Chef Roy Brett's relationships with his suppliers produces some top-quality fish at Ondine. Neil Gerrard pays a visit
If you've ever wondered where the inspiration for one of Scotland's top seafood restaurants came from, then Roy Brett's late father deserves some of the credit. As a child, it was flyfishing with his father that first introduced Brett to preparing and cooking fish, and this was something that he carried into his career as a chef.
"I felt more identification with cooking it, maybe coming from the east coast of Scotland and spending many a holiday fishing with my father. It was always part of my life. Once we caught it, the philosophy was you had to eat it, so you had to prepare it," he explains.
Since then, Brett has established himself as one of Scotland's top chef-patrons, winning a clutch of awards, including AA Restaurantâ¨of the Year Scotland 2013-14 and Good Food Guide Scottish Restaurant of the Year 2011.
Key to his success are the relationships he has built up with fishermen across the UK. "These are people who go out, risking their lives, just so you can put some fish on the table," he says. "You start to gain an enormous respect for them and to become far more interested in what they do and the cycle of how it works - from what time the day boats go out to what the weather conditions are like. You really respect the catch they come back with."
The menu at Ondine is strongly influenced by the recommendations of the suppliers he uses - firms such as Welch Fishmongers, Frank Hederman, Fish Brothers, and the â¨Ethical Shellfish Company - rather than Brett â¨simply telling them what he wants.
As a result, the six varieties of oysters available often change according to what is bestâ¨at any given time, following the advice ofâ¨brokers like Wright Brothers in London. Brett also likes to ensure that at least a couple of those are local varieties, so when The Caterer visits, Loch Na Keal oysters from the Isle of Mull and Creran oysters from Argyll are both on offer at £18 for six oysters or £3 each.
That's not to say that Brett ties himself only to what is most local. The menu can change daily, according to what his suppliers recommend. "Last week we had baked Cornish â¨spider crab, Dover sole, Cornish lemon sole and Cornish sea bass. To have four types of Cornish fish and shellfish on our menu was quite rare, but we got the phone call to say 'you have got to take this, it is incredible'," the chef (pictured below right with head chef Ishu Mehrotra) explains.
Ondine is best known for its fruits of the sea platter and the roasted shellfish platter (both £68). At the time of writing, both included Dunbar lobster, Loch Fyne oysters, Dunbar crab, Brittany palourdes, Mull scallops, East Coast cockles and clams, Shetland mussels, Tarbet langoustines and Portuguese prawns.
Brett feels the roasted platter is particularly impressive. A mix between caramelised shells and a marinière, the larger shells are roasted on the plancha and finished off on the grill. The chefs take the head meat out of the shells and make a sauce with garlic butter. The small shells are cooked a la marinière, and the dish is served with the roasted shells on the base and the small shells on the top. It has proven hugely popular, especially with visitors from Asia, and although designed for two people to share, most regulars have one to themselves.
Ondine is known for being meticulous about its sustainable sourcing. However, Brett took the decision around eight months ago not to display the MSC certificate and logo on his menu - he feels that his relationships with his suppliers are so strong that he can trust them to inform him of the best, most sustainable produce, without being bound by the strictures that MSC accreditation involves. For example, according to Brett, there has been a lot of positivity about North Sea cod - stock that for years had been dwindling - and he believes it is now far more sustainable than has been perceived. "Our fishermen are â¨telling me that there is a bounty of cod and when they are going out to catch haddock they are getting cod in the nets," he says. As a result, Brett has happily put North Sea cod on the menu at Ondine for the first time.
"The MSC is still a very worthy organisation, but I'm at a point now where I would far rather be supporting the Scottish economy and â¨Scottish, British and Irish fishermen," he says.
The approach is clearly working. The 74-cover restaurant now serves up to 2,000 people a week when at its busiest in August, with an average spend per head of £45.
Looking to the future, Brett, who recently also took up a role as food director of Loch Fyne, indicates that a new restaurant is possible - but those are cards that he is keeping close to his chest for the time being. In the meantime, he and his wife Karen have plenty of tweaks in mind for Ondine, including new crockery and placemats, contemporary Scottish uniforms for the staff and artwork from local artist Davy Macdonald.
"We haven't stopped investing and we haven't stopped believing," he says. "We are still doing the right thing."
From the menu
- Salt and pepper squid tempura (Peterhead) and Vietnamese dipping sauce £12
- Ondine peat-smoked salmon, red onions, capers and horseradish mayonnaise £13
- Guy Grieves' grilled diver scallops (Isle of Mull) in the shell and organic sausage £24
- Line-caught Cornish sea bass, celeriac â¨purée and red wine sauce £26
- Treacle tart and clotted cream £8
- Lemon posset, granola crumb, meringueâ¨and lemon curd £8
Ondine 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD