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The Caterer

James Thomson

12 May 2005
James Thomson

Overall ranking: 85

Restaurateurs ranking: 28

Snapshot

James Thomson is responsible for some of Edinburgh's most opulent and world famous restaurants and rooms which have helped revitalise the city's historic Old Town and proved a major draw for international tourists.

His empire, which employs more than 250 staff, encompasses the Witchery by the Castle, Secret Garden and Tower restaurants, the seven sumptuous Witchery Suites, and the five-star Prestonfield House hotel which houses the Rhubarb restaurant.

Career guide

Edinburgh-born Thomson, who is now in his mid-forties, spent his teens working at the city's Crawfords Tearooms and Prestonfield House hotel before gaining additional experience at a Jersey hotel at the age of 17.

With the support of his parents, Thomson opened his Witchery by the Castle restaurant in 1979. As demand began to outstrip supply, he followed it with the Secret Garden next door in 1989 and started to develop the Witchery suites to accommodate the rich and famous in adjacent buildings.

The new Museum of Scotland was the home for his 1998 restaurant, The Tower, which has won many awards and a Michelin entry.

In 2003 Thomson bought the 26-bedroom Prestonfield House (where he worked in his teens) for a rumoured £5m. He relaunched it as an AA top 200 five-red-star hotel in November 2004.

What we say

Thomson has been a fixture on the Edinburgh hospitality scene for more than 25 years since becoming Scotland's youngest licensee when he opened the Witchery by the Castle at the age of 20.

His goal of creating magical dining experiences within unique and atmospheric settings has proved a major tourist magnet for the city. His establishments, which are popular with A-list celebrities and locals, routinely evoke descriptions such as theatrical, romantic, indulgent and decadently opulent from reviewers.

The Witchery by the Castle was built in an historic but nearly derelict basement beside the city's Castlehill. The Secret Garden (once described as the prettiest restaurant ever) was constructed on a derelict schoolyard next door and won the Sunday Times RAIS Regeneration award, while the seven Witchery Suites used historic buildings above and adjacent to the Witchery.

Thomson made waves with The Tower, which was Scotland's first rooftop restaurant. He went on to transform the run-down 17th century Prestonfield House hotel into an antidote to the bland uniformity of so many hotels.

Thomson's creative and financial success and his liberal support of tourism in Edinburgh and Scotland, of educational and training initiatives, and of community charities won him the Silver Thistle award in 2004.

Two decades ago he supported the creation of the Caddies & Witchery Tours, Scotland's first costumed walking tours which have since been copied throughout the UK

His countless hospitality and tourism roles include vice-chairman of the British Hospitality Association and Restaurant Association and founder member and past chairman of the Edinburgh Restaurateur's Association.

He is a director of Springboard Scotland, a regular sponsor of the VisitScotland Thistle Awards and, in 1999, he endowed the James Thomson Award for Excellence in Customer Service to assist students at Edinburgh's Telford College.

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