ITALIAN is a much-loved and substantial segment of the restaurant sector in Scotland and has been for decades.
However, when the local market becomes crowded with one type of venue it’s a good idea to change tack.
But deciding just what a relaunched eatery will build itself around can prove far from straightforward.
Luckily, many years of living and working in and around Inverness meant the team at Cru Holdings, founded by Scott Murray in 2009, knew precisely what to do when they decided after just over a year of owning Riva – the city’s oldest established Italian restaurant – that the outlet had to be repositioned.
The group, which owns and operates several venues in the Highland capital, including Scotch & Rye and Bar One, saw a gap in the market and a chance to bring the produce of the Highlands to the fore at the restaurant on Ness Walk, on the banks of the River Ness, and relaunched Riva as Prime – an eatery majoring in steak and seafood.
“Riva had been reasonably popular back in the day but the town is just saturated with Italian restaurants,” said Kenneth Loades, Cru’s director of operations.
“So we thought we would go down a different avenue to try and attract a market that isn’t quite so swamped at the moment.
“We decided we have a lot of great local produce on our doorstep to take advantage of. In and around Inverness, we have lochs, rivers and farms that are abundant with fresh, quality produce that is available to us on a daily basis – we wanted to showcase two of the things that are best about the Highlands: steak and seafood.
“So we’re getting everything we can from within a 100-mile radius.
“We use two butchers, one in Dingwall and one in Aberdeen.
“Our fish comes from either a Highland producer or straight from the trawlermen in Ullapool and we get that delivered daily. It’s responsibly sourced and sustainable, based on availability and quality rather than simply going for mass turnover.”
But the job of turning the old 64-cover Italian around was no small task; the venue was given a new look designed to be contemporary and comfortable. As well as this, the team at Cru decided to rip out Riva’s 20 year old kitchen and replace it with brand new equipment.
To do so the help of sister company Edge Catering was enlisted.
Set up last year by Scott Murray and Kieran Fitzpatrick, who has spent his entire career in the catering equipment repair industry, the firm offers a range of services from catering equipment repair and installation to plumbing and gas work to hospitality businesses all over the Highlands.
The result, said Kenneth, gives the restaurant’s staff, led by head chef Kevin Green and general manager Ross Sharratt, the chance to perform to the best of their ability with an excellent functioning kitchen that meets all their needs.
“Business has been fantastic and all the feedback we’ve had has been really encouraging,” he said.
“We’ve given Kevin close to carte blanche on the menu, and what he’s come up with is phenomenal.”
On the drinks side, mixologists from Cru’s other bars have made sure all the staff at Prime can deliver great cocktails and whilst the restaurant will stock a range of regular spirits, a respectable collection of high-end single malts has been added to the back-bar to reinforce the restaurant’s focus on Scottish produce.
And, keen to make the most of Inverness’ tourist season this summer, Prime is set to introduce an al fresco dining area along the riverbank to increase both its covers and business.