By Dave Hunter
CONSISTENCY is king for Michelin Star chef Martin Wishart.
The restaurateur, whose original eatery, Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith, marked its 15th consecutive year with a Michelin Star earlier this year, said the celebrity trappings that can come with the accolade mustn’t get in the way of the day-to-day cooking.
“I think the secret is just to focus on what you do on a day-to-day basis,” said Wishart.
“Don’t get distracted away from what your main focus is, and that’s to cook for and look after your guests. There’s an attraction to go on and open up other businesses, write books, go on television.
“That’s great, but if you can do them and still keep an eye on what’s going on in your business, you’ll still get the consistency.
“That’s what it’s about.”
Wishart is certainly in a position to know. When Restaurant Martin Wishart secured its Michelin Star, in 2001, it became the first eatery in Edinburgh to hold the accolade.
And in 2016 only one restaurant in Scotland – Braidwoods in Dalry – has held its Michelin Star longer (by one year).
Wishart’s success didn’t happen by accident.
Having started his career
at 15 on a YTS (youth training scheme), Wishart set out to
get as much experience as he could working in fine dining restaurants.
It was a mission that took him to England and across Europe, before returning to Edinburgh and opening his flagship restaurant in 1999.
At that time, Leith may have seemed like a strange choice for a fine dining restaurant, but Wishart felt a special connection with the port town.
“I spent a lot of time in Leith as a child,” he said.
“My gran, my nana, used to live in Leith.
“I’d just left Amsterdam a year and a half before, and it reminded me of being on the river.
“The big attraction was the river, the cobbled streets and the architecture around here.”
From humble beginnings –Wishart funded the venture with savings and tiled the kitchen himself – the Michelin Star was secured in 2001.
The effect on business was immediate, and within a couple of months the restaurant had a six-month waiting list for a table on Saturday nights.
While the food was clearly a deciding factor in the Michelin Star, Wishart credited his wife, Cecile, with much of the restaurant’s success.
“A lot of the success is down to my wife, who ran the front of house before we started a family,” he said.
“Her attention to detail, her natural friendliness and charm, was key.”
The next venture was the opening of a Cook School on the city’s Bonnington Road. A multi-purpose site, the facility is used for private dining, staff training and experimenting with new recipes as well as for the company’s outside catering business.
This was followed, in 2008, by Wishart’s second restaurant, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond.
The eatery, located in the five-star Cameron House Hotel, was awarded its own Michelin Star in 2011 and has retained it ever since.
“The deal was very simple – I’m a tenant in the hotel, I pay them rent, and I run the restaurant how I want,” said Wishart.
“Of course, you have to respect their style. But their request was to get them a Michelin Star within three years. I said I couldn’t guarantee it but we’d do what we could.”
The Honours, on Edinburgh’s North Castle Street, was next.
A joint venture between Wishart and chef Paul Tamburrini, The Honours brand has since been extended to Glasgow, with a restaurant in the city’s Malmaison hotel.
The Cameron House and Malmaison deals were very different, and Wishart said selecting the right type of partnership for each unit is essential. But he argued that the range of options available is a good thing.
“I quite often get chefs asking what I think the best way to start their own business is,” he said. “There’s quite often not just one answer. There’s plenty of options.”