He has been credited with transforming Edinburgh’s food scene after launching Norn in 2016.
And a year after walking away from the brand and restaurant, on Henderson Street, which he and wife Laura had worked for years to create, chef Scott Smith has lifted the lid on the mystery surrounding the decision, starting afresh at Fhior and the madness of opening a cafe at Jupiter Artland.
Picking through the rocky tale of the creation of Norn and standing at the pass of his beloved restaurant for the last time makes Scott visibly emotional.
It is a story of a dream that came true through hard graft and dedication before it then began to disintegrate, turning into a nightmare. “I had the idea of Norn and what I wanted to do three years before opening the restaurant,” Scott, protégé of owner of The Peat Inn Michelin-starred Geoffrey Smeddle, said. “I knew what I wanted to do on the food, I knew what the concept was, but I needed investment to finally make it a reality.
“From the beginning the whole thing was very personal to me – the stones on some of the tables were made by Laura’s dad, the tables were made from Scottish ash by friends of ours.”
Laura added: “Scott took 18 months out of work to go through every last bit of detail.”
His vision came from a desire to stop Scottish food being sidecast and put it front and centre of a Capital menu.
“I had a vision of what I wanted,” Scott explained. “At that time you had your Michelin star restaurants but they were cooking French food with Scottish ingredients. I didn’t want to cook Nordic food but I liked their philosophy so that’s what we wanted to do at Norn.”
And despite a clear idea of the end product, they had limited experience in starting a company and all the complexities that come with it.
The first year of Norn was a success. It received rave reviews and turned a profit in its first year. But things began to go downhill.
The relationship with Scott’s business partner started to deteriorate. And soured further after a re-design that didn’t go to plan.
“The relationship got worse and worse, but we still had a commitment to the customers so we kept pushing forward. We had also agreed to cater a wedding and we weren’t going to pull out of that,” Scott said.
“But we had decided that we needed to consider starting again. The idea was terrifying and it was a horrible, horrible feeling but we knew we couldn’t go on.”
Scott and Laura made the heart-wrenching decision to leave their beloved Norn behind. Scott had his last service on Monday, April 30. He had resigned at 11am, announced the news at noon on Twitter, was awarded the best restaurant at the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards that night and then revealed plans for their new venture.
Regardless of the bumpy road taken, Scott and Laura remain deliriously positive. They exude warmth, creativity and enthusiasm belying the pits and falls they have endured.
And despite recently launching a cafe at Jupiter Artland, preparing for a busy lunch service and balancing staff, suppliers and customers, they are generous with the little time they have free, laughing through the memories of some of the tougher moments as they relax in the bright, simple dining room of the restaurant they have created together.
“It all happened bang, bang, bang,” Scott said. “And on Tuesday morning all the staff showed up outside what is now Fhior on Broughton Street.
“It’s hugely freeing to now own our own place. If we get an idea we can run with it, or not. If we make a mistake it’s our mistake – we are accountable for all of it. It’s really exciting to know you’re in control of it. Fhior for us, is a lifestyle.
“We’ve got 12 staff and 32 covers, it’s not about making money, for us it’s about getting out of bed in the morning and enjoying coming to work and enjoying building the brand and having happy customers. It’s got to work otherwise we’re not going to last, and we do have longer term ambitions as a business, but Fhior for us will always be this flagship which is more about reputation than it is about profit.”
It is a deserved reputation. Beyond the concept, the food and the menu, Scott and Laura care deeply about their customers, about being open, relaxed and inclusive, about creating the best dining experience they can. They care more so for their staff, and it shows. The restaurant has a lightness to it, there’s no high-end stuffiness nor a sniff of judgement. It is a beautiful space to spend time as well as enjoy the carefully constructed, locally sourced food.
“I want to create a place with vibrancy, that is fresh, bright and light with service that is informed yet casual and cooking that is honest and clean,” Scott said.
And it is off the back of his reputation, lauded by critics such as Marina O’Loughlin who said of Scott “a new Scottish star is born” and the late AA Gill, that new projects are bubbling to the surface.
Scott said: “We would not have got Jupiter Artland had we not invested time and effort into building our reputation.
“We’re also looking at changing the entrance area of Fhior, adding more seats, a record player to turn it into a comfortable, cosy space where people can pop in, buy a bottle of wine and leave or hang around and enjoy some good bar snacks and good music in a lovely environment. We want people to know that Fhior is approachable.”
Looking back on the past year, the Smiths’ world has turned upside down but true to their unfaltering positivity, they are grateful to be where they are.
“It was a good ending,” Scott said of Norn. “We didn’t want to leave with negativity even though we were in a bad place. It’s the energy and mindset we used to move forward. There was so much energy, the whole team were behind us and thankfully we now have Fhior and it’s doing really well.”
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