Barra snails on menu at city French restaurant

Fred Berkmiller says he is expecting regular deliveries of petit gris over the summer months. Picture: Jon Savage
Fred Berkmiller says he is expecting regular deliveries of petit gris over the summer months. Picture: Jon Savage
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THEY are certainly not fast food, but one restauranteur hopes they will fly out of the kitchen. Although they are commonly associated with France, chef patron of L’Escargot Bleu in Broughton Street, Fred Berkmiller, is using snails from a bit closer to home – the island of Barra.

A 12kg supply of snails has been delivered to L’Escargot Bleu and L’Escargot Blanc in Queensferry Street.

Fred, 43, who usually sources his escargot from a farm in Dorset, said: “Until now, all our snails have been imported but we try to buy Scottish produce whenever possible, so to be able to offer Scottish snails in a French restaurant in Edinburgh is just wonderful.

“We have them on trial at the moment. One of our suppliers from Barra got in touch with me and he mentioned that he was supplying snails.

“I saw some pictures of them and I realised that they were petit gris snails, which are the same as the ones we use in France.

“They’re looking good to me and because Barra is protected you cannot use pesticides on the island so I expect they 
will be of high quality.” Due to the calcium-rich machair – fertile grassy plain – and lack of pesticides, Barra, in the Outer Hebrides, is home to an abundance of snails. The Isle of Barra Oyster Company had been looking for a solution to the over-supply some time – and found it thanks to Fred.

The snails are now available in both restaurants and regular deliveries are expected over the summer.

Fred, who was born in Tours in the Loire Valley, said: “It’s the first time we have got them in and we are giving them a try.

“What I know is the snails are the right kind. They are wild, and people just walk around the island picking them up. We’re not talking about a farmed animal, we are talking about a free animal.”

Despite being popular with our Gallic neighbours, many Scottish diners may feel some trepidation at the thought of munching the molluscs for the first time.

But Fred has urged people to give them a go, adding: “If you don’t try them you will never find out if you like them or not.”

Manuela Calchini, regional director of VisitScotland, said: “It’s great that the snails are being sourced from a Scottish supplier. Whilst diners will associate the delicacy with its French origin, the fact that they are actually eating snails from the Scottish Isle of Barra in the Hebrides adds an extra talking point and illustrates perfectly the wonderful fresh, quality, local produce available in this country.”

Fast food this ain’t

Snails are known for being slow - and preparing them for the dinner table also takes some time.

Commis chef James Goullee, 33, explains: “The snails are starved for four days. After that they are placed in sea salt for a couple of hours, which helps take out any impurities. Then they are rinsed off one by one, blanched in boiling water and taken out of the shells.

“You then clean them to get rid of the intestines.

“After that you cook them in a flavoured water for a few hours until they are tender and cooked.

“There’s a fair bit of work involved.

“Preparing them does take some time – perhaps a day in total.”

Once finished, snails go well with garlic butter, parsley or served up with chicken or steak.