Glasgow and Edinburgh: Tale of Two Cities

07 March 2013
Glasgow and Edinburgh: Tale of Two Cities

Edinburgh boasts an impressive list of chef-led restaurants, including five with Michelin stars. Glasgow, on the other hand, is much more about the midmarket, with a diverse range of cuisine-led eateries but no top accolades from the little red book. Cate Devine explores what it takes to be a success in these distinctly different cities

Gradually, though, those hoping for a Glasgow restaurant to make an appearance among Michelin's list of stars have become less enthused as the years have gone by. It's been 10 years since the city - Scotland's largest, and upcoming host of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 - could boast a star. Gordon Ramsay's Amaryllis at One Devonshire Gardens (now Hotel du Vin) closed its doors in 2003, having held the accolade for two years.

The elevation of Amaryllis had signalled continued stewardship of the star that Andrew Fairlie first attracted for One Devonshire Gardens in 1996, maintaining it until he left in 2001 to run his own restaurant at Gleneagles hotel in Perthshire. The fateful year of 2003 was doubly notable for being the one in which Nick Nairn, Scotland's first celebrity chef, whose Braeval Old Mill in Stirlingshire attracted an early star, also called time on his eponymous Glasgow restaurant.

Until Nairn and Ramsay pulled out - the latter controversially, declaring that he was doing so because there was no market for fine dining in Glasgow - it was almost a given that Glasgow's eating-out scene was superior to that of its arch-rival Edinburgh, just 45 miles away. After all, the legendary Malmaison at the city's Central hotel had landed Scotland's first Michelin star in 1974; while in pioneering the vogue for using fresh Scottish ingredients and stating their provenance on the menu, the Ubiquitous Chip had been building the city's culinary reputation internationally since 1971, and continues to do so.

And the speed with which Terence Conran opened the fine-dining French restaurant Étain in the city in 2003 - his first venture outside London - to fill the gap left by Ramsay and Nairn paid testimony to Glasgow's then-irresistible appeal to high-profile restaurateurs.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, didn't have any Michelin-starred restaurants until 2001, when Martin Wishart took the capital by storm, shortly to be followed by Jeff Bland's Number One at the Balmoral in 2003. Since then, Auld Reekie has stormed ahead, with five Michelin-starred restaurants, while Glasgow has languished, with none.

Conran didn't wait long enough for Étain to get a star: he closed it in 2006, only for his head chef, Geoffrey Smeddle, to gain a star at his own restaurant, the Peat Inn in Fife. And Michael Caines, having once stated he'd love his head chef to get a star for Glasgow, closed his restaurant at the Abode hotel in 2011.

This dramatic swing of the pendulum from west to east continues to confound the chattering classes. Even legendary chef Albert Roux recently declared himself "mystified" by the conundrum, because "Glaswegians spend more money per head on food and are quite free with it compared to Edinburgh".

Edinburgh, meanwhile, has been voted Europe's top destination in the World Travel Awards and attracts a regular stream of international tourists. This means its hippest places are more widely known, largely because the city has a bigger international footprint. Glasgow's foodie market, meanwhile, tends to be more home-based.

Glaswegians famously love a night out, but they don't necessarily like the formality that goes with fine dining. Perhaps that's down to the city's historic connections with Italy, as Glasgow has a huge volume of midmarket and upmarket eateries run by indigenous Scottish-Italians, such as La Parmigiana, Paperino's, Dino's and Sarti's, which have had a presence for many years.

The chain gang What's more, chain operators are in abundance in the city, with the likes of Jamie's Italian, Zizzi and Chaophraya opening massive restaurants with hundreds of seats, which they have no problem filling. There is an equally healthy number of specialist restaurants, such as French fine-dining Le Chardon d'Or or seafood eateries Gamba and Crabshakk, as well as midmarket independents, some of which - Rogano, Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, Cail Bruich and Stravaigin - are even recommended by the Michelin guide. Thus, Glasgow is a city of two halves.

Edinburgh is smaller and more homogeneous. It has recently seen a flourishing of independent midmarket restaurants and, if they match those of Glasgow in terms of quality, the difference is that their chefs are much more "out there". Timberyard, run by double Catey winners Andrew and Lisa Radford (see Menuwatch, page 52), Gardener's Cottage and Café St Honore all embrace current trends such as foraging and local sourcing.

But does this mean Glaswegians are less keen on foodie-fashionable eating than their Edinburgh counterparts? Are Glasgow's chefs victims of a west-of-Scotland "culinary cringe", or inferiority complex, that leaves them happy for its foodie reputation to remain second-best and for their profiles to remain relatively low?
Fairlie says it's wrong to think Glaswegians don't care about food. He cites the "droves" of Glaswegians who travel to Perthshire to eat at his eponymous restaurant - the only one with two Michelin stars in Scotland. "To say Glaswegians don't care about good food is absolute nonsense," he insists. "At my restaurant it's the Glaswegians who spend the money. The spending power in Glasgow is greater than it is in Edinburgh."

Wishart, who now has two starred establishments, in Leith and at Cameron House hotel at Loch Lomond, some 20 miles outside Glasgow, agrees: "About 30% of our Edinburgh customers are from Glasgow, and they 
certainly come to Cameron House, which 
indicates there's undoubtedly a huge foodie clientele in the city.

There's definitely a market in Glasgow; it's just that nobody's managed 
to get it right so far."

In the current economic climate, however, spending power is diminished and there are doubts about whether Edinburgh can sustain more than five Michelin stars. Wishart has been looking for a suitable venue for a second branch of the Honours, his successful Edinburgh brasserie, and has been keen to have a presence in Glasgow, but he is now also considering Aberdeen. "I'm not turning away from Glasgow, but you have to find the right location for your needs," he says. "I still think Glasgow could sustain a Michelin star, but anyone looking to open a new business in the restaurant industry needs to look very carefully at what exactly they want to do."

Ryan James, chair of the Glasgow Restaurateurs' Association and managing director of the Two Fat Ladies group of seafood restaurants in the city, is similarly realistic: "I think that for a chef with Michelin ambitions Glasgow is a difficult place to set yourself up, because after Ramsay and Nairn it got a reputation for being a hard nut to crack. All eyes would be upon whoever went for a star, and it would be all the more embarrassing if you took a fall."

But Ken McCulloch, the legendary Glasgow hotelier who founded One Devonshire Gardens with head chef Fairlie and went on to launch the Malmaison and Dakota hotel groups in the UK and Columbus in Monte Carlo, thinks Glasgow should stop being afraid of aiming high. "Glasgow is nowhere near as good as it should be - though not because it doesn't have a Michelin star, because stars are not what it should be looking for," he says.

"Glasgow needs to set its sights higher and believe in itself more, because people are ready to respond to that. Nobody should be afraid of doing something fabulous in Glasgow, because Glasgow always responds positively to people with big ambitions who do things well. Glaswegians want the best. I've always felt that."

Cate Devine is food writer at The Herald newspaper

Top restaurants past and present

â- Malmaison The French restaurant within the Central hotel, which in 1974 won the city's first Michelin star. It no longer exists, although the name was bought by hotelier Ken McCulloch in the 1980s. He went on to launch a successful hotel chain using the name.

â- La Parmigiana The oldest family-owned Italian restaurant in Glasgow, which is still going strong.

â- Rogano Art deco seafood restaurant established in 1935 and fitted out in the style of HMS Queen Mary. The oldest surviving restaurant in Glasgow.

â- Ubiquitous Chip Founded in 1971 by the late Ronnie Clydesdale, and the first to pioneer locally sourced produce and put provenance on the menu. Still going strong under the management of his son, Colin, and widow, Carol.

Edinburgh â- Cosmo Former Italian art deco restaurant, established in 1969 and favoured by Sean Connery. Now the Michelin-starred Castle Terrace under head chef Dominic Jack.

â- Librizzi Long-established family-run Sicilian eaterie, recently relaunched as Restaurant Mark Greenaway following the founder's retirement.

â- The North British hotel Established in 1902 and renowned for exceptional fine dining, where the chefs and kitchen staff communicated only in French. Reopened as the Balmoral in 1991 and has held a Michelin star under head chef Jeff Bland since 2003.

â- Henderson's Vegetarian restaurant and bistro. First opened as a shop in 1962, providing an outlet for the produce of Janet and Mac Henderson's East Lothian farm. Now thriving as a restaurant and bistro.


The foodie focus might be moving north-eastwards to Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe, which is currently enjoying an economic boom. Miltimber, in the west of the city, was recently named the wealthiest postcode in Scotland. Yet Aberdeen, traditionally an insular city where value for money means more than Michelin stars, has never previously had a presence on the culinary radar.

The midmarket multiples have already moved in, with no fewer than 20 familiar names such as Nando's, Frankie & Benny's, Prezzo, Wagamama and Yo! Sushi among those thronging the new shopping mall, Union Square. At a distance away, in the city centre, a branch of Jamie's Italian recently opened, shortly to be followed by a Carluccio's.

Nairn's Cook School in Aberdeen's city centre opened in June 2012 against the economic odds, yet it's doing so well that, further buoyed by the sell-out success of two recent pop-ups, Nick Nairn is now seriously considering opening a restaurant there.

"Aberdeen's been a revelation to me, and there's definitely a market there to support fine dining, now more than ever," he says. "We are thinking of doing something similar to J Sheekey's or the Wolseley - high-quality local steak and seafood. There's huge pride in the North-east for its magnificent local produce."

He suggests that if anyone were to land Aberdeen's first star it would be Kevin Dalgleish, the new head chef at Simpson's hotel. He arrived in late 2012 from Ackergill Tower in Caithness and his first Á la carte has been well received locally.

And Tony Singh, whose Oloroso fine-dining restaurant in Edinburgh fell victim to the economic downturn last year, is also contemplating a move to Aberdeen, which he describes as "an unexploited market".

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