A NEW Italian restaurant is set to open its first Capital branch as the number of West End eateries continues to grow.
ASK will open a 4000sq ft branch in Shandwick Place early next year, in premises formerly occupied by Lothian Regional Transport and shoe shop Clarks.
Gourmet fast-food joint Burger recently filled a former frame shop in Shandwick Place while Las Iguanas also opened a new branch in George Street in the former premises of hairdressers Toni and Guy.
YO! Sushi also took over a former Clarks branch to became the first restaurant to open in nearby Princes Street in decades after the council revised its “shops only” plan for the street.
Demand has soared for restaurant space in the West End over the past 18 months, said Callum Mortimer, associate director of property consultancy CBRE’s Edinburgh retail team.
Mr Mortimer said: “In the last 18 months we have seen a notable surge in demand from restaurant operators keen to take space within Edinburgh city centre, however there is a lack of availability, particularly for well- configured units of over 2000sq ft.
“Subsequently when opportunities arise there tends to be strong competition.
“The strength of Edinburgh’s restaurant market has resulted in many operators monitoring the market for opportunities at an early stage – therefore we were able to achieve a fantastic result for our client despite not having to promote the property formally.”
The approach of the £850 million pound St James Quarter has seen many retail businesses gravitate towards the east of the city centre, prompting other areas to “up their game”, said Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.
He said: “I think it is going to be really important for the West End and the western parts of the actual city centre to establish themselves as a destination.
“I do think everyone will need to look at what their role is.
“If you look at what is planned for the St James Quarter, it’s going to be fantastic for the city but it is going to mean everyone else needs to up their game.”
He said the west end of George Street had transformed into “a thriving restaurant scene”, which is attracting other restaurants to that part of the Capital.
Mr Neal added: “It is establishing itself as the place to go for great hospitality.”
Food writer Nadine Pierce said dining habits are changing, with soaring numbers of eateries mirroring people’s rising interest in eating out.
Ms Pierce, who created the eatingedinburgh.com website, said: “I think people eat out more often these days.
“I think people are just so interested in food now, so much more so than they used to be. It is so much more accessible and better value now.”
However, she questioned whether the influx of chain restaurants was a good thing for the city’s burgeoning food scene.
Ms Pierce added: “There seems to be a lot of chains opening and I am not sure that is a great thing.
“There are so many fab independents opening down there, that is a bit demoralising to hear.”