Edinburgh restaurant welcomes homeless to dine in style

HOMELESS people in Edinburgh have been treated to a fine dining meal at a chic new restaurant for the first time.

Homeless guests enjoy meal at Maison Bleue. Picture: Ian Georgeson/Contributed
Homeless guests enjoy meal at Maison Bleue. Picture: Ian Georgeson/Contributed

Maison Bleue at Home opened in Edinburgh to a fanfare of praise just two weeks ago with a promise to feed members of the homeless community once a week, while also contributing its profits to charity.

Now, the Queensferry Street eatery - run by father and daughter restaurateurs Dean and Layla Gassabi - has debuted its special meal service, made possible by “pay it forward” contributions from diners.

Guests were treated to a choice of venison haunch casserole with Mouselline cheesy mash or a wild mushroom penne pasta dish, followed by apple and red berry crumble with vanilla ice cream.

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    Owner Layla Gassabi and Matt Kelly, manager of Maison Bleue. Picture: Ian Georgeson/Contributed

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    Those taking part were selected by three homeless charities, Social Bite, Crisis and The Big Issue and booked their places through Social Bite cafes. They dined in small groups, accompanied by volunteers.

    Diner Michelle Dounie said: “The staff were great and the food was amazing – I would easily give it five stars. We were even given food to take away aswell, which was just superb.

    “The atmosphere was perfect too, really calm. You would never think that you were sitting with homeless people having a meal. I was with my partner and it just felt like my partner had taken me out for a lovely dinner.”

    Owner Layla Gassabi and Matt Kelly, manager of Maison Bleue. Picture: Ian Georgeson/Contributed

    Fellow diner, Natalie Mullen, commented: “I really enjoyed it my first experience at the restaurant.

    “It was good to come along, get out of the cold and enjoy a hot meal in the company of other folk who are in the same situation. I would definitely recommend it to others.”

    The restaurant is staffed, run and designed by the Maison Bleue team and for this venture, they are working in partnership with Josh Littlejohn of the Social Bite sandwich chain, a social enterprise which supports homeless people.

    Layla said: “It’s wonderful that Maison Bleue now has the opportunity to give something back to the homeless community and, in the process, donate profits to charities that are very close to our hearts.

    “Our first sitting for homeless guests was a fantastic success. We were determined to make sure everyone really enjoyed the experience and that our guests received the same quality of service and delicious home-cooked meals as all our customers do.

    “The feedback has been fantastic. Everybody really enjoyed it and we are excited to now begin this initiative on a weekly basis.”

    Matt Kelly, Manager of Maison Bleue at Home, added: “Our aim is to help combat homelessness by providing those less fortunate with a nutritious and filling meal in a relaxed, friendly and safe environment – which is exactly what we have done today.

    “The generosity of diners as part of our ‘pay it forward’ scheme has been very heartening and we hope the service was beneficial for those who came along.”

    Since opening its doors the restaurant has been a hit with diners impressed by Maison Bleue’s hallmark eclectic mix of Scottish and French-inspired cuisine, with many making taking the chance to make “pay it forward” contributions.

    The sittings for homeless guests will run weekly on a Monday from 3-5pm and will see 50 guests enjoy a choice of two freshly cooked courses and dessert, which have been specially selected to provide a hearty meal for vulnerable members of society. Places can be booked through the Social Bite cafes.

    Josh Littlejohn sees the restaurant’s social enterprise ethos as a natural evolution of the Social Bite chain which he founded. The “sandwich shops with a difference” use a similar pay it forward model to provide food for homeless people. Meanwhile one in four of Social Bite’s staff were formerly homeless.

    Josh added: “We want the Monday meal services to be an opportunity for the homeless community to eat with dignity - not to offer a handout but a hand up - to employment, stability and self-worth.

    “It’s a natural evolution of what we’ve been doing at Social Bite and it’s fantastic to see people are getting on board and supporting us in the same way.”

    Maison Bleue at Home will be giving 100% of its profits to charity – 50% directly to Social Bite and 50% to other good causes chosen by staff. The restaurant will also provide a training and employment programmes for members of the Social Bite Academy, a four-year paid course for homeless people.

    The venture is backed by an impressive list of prominent names from the Scottish restaurant scene. Along with Dean and Josh, other board members including David Wither of the Montpelier Group, restaurateur Simon Littlejohn and Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart.