Au revoir as French restaurant closes

La Garrigue in Eyre Place closed after turnover declined
La Garrigue in Eyre Place closed after turnover declined
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ONE of Edinburgh’s best-known French restaurants has shut its doors for good – sparking fears for the Capital’s restaurant trade.

La Garrigue in Eyre Place closed last week, with owner Jean-Michel Gauffre citing decline in turnover and consumer spending as reasons for his decision.

Jean-Michel Gauffre highlighted a fall in consumer spending

Jean-Michel Gauffre highlighted a fall in consumer spending

The original La Garrigue restaurant in Jeffrey Street – which opened in 2001 – will remain open, as will Mr Gauffre’s recently purchased bistro in Leith’s Commercial Street.

The Eyre Place premises – which began trading as L’Artichaut vegetarian restaurant three years ago – closed last week after Mr Gauffre shut for refurbishment on April 23.

It is understood interested parties are in talks about taking over the leasehold, and that a deal could be signed imminently.

Mr Gauffre – from the Languedoc region of France – admitted he had overstretched himself. He said: “It was just too ambitious to run three restaurants. It was getting too much. A lot of the industry is suffering – the amount of cash that people have to spend just now is getting tighter and tighter and the turnover at that restaurant was getting lower and lower.

“It was a very hard decision to take. But maybe I should have closed it a year ago.”

Mr Gauffre said closure would allow him to focus on his remaining businesses.

He added: “The really high class restaurants are doing well. People who go there have enough money to go out and pay the kind of prices that these places demand. Then you get the lower market, who can afford to discount a little bit more. But for the ones in the middle – like mine – life is tougher.

“The competition is also getting better and better and your share of the cake is getting smaller and smaller.”

The development follows the sale of David Ramsden’s Seadogs restaurant in January and the near-collapse of Iggs Restaurant, whose fortunes were revived after it was given a makeover for TV show The Restaurant Inspector.

Industry figures believe Mr Gauffre’s move signalled a deteriorating trading backdrop which they said would stay weak as the economy flatlines and government austerity cuts bite.

Malcolm Duck, chairman of Edinburgh Restaurateurs Association and owner of Ducks at Kilspindie House in Aberlady, said: “Edinburgh is a place restaurants can do well in, but the scene here is tough and will remain tough for another couple of years.

“Banking has been hit hard, property has been hit hard. There’s less disposable income in the city and a lot of people are turning to deal sites like Groupon.

“Jean-Michel is a great chef and it’s sad he’s closing, but it’s interesting that chefs who were expanding quickly on success are now closing. It begs the question – is expanding in this climate a good idea?”

Martin Wishart – who added to his Michelin-starred restaurant in Leith last year by opening The Honours on North Castle Street – said: “It’s a sign of difficult times for restaurants and it’s not going to get easier over the next few months.”

Stuart Mackinnon, senior advisor at the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “We know that many businesses were hoping for an upturn which hasn’t happened yet, and we need to see Edinburgh City Council and all parts of government pull together to get the economy moving.”

TOUGH TIMES

IT’S tough. Edinburgh has the highest density of restaurants in the UK outside of London, which is good for consumers but a lot of work for owners.

What we have also seen in the last few years is the rise of the ubiquitous branded offer – UK restaurants offering a dining experience in Edinburgh that’s consistent with their menus across the UK and very affordable. For an independent to compete with that is hard work.

With individuals and corporate organisations looking carefully at their budgets – and having less money to spend – restaurants are in a hard place.

But tourism continues to perform well, which will help many restaurants in the city.

• Graham Birse, Chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce