Alison Craig: Show an appetite for our fine restaurants

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As the multinationals spread along our high streets, gradually erasing the history and charm 
 of the local shops that once lined Edinburgh’s streets, it is with a heavy heart that I read Tesco has now applied to open on Princes Street. The final nail that will render shopping on our once jewel of the city, Princes Street, near enough charm free

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Tourism being a huge part of Edinburgh’s income, it will become harder to sell the joys of shopping in our lovely city if our main shopping street looks like a carbon copy of everywhere else.

Despite the fact that we are now in the fifth year of a recession, it becomes apparent that as ever the people of our spirited nation are still opening new businesses in nooks, crannies, corners and local areas – determined to buck the trend and cock a snook at the 
economic doom-mongers.

Just last night I fell upon a restaurant which opened its doors that very day. The Roamin’ Nose in Eyre Place in the old le Marche Noir site. Hungry – as usual – in we went to be greeted by a charming team of enthusiasts, who presented us with a short menu of well-priced and tempting Italian home-cooked food.

We had a lovely evening and felt the bonhomie, and we were far from alone – locals streamed in all evening for a drink, snack or meal, all keen to see the new arrivals and welcome them to the Canonmills area.

We vowed to be back soon, and we will and must.

There are several other places opened recently, nestled far enough away from the heart of the city and yet perfectly placed to become what every locality needs – a great local restaurant. Something that can rapidly become a favourite with the local residents and visitors who keep their ears to the ground. After all, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool in Edinburgh.

Starting a restaurant in the middle of a recession is close to my heart. David Howie, my husband, started Howies in 1990 in the middle of a recession, sold it years later and then in a fit of madness bought it back again last December in the middle of another recession. But there is one thing people always need to do and that is eat.

I am not talking about the special occasion high-end expensive options but about local, well-priced and well-cooked Scottish food.

There is nothing better than getting out of the house, and away from the TV news laden with doom, to meet with like-minded people, sit and enjoy a great meal, great company and receive a bill at the end of it that will not break the bank.

In fact, with winter round the corner, it should be available on the NHS as there is nothing more soul destroying than sitting alone with a tin of beans and a cat staring at you when you can get out there and have a steaming hot bowl of soup and bread for a few quid in beautifully lit, warm and convivial surroundings.

When Howies opened 22 years ago we were doing a two-course lunch for £7.95, and here we are, a generation later, doing our two-course lunch for £8.95 – that says more about the economy than I ever can so please support your local restaurant, whether a new kid on the block or one as familiar to you as your own family.

These operators are the ones who have stuck their necks out and are trying, against tram dramas, recession and pessimistic economists to lift our spirits and provide us with a unique and delicious way to forget the drudgery for a few hours. As they say, use them or lose them. With every one that opens, there are several that have not managed to keep their heads above water.

Think Oloroso, Abstract, Atrium and Seadogs just for starters, most of which were high-priced restaurants and all of which were in high rateable areas. But the customer today is looking for value for money above all else.

A small restaurant can tailor their menu daily to market fresh availability at the keenest of prices, which the chains just cannot do as they tend to be part of a massive business often controlled and run south of the 
Border.

In addition, they often have such hideously high overheads that they have to charge accordingly. But great value food is out there if you look for it. Shop around and you will be amazed at the deals that are out there.

If we make sure to get out there and patronise these establishments, now as well as when the going is tough, then we can be sure they will still be here when the going gets better and we will all prosper together again. Bon Appetit!