Restaurant Andrew Fairlie has been sensitively redesigned, with refreshed food and decor that still pays tribute to its much-missed founder.
In January, 22 years after it first opened its doors at Gleneagles, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie secured the number one spot in Harden's Top 100 UK Restaurants. It was a bittersweet moment for the team as the award simultaneously doffed its cap to one of Scotland's most treasured chefs, while acknowledging that the two-Michelin-starred restaurant that bears his name has evolved. But Fairlie wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
"Andrew's passing was a horrible thing to have to experience," says head chef Stevie McLaughlin, who started working alongside Andrew in 1995, "but I think, professionally, it galvanised the core team. I'm so proud of them – we're not resting on anything. But next year, there's no goal to be the best in Europe – we just want to be better than we were last year."
It's a view wholeheartedly shared by Dale Dewsbury, general manager of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, who joined the restaurant when it opened in 2001 and won the Michelin Guide Service Award last year. "If somebody asked us ‘do you want to be a three-star restaurant?' I don't think any of us would say ‘yes', but we do want to get to the end of the year and know that we've improved, and in lots of ways – quality of cooking, environment…"
Fairlie passed away on 22 January 2019 following a 14-year battle with cancer. He underwent major surgery for the partial removal of a brain tumour in 2005, and received treatment on and off thereafter. Despite some physical hardships, he worked at the restaurant until November 2018, spending those intervening years nurturing the team and preparing them for a restaurant without its creator. As the website states, Andrew continued to "lead the way for outstanding cuisine, service and culture, doing so with great judgement, humility, humour, and inspiration".
Critical to Fairlie's succession planning was his long-term arrangement with Gleneagles. Fairlie was essential to the contract, which had been initially signed with Peter Lederer, Patrick Elsmie and Alan Hill, and latterly with Sharan Pasricha, founder and chief executive of Ennismore, Gleneagles owner, and Gleneagles managing director Conor O'Leary. But when Fairlie's life was coming to an end, he knew he needed to enter into discussions with Pasricha and O'Leary to safeguard the future of the restaurant for its team.
"When it came to the inevitable, for a period of time, there was a real possibility we would close," explains Dewsbury. "But when Andrew explained his diagnosis to Sharan, all that turned on its head very quickly. Then it was a case of getting everything in place so we could carry on exactly as normal."
Kate Fairlie, Andrew's wife, was appointed a director so that the business was able to run under the same ownership. "Kate took on that role and she obviously has a great insight into the restaurant because she was Andrew's partner, but she was never involved in the day-to-day," says Dewsbury.
"We both [Dewsbury and McLaughlin] said: ‘we're happy to take it on, it's natural for us, it's what we've been working towards throughout the life of the restaurant'. We see Kate, we speak a lot, we have monthly meetings about finance, performance – she takes a massive interest – but she gives us a huge amount of free rein, as Andrew did, to run it as we see fit."
Dewsbury and McLaughlin are both directors now and have a share in the business. "I don't take that for granted," says Dewsbury. "In the same way that I took responsibility every day when Andrew was here, I did it because he allowed me to. If we'd have carried on in exactly the same way, I would have been happy and I would have been here till I retire. But that generosity, that's Andrew all over, and Kate was keen to get that in place."
"It's the exact same for me," interjects McLaughlin. "I still work for Andrew."
After the death of Andrew Fairlie
When Fairlie passed away, the hotel was hugely supportive, extending the contract for three years to give the team some breathing space. "There was no change of terms, everything was the same, and they assured us there was nothing to worry about," says Dewsbury. "It got us to the end of 2019, which was a busy year, but we did wonder if people would stop coming? Was their relationship with the restaurant based purely on Andrew?"
On entering Restaurant Andrew Fairlie today, the essence of the chef is still palpable. Paintings of Fairlie by leading Scottish contemporary colourist painter Archie Forrest continue to embellish the walls, and the atmosphere of a grand hotel dining room – very much Fairlie's vision for the restaurant – is apparent.
And yet, working hand in glove with Kate Fairlie, much has changed. Last year the restaurant was redesigned, returning what had been two rooms for the past two decades to the one room created when the hotel opened in 1924. The decision was also made to operate seven days a week (dinner only) having always been a six-day-a-week operation, and the team has grown accordingly.
"I suppose we've done a complete reversal of what most of the industry has done," says Dewsbury. "We've not reduced our hours – we've extended them – and that was a big deal for us. We used to close Sundays. But we came out of Covid and every night we would do anniversaries, big birthdays… People had missed those, and we just couldn't catch up. Opening seven nights a week, giving us another night of revenue, was the obvious thing to do."
There has always been a great synergy between Gleneagles and Restaurant Andrew Fairlie in their quest for excellence, says O'Leary, and it's a huge draw for customers looking to experience the best that Scotland can offer in terms of fine dining and five-star hospitality. "More than that though,"
he says, "the restaurant, through Andrew, Dale and Stevie, is part of our family, and it was never even a question of ‘if' we would support. We have enjoyed a great legacy together and look forward to a future helping each other evolve and grow."
Andrew Fairlie's Secret Garden
Key to the menu's evolution is Fairlie's beloved Secret Garden, nine miles down the road from the hotel. "The garden helps us write our menu," explains McLaughlin. "We are almost seven, eight years down the line of the garden now. Jo [Campbell, head grower] grew everything that she could – we tried everything, we tasted everything. Now we've got to a place where we've just pared back to what we love, what suits, what we want to cook, what we want to grow and then how we want to evolve the garden as well."
In season, 90% of the vegetables, herbs, cresses, flowers hail from the garden.
"But I find it very hard coming back from the garden to work because it's the place where I feel Andrew the most," says McLaughlin. "I spent a lot of time with him in the garden – talking, listening, and watching him work with Jo. It's such a calm place – you can't help but feel Andrew down there."
Dewsbury felt the loss of Fairlie on both a personal and professional level: "On a personal level, I missed him, I missed my personal and professional interaction with him, but I was able to come to work and know what I had to do because it was pretty much the same. But the one person whose opinion you want, is the one person whose opinion you can't ask for."
When Fairlie's health deteriorated, he held a conversation with the whole team, advising them of his prognosis. Dewsbury explains: "During the conversation, he said ‘I'd love to be able to come back in four or five years' time and lift the lid off the restaurant and look in and see a restaurant I want to eat in. That comes to me more than anything. Nobody can take the best part of 20 years of my life out of me. I'll never forget that – it's fundamental to who I am professionally and personally, but that isn't going to stop me from wanting to make the restaurant better.
"If he lifts the lid now, he's going to see a brilliant restaurant that he'd want to eat in, and he'd have a great night. There's a lightness about the place. Anything we do is inseparable from Andrew because it is a part of who we are. That's exciting for me because there is a future, there is ambition, and he is part of that. I worry that people think it's a museum piece – it's not. It's a different restaurant than it was two years ago. It's a different restaurant than it was when Andrew was alive."
Fairlie's fellow Roux scholar Sat Bains, chef-proprietor of two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham and judge of on the annual Andrew Fairlie Scholarship alongside McLaughlin, has been making an annual pilgrimage to Gleneagles ever since the Roux Scholarship held its first study trip there in 2004.
"It's a magical place and it's has created incredible memories for me," he says. "[My wife] Amanda and I have been going back most years and we always eat at Andrew's. We loved the evolution of what he was doing and the lovely classicism of his style of cuisine."
"They are obviously following a lead from Andrew and creating what they think Andrew would be doing himself, and you have to take your hat off to that."
According to O'Leary, the changes show the team's ambition to maintain the evolution of the restaurant. "Andrew always challenged himself and the team to keep moving and it's wonderful to see that continuing through Dale, Stevie and Kate. It's clever future-proofing for the years ahead, ensuring the team keeps the business at the top of its game, now and in years to come."
How Andrew Fairlie is still making his mark on the menu today
Those familiar with the cooking of Andrew Fairlie will spot many dishes on the menu that have his trademark, such as his home-smoked Scottish lobster, warm lime and herb butter – a dish he was inspired to create following his Roux Scholarship stage at Michel Guérard's Les Prés d'Eugénie in France in the 1980s.
McLaughlin says: "The actual dish that the lobster is served on, and the accompanying cloche, was the last piece of crockery that Andrew introduced into the restaurant before he passed. So, the entire dish has Andrew's fingertips on it."
There were lots of dishes that McLaughlin and Andrew worked on together but, during those final years, McLaughlin says their real focus was on taste and flavour. "We had a lot of enjoyable, lengthy conversations about food and flavour over the years, and it is these conversations that I take with me when preparing a menu.
"There are also single Scottish ingredients that I know Andrew loved – such as hand-dived scallops, grouse and wild mushrooms – so there are times of year when these will always appear on the menu, though not always necessarily how Andrew would have prepared them."
Examples of this include roasted scallops, lightly sauced with herb juices or a light, fragrant dashi; and roasted game, accompanied by its own sausage or a freshly prepared tartare. Dishes that have been introduced since Andrew's passing include Scotch beef on the degustation menu: "The key with the beef is the sourcing – we know it's brought to us with the greatest integrity from the farmer and from the butcher. It's also a product we all absolutely love and feel very proud of.
"The power of seasoning is something we learned solely through Andrew's teaching and mentoring, so we do this entirely with him in mind. The seasoning we use for this dish is a house Bloody Mary. Dale makes this every day, and we change the units slightly through the year to suit the season. For example, in spring and summer, it might be spiked with a little Mezcal, and in the darker months it would be perfumed with an appropriate red wine. The depth of the detail and the understanding of the power of seasoning correctly comes directly from Andrew – undoubtedly, his DNA is in the seasoning of this dish."
Redesigning Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
The refurbishment of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie took place within the smallest of windows – the restaurant's three-week annual closure of January last year.
Working with Ennismore's inhouse design team, Kate Fairlie, Dewsbury and McLaughlin were keen to reintroduce some of the room's original character, such as reinstating the fireplace that was in situ from 1924 when Gleneagles first opened, re-emphasising some of the art deco style and increasing the levels of comfort for the diner.
While the need to freshen and improve was clear, so was the importance not to lose the connection to Fairlie. For example, Archie Forrest's artwork had been central to the style and personality of the room since it opened in 2001, and the only addition was a bespoke installation above the fireplace by Rachel Dein.
"Rachel cast produce that we grew in Our Secret Garden with vines to encapsulate Andrew's love of the garden, of the produce that inspires our cooking, and its relationship with wine," says Dewsbury.
In a similar vein, tabletops are dressed with bespoke pots designed and thrown by Siobhan Miles-Moore, who incorporated vegetable ash from the garden into the glaze.
In practical terms, capacity was reduced slightly to ensure every table was well appointed and private, and to eradicate any ‘lesser' tables. "The desire that every table should be as good as the most requested tables in the previous restaurant has become a reality. All furniture – banquettes, chairs, carpet, service station and spirit cabinet – were bespoke designed and manufactured. The latest incarnation learned many lessons from our previous 20 years and has given us a beautiful space to welcome our guests."
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