Lifting the Lid: Mark Alston, Fingal, Edinburgh

Mark Alston is executive chef at The Royal Yacht Britannia and Fingal – a luxury floating hotel permanently berthed on Leith waterfront. The historic ship started life as a lighthouse tender, helping maintain lighthouses and transporting their keepers, equipment and supplies to some of the most treacherous locations in Scotland. Now she has been transformed into a luxury 22-cabin boutique hotel and exclusive use venue by the award-winning team at The Royal Yacht Britannia.

How long have you been in the industry and how did you start?
Whilst studying hotel management at Napier University the opportunity arose to gain experience in a kitchen, and I’ve never looked back. I trained locally at the Marriott Dalmahoy in Edinburgh in 2000, and then moved to London to work at the Mandarin Oriental. I joined Britannia back in 2008 as executive sous chef then took Fingal under my wing when it launched in 2019.

What’s your career highlight so far?
There have been many over the years, but my appointment as executive chef on The Royal Yacht Britannia is the highlight.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
The logistics of cooking on board a ship is a daily challenge. Cambered decks, narrow corridors, and low ceilings! We work in the original Royal Galleys on Britannia, which is nearly 70 years old; preparation and service areas are not laid out as in a standard kitchen – however, we find a way to make it work. When it came to designing the galleys on Fingal from scratch in 2018/2019 it was satisfying to create a bespoke space which works for all areas of the team.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?
Fingal has the glamour of a superyacht with an old-world elegance which is completely unique. So in keeping with the feel of Fingal, our food is classic with modern influences. The Lighthouse Bar & Restaurant has a relaxed, luxurious feel, serving our stunning afternoon teas and beautifully-prepared dinner dishes, bursting with flavour.

Describe your team
We are a small brigade who work closely and pull together. Plenty of talent and a real drive to produce exquisite cuisine across both ships.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?
Scotland has some of the best produce the world has to offer, particularly the beef, shellfish, lamb, game and chanterelles (when in season). Quality is top priority, closely followed by provenance. The dish that has become Fingal’s ‘signature dish’ is our own smoked salmon. Using the finest Scottish salmon, we smoke it in-house and the result is superb.

How do you relax outside of work?
I like to keep busy and active when I have time off. Restoring classic cars helps clear my mind of daily stresses. And I enjoy shooting, mushroom-picking and eating out.

What makes a good chef?
A good chef has ambition and a hands-on approach, plus dedication to producing exceptional food.

Is there any food you dislike?
I am not keen on smelly cheeses!

What’s your favourite wine?
I’m not a big drinker however I always enjoy a glass of wine when it’s been paired to a dish by our sommelier.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?
Kitchen banter always makes me laugh!

Who do you admire in the industry and why?
There are so many ambassadors for the industry: Michel Roux Jr, Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing, Éric Fréchon to name but a few.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten and where was it?
Epicurus restaurant at Le Bristol Paris. The meal was exceptional.

Who would you invite for your ideal meal and where would you go?
This would need to be with family and close friends, I would choose somewhere that serves a great Cote De Boeuf, cooked well you can’t beat it!