After a dark time for hospitality, green shoots are appearing when it comes to Edinburgh’s restaurant scene.
In July, it will be launching in the former spot of Indian restaurant The Raj, which was there for 30 years, before becoming a healthy eating spot, Kcal Kitchen.
It has a prime vantage point, on the corner of Henderson Street, with windows looking out to the Water of Leith where you might just see the eponymous heron (or, more likely a scabby seagull).
The young chefs behind this venture are Tomás Gormley, 26, and Sam Yorke, 23.
“I grew up in Leith so for me, it feels very fitting that this is where I'm opening my first restaurant,” says Tomás, originally from Ireland. “The Shore speaks for itself as a location. There's so much happening here from a culinary perspective but also creatively it's huge, with Leith Theatre hopefully opening back up again soon. I'm really excited to be a part of somewhere so 'happening'”.
At their “relaxed fine-dining restaurant”, they will be serving a menu of farm-to-table dishes, with an a-la-carte menu that will change every few weeks and showcase Scotland’s seasonal produce.
“The thing I'll take most from Andrew Fairlie's is that you don't have to over complicate it as long as the individual elements of a dish are done really well,” he says.
Sam worked under chef Dominic Jack at Castle Terrace Restaurant, which sadly closed during lockdown, when he moved over to Tom Kitchin’s Bonnie Badger in Gullane.
“The kitchen at Castle Terrace was incredibly well disciplined and notoriously tough and I am very fortunate to have worked under chef Dominic Jack”, he says. “ It was proper cooking with classic technique and great attention to detail. I hope that these qualities will show in the food at Heron but with our own unique style”.
At the restaurant, they’ll be using local suppliers including Grierson Organic, Phantassie Organic Farm and The Free Company.
“There’s some wonderful rare breed pork and mutton being produced in Scotland at the moment and I’m looking forward to putting that on the menu here,” says Sam, who calls Daniel Humm at New York’s Eleven Madison Park one of his cooking inspirations.
This duo are keeping shtum about the specific dishes that are currently being designed.
“We can’t give too much away yet,” says Sam.
However, those who tried their excellent pop-up delivery business, Bad Seeds, which launched and ran during lockdown, will already be familiar with their style of cooking. As part of this venture, there were artfully plated options including Scottish lobster tail, bisque, Jerusalem artichoke and bone marrow tartlet, or lamb rump, barberry sauce and Wye Valley asparagus, as well as thick cut pappardelle with crab, langoustine, mussels and tarragon.
They didn’t neglect the desserts either. These included a chocolate and sea buckthorn delice with kaffir lime Anglaise.
However, the most posted picture on social media was probably that of their wild mushroom ravioli, which came with chicken wing, mushroom ragu and Perigord truffle, and was striped green, like a humbug.
Although the duo were sad to say goodbye to Bad Seeds, after so many sell-out dinners and rave reviews, they had always seen it as a stepping stone to a physical restaurant.
“Heron feels very much like a continuation of that for me. There was a lot about Bad Seeds that I enjoyed a lot. I won't miss all that packing though,” says Tomás.
Coronavirus and its accompanying restrictions haven’t put them off their plan either.
“There are plenty of nerves about opening but I definitely see it as an opportunity”, says Sam, who met Tomás when they both worked at Broughton Street restaurant, Seasons, now closed. “Bad Seeds gave us the chance to work together again after a number of years and, without the pandemic, we may not have been in the same position. Going forward, I feel that opportunity lies in post-lockdown excitement with people desperate to socialise and enjoy eating out again”.
The pop-up business also gave us a taste of the pair’s sense of style, with beautiful packaging and graphics, which they created in conjunction with local designer Cameron Gleave. The same consideration will be taken at their new restaurant, where they’ve commissioned local ceramicist Borja Moronta to make the tableware. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the room, which is across two levels in a high-ceilinged property that hasn’t been made the most of for a while and was probably in need of a revamp.
“The interior will hopefully feel modern and inviting” says Tomás. “It’s a beautiful Victorian building with intricate features and a stairway leading to nowhere from the time it was The Raj. There’s also a large concrete bar going in that we think will look pretty special”.
Roll on July, when we can see the results of this duo’s plans.
As Sam says, “The location was a clear winner when we went to view the place. We have one of the best views and most prominent positions on The Shore and I feel very lucky to be there”.