This family-run eaterie in the cosmopolitan Stockbridge area of Edinburgh has been serving its informal take on fine dining for the past 10 years. Leyla Kazim reports
Stockbridge was recently voted the third coolest place to live in the UK by The Times The restaurant has held two AA rosettes since 2008
Facts and Stats
Opening hours Tuesday- Thursday and Sunday: 7pm-9.30pm; Friday and Saturday: 6.30pm-9.30pm. Private bookings are available for lunch
Number of staff Nine, two of which are full-time
Covers Tuesday to Thursday: 20-25; Friday to Sunday: 40-45
Average spend £50, but less during the week when a set menu is available
Head chef Jason Gallagher
General manager Jane Walker
Need to know
Stockbridge in Edinburgh has become a hotspot for independent and individual businesses, attracting discerning clientele with its culture and bespoke shops. Found in this part of town on St Stephen Street is the Stockbridge restaurant, a 35-seat family-run eaterie, which has been serving its informal take on fine dining for the past 10 years.
South African-born chef-proprietor Jason Gallagher has 30 years' experience in the catering and hospitality industry. His CV encompasses several two-AA-rosette restaurants, successful bars and winning City Chef of the Year at the 2008 Scottish Chef Awards. It was in 2004 that, together with his business partner and general manager Jane Walker, Gallagher pursued his dream of opening his own business, and the two bought the Stockbridge.
Managing most of the work themselves as the only full-time members of staff, and choosing to open only in the evenings, the small operation is one that fits their way of life.
The restaurant welcomes guests from a broad age range. "Our target market is anything from 25 to 65, if not older," says Walker. "I think we're lucky that we get such a crosssection - we're not a young place, but we're not 'fuddy duddy' either."
The intimacy of the space attracts a lot of couples seeking a romantic setting, yet it is big enough to accommodate groups. Weekends are often occupied by visitors from within the UK and abroad, but footfall from passing trade isn't high enough to make it financially viable to open during the day.
How does it stand out?
It will come as no surprise that there is a lot of competition in Edinburgh, but Walker believes one of their unique selling points is consistency.
"People come back because they know Jason is still in the kitchen and they know I'm still in the front - they know they'll always receive an individual, friendly and unpretentious experience," she says.
Walker also puts the successful business down to the locally sourced, seasonal and cooked-to-order menu, the bespoke wine list supplied by boutique wineries and the bread made by Gallagher on the premises each day.
"Jason's scallops are always very popular. He also does a lovely halibut dish with fried quail egg, crispy pancetta, crushed potato, girolle mushrooms, spinach and a mustard sauce, which goes down really well," says Walker.
The restaurant sees itself as bucking the trend of the contemporary eateries that have opened in the area in recent times. "We're very different - we are quirky inside, and we still have the white tablecloths. We're quite a contrast to some of the other more modern places," she says.
Rather than paying for advertising, the Stockbridge restaurant donates raffle prizes to causes and events to help promote awareness.
Along with involving themselves in their local community, the business has found PR agencies and word-of-mouth to be the most effective marketing channels.
A lot of the business comes directly from the website or OpenTable, with social media occasionally being entertained. "I have Facebook and Twitter accounts. I understand the worth of it all, but I'm not overly crazy about it," says Walker.
Local bloggers are embraced, who Walker will initially engage with on Twitter. "I really enjoy other people's blogs, especially if they're linked to Pinterest, for example," she says.
Best business advice
"If you think you're going to spend a certain amount, double it," is Walker's first pearl of wisdom. Along with realistic budgeting, Walker believes that if you are faced with an obstacle, take some time out to think about it.
"Don't get overwhelmed and react immediately. Take yourself out of the situation and look at all aspects before you make a decision. Do your research and arm yourself with the required knowledge. And ask people for help and advice," she says.
Being in the industry requires an ability to "work long hours and get up and get on with it", according to Walker. "But you need to be able to have a life and have fun too," she says.
Along with a possible refurbishment, the next few years for the Stockbridge restaurant is about keeping standards high and customers happy. "It's important to constantly introduce new things, even if they are small, like a new drink or a different menu," says Walker.
Spotlight on… wine
Jane Walker has studied wine up to an advanced level at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has five suppliers from which she builds her menu.
"I like to change my wine regularly, introducing different ones at different times of year," she explains.
Being perceived as fair in terms of price point is important to the business. "I don't rip people off with my wine. I have a lot of affordable, really nice wines that I don't mark up like some places do. There isn't a need for it - we want to develop a trust with our customers so they return," she says.
In addition, on Sunday evenings customers can bring their own wine and the restaurant charges corkage. "It's something we introduced years ago for the locals. Jason does a set menu, but adds some Á la carte options which carry a supplement. Sundays are very popular because of this," she says.