to munch on chicken dippers and chips.

So a new gastropub, a revived Scottish gem and a budget version of one of Scotland’s great rural hotels. The lesson seems to be, know your market well and you can still open the doors on something new, even at the worst time of the year.