In the Port of Leith, down a cobbled lane you will find an amazing little restaurant packed full of the most delicious and finest French cuisine in Edinburgh. Using hand-picked fresh Scottish ingredients to make beautiful modern and traditional creations, Restaurant Martin Wishart: eponymous restaurant, is home to the Michelin starred chef who trained under renowned chefs including, Michel Roux Jr and Marco Pierre White. Interview and dining with Martin Wishart.
How did you start out in the restaurant business and what first inspired you to become a Chef?
I left school at 15 and needed to do something! I’d always enjoyed cooking at home from an early age so I went onto a training scheme in a hotel and decided that cooking is what I wanted to do. And just a few years later, I’m still doing it! I developed my own training by going to work in the best hotels and restaurants, and travelling as much as I could. And that’s why I’m still here, because I still really enjoy it and it’s a great industry to be in. I’m lucky because I’m still a Chef but I also run my own restaurants as well, which presents a lot of new challenges. There’s two different sides to it.
Do you enjoy one more than the other, running the business or working in the kitchen?
I enjoy both equally. There’s always pressure and difficult sides to both, but in many ways I enjoy that as well because its problem solving, working through issues, and allows you to be creative in the restaurants and in their design. And because I don’t have any partners in the business, it’s just my wife and I along with my team, so we get to make all the decisions.
What differences are there between your restaurants at The Shore in Edinburgh and Cameron House in Loch Lomond? Do you curate the menus for both?
We share the same supplier so the supply and ingredients are generally the same, but the dishes are different. Because I don’t work at Cameron House day-to-day, the head chef will put forward suggestions for dishes, and we’ll taste them and work on them together. In order for things to work you have to allow your team to use their talents and their inspiration and enthusiasm. I can learn a lot from them as well.
Do you put a lot of emphasis on training your teams?
Yes, constantly. Every service we focus on what’s happening there and then on the service. So there’s a constant focus on the plates, and making sure everything is prepared and cooked properly. It’s about making sure that every step towards the dish is done, and the first step is always making sure that suppliers have brought in the ingredient promptly, and that it’s a good product. We won’t serve anything that’s not to the quality that we want. The difficult part is getting the teams to work with the ingredient in the correct way, the seasoning is very important, the right amount of salt, and a drop of lemon juice on something can really lift the flavour. And the cooking technique is really important, making sure everything is executed perfectly, because there’s so many different components to each dish and each menu.
Do any of your restaurants specialise in particular dishes?
I don’t like to limit the style of food that we serve at the restaurants to one or two particular dishes. There are favourites, of course, and we use a lot of seafood in the restaurants, and like to experiment with different techniques in cooking as well. I like the restaurants to be known for their seasonality and the changing of the dishes. We have three menus daily, four in the evening, and there are three taster menus; one vegetarian, one dedicated to seafood, and one dedicated to meat and fish. So there’s a good variety and mix.
Do you have a signature dish that you love to make?
I don’t really have a signature dish. 15 years ago, I had more time to work on my food, but the demands of the business and my family mean that I don’t have 24 hours a day to just think about food! My head chef at Loch Lomond seems to though, which is good! He’ll know a lot of the latest trends and techniques and together we can share that, so I think it’s a benefit to have a restaurant and not be in it every day. It means that I can take a step back. Because of the variety of ingredients we get, especially during Spring and Summer, the dishes are continuously changing. It’s never-ending. So the pressure is always on, but it’s a pressure that you put on yourself to maintain those high standards. And that’s the creative side of the job, and that’s the beautiful thing about working with food; you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. But if you have a great ingredient then you don’t have to do a huge amount to it.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have further plans to expand?
Yes, that’s another headache I have! But it’s a good thing. We’re fortunate that we get approached for a lot of different things. But it takes time to do that, and I don’t want to take too much of my time away from my business, and I want to spend time with my family as well. Keeping that balance is important. It’s been 17 years since I opened the restaurant at The Shore in Edinburgh, and we now have four restaurants and a cookery school, and we do a lot of catering and consultancy work as well. It’s great to be able to do different things and to train and give new positions to staff, but if I open up something new, I have to make sure that it fits in with what we have already. So future development is an interesting area…
The restaurant offers a divine 3 hour six course tasting menu. The finest Scottish ingredients are put together to make excellent flavour combinations. Diners have a choice of Meat, Fish and Vegetarian menus. For those who are tight for time, there are also “a la carte” and “lunch time” menus available. Our glorious food journey consisted of a taste from each menu. Lucky us!
The Amuse bouches between each course were a quirky and fun infusing of ingredients. Our favourite was the-Asparagus, Free Range Egg and Summer Truffle Cream with Fresh Dill and Croutons Celeriac, Buttermilk, and Horseradish. For the meat eater: Tarbet Crab and Veal tartare, was served with apple and radish which added a fresh and crisp element to the melt in the mouth texture of the crab and veal. Roast Breast and Pastilla of Goosnargh Duck.
This combination of succulent duck breast, boasting an earthy flavour and topped with a macadamia nut coating and crispy pastille stuffed with shredded juicy duck meat, was the highlight of the afternoon. This was served with a light sweet and sour, deeply rich and silky smooth duck sauce. Which brought together the unforgettable union of tastes on the plate.
For the Vegetarian: A selection of fresh and fragrant dishes. A light and fluffy Emmental Soufflé served with creamed Swiss chard. Fregola Sardo Courgette and Basil ,a silky smooth and decadent dish served with Lord of the Hundreds cheese and Castel di lego olive oil. The meal ended with the stunningly beautiful and silky “Orange and Nectarine Ravioli” served with a lime sorbet which sat in lemongrass juice. Followed by a presentation of chocolate truffles and mini jam doughnut balls.
Images: Yemi King