A Brave New World: The best new food venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh
For those of you feeling inspired by all this food talk, we ask a few of your favourite newcomers for their tips on getting a venue off the ground
While there’s something reassuring about that old haunt whose every nook and cranny you know inside out, you can’t deny the appeal of a shiny, exciting new place to check out. After all, this year’s hip new place is next year’s established hangout, and it's always good to become ‘one of the regulars’ before all those johnny-come-latelys try to muscle in.
This year’s crop of favourite new venues run the full gamut of Scottish food and drink, from neo-cuisine and cool cafes to edgy pubs and hip breweries. It’s enough to make anyone fancy setting up their own venue. Just think – you could bring your unique culinary ideas to the attention of the wider world, or at very least make sure that there’s at least one pub where you’re guaranteed a seat.
To help you on your way, we got in touch with Stuart Ralston at Edinburgh neo-bistro Aizle, Kenny Grieve of Glasgow cafe No Way Back, Jonathan MacDonald of Glasgow's Ox and Finch, and the team at Glasgow’s experiential brewery Drygate for their top tips on what to do, and what not to do, when starting your own venue. First thing’s first – know what it is that you want to do, and resolve to… well, do it. Properly. It’s a trait that all of this year’s newcomers have in spades – from The Lioness of Leith’s punk murals and Aizle's totally seasonal menu to Ox and Finch’s sharing plates and No Way Back's cool cafe vibe, each of your selections has a real feeling of purpose. As Ralston puts it: “Have a clear vision that you want to do well, don’t try to cater to every single type of diner. Do one thing well – if you believe in what you’re doing hard enough, you will be OK.”
That vision and belief are also key down the other end of the M8 for Drygate, who say the key is to let their adoring public go on the same journey that the team find themselves on. “We're passionate about brewing fearlessly,” say the Drygate team, “creating exceptional craft beer and helping other people experience that adventure – from watching the brewery in action to having a go at brewing your own.”
So with your vision defined and your overarching aims clarified and written down somewhere for safe keeping, the Drygate crew suggest aiming to make a splash by offering something that can’t be found elsewhere, or a twist that no-one else has thought of yet. They tell us that it’s about “having the courage to push beyond convention – what's adventurous? What's innovative?”
That said, there's no reason to make a martyr of yourself at the altar of food, or to soldier on without assistance. As No Way Back's Kenny Grieve succinctly puts it: “Don't be proud, take all help that's offered.” Jonathan MacDonald of Ox and Finch points out one good source of help that shouldn't go untapped – those friends and family you have. MacDonald says when launching a new place, "trial run it, we tried out all of our dishes and the concept at different friends and family nights prior to opening." Also remember that there’s a fine line between boundary-pushing and annoying people, and it’s one you’ll have to keep your eye on. “Don’t stick with something – be it an idea or a product – if it’s not working,” says Ralston. “Change and adaptability is essential to finding the right balance.”
Of course, if you do decide to take this year’s survey as a cue to get into the world of food, the simple fact is you’re going to hit some rough patches. Positivity in the early days is key, and MacDonald advises keeping the energy up as you get started. As the Ox and Finch man puts it: "Stay excited and keep creating things that you enjoy, this will translate to customers." When it comes to the thorny issue of money, Ralston recommends making “pessimistic estimations that you can achieve and possibly beat, rather than struggle to get anywhere near them.” No Way Back's Greive has some fairly straightforward advice when it comes to money: “Set a budget (then double it).” Oh, and don’t flip out if someone doesn’t fawn over you, instead “take the constructive sides of feedback” (Ralston) and “listen to your customers” (Grieve).
So, to recap – for a great new venue you'll need one fully-formed vision, a hefty amount of passion, a splash of innovation, a pinch of restraint, a dose of realism and an ear for feedback. Work the mixture for approximately one year, and who knows what you might come up with...