When Hendersons shut in the summer of 2020, it was a blow for Edinburgh.
Not only because it was one of the oldest restaurants in the capital, at 58, but it was always the perfect Hanover Street meeting spot.
We all knew where it was, in that atmospheric and cave-like basement premises.
Immune to trends, it seemed proof that not everything has to constantly change.
There was also the upstairs grocery shop and the six-year-old vegan bistro, just round the corner on Thistle Street, not to mention the short lived outpost on Holyrood Road.
Now, it’s reopening, and rising like a herbivorous phoenix from the ashes.
This time, it’ll be at the other end of town, in the former premises of Bruntsfield restaurant, The Apartment, which was another lockdown casualty.
Barrie Henderson - the grandson of Janet, who started the business way back in 1962, along with her husband, Mac - is taking on the family legacy, with the opening scheduled for the beginning of September. He’s had a deluge of messages since making the announcement.
“I’ve had so many people contacting me in the last couple of days”, says the 36-year-old. “I’m looking forward to seeing them, it’ll be a good feeling. It’s been a difficult year for everybody. I didn’t know that we’d manage to get it together, but things seem to be improving, people are feeling better and I’m really excited”.
Barrie was devastated when the original restaurant closed down.
He’d worked there on and off since he was 14-years-old, latterly as the general manager for five years.
“I’ve poured half of my life into helping build and run the company and we had about 50 staff that were really passionate about the business., so it was a big tragedy really,” he says.
However, as with many family businesses, decisions are made by committee.
“I wouldn’t have closed it during covid but other members decided that they didn’t want to carry on,” he says. “I was never on board with that, and it took me a while during the pandemic to process it”.
Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for Barrie to make his next move.
“I didn’t want to rush into anything but, the whole of last year, people have been saying it was a shame that Hendersons closed, that they really loved it and can you open something again. The more they asked me the more I thought it was a shame to let it disappear”, he says.
Now The Apartment’s chairs and tables, which were getting increasingly dusty, have been moved out, and the windows are covered by yellow posters, with Hendersons’ familiar “eat better, live better” tagline.
In a similar vibe to the original venue, the food will be vegetarian and vegan, healthy, sustainable and organic. They did consider going exclusively vegan, but decided it would be wiser to widen their remit in the current climate. However, the animal-product-free options will be broad, rather than an afterthought. They’ve even got a little garden out the back of the property, which they’re using to grow produce. “So far, herbs and some heritage potatoes”, says Barrie.
(Not quite at the scale of the East Lothian farm that Janet and Mac owned in the early days of Hendersons, but from small acorns).
It’ll be an all-day affair, so you can pop in for coffee and cake, as well as lunch or dinner, and they’ll serve tapas-style dishes.
As far as produce goes, Barrie has contacted their old organic vegetable suppliers, which include GreenCity Wholefoods, and is experimenting at home with making his own rosemary, sage and elderflower cordials and liqueurs, as well as kimchi and pickles.
He won’t name the head chef yet, but Barrie will be heavily involved in the design of the menu. (As well as years at Hendersons, his experience includes a spell as a chef at top restaurant, Inver, in Cairndow). Thus, the food will be an evolved version of what we knew and loved.
“It’ll be a reboot”, says Barrie. “The old vegan restaurant had a slightly different expression of Hendersons classic dishes, so it might be like that in some ways. We’ll definitely be doing the original vegetarian haggis and we’re going to try to bring back the original chocolate mousse, but there will be modern vegetarian food as well as the old signatures”.
In normal times, there will be room for 60 covers upstairs and 20 downstairs, though its capacity will be more like 40 while restrictions are still in place.
They’re also hoping to provide some al-fresco seating in the garden.
“We’ve got quite exciting plans,” says Barry. “We’re going to take a lot of pointers and cues from the old restaurant so it feels familiar, but updated. There will be cool installations of dried herbs and grasses hanging from the high ceilings, as well as sandy walls and wooden textures. It’ll still have that informal, relaxed, living-roomy vibe”.
There’s enough to attract new customers, as well as the loyal clientele.
Barrie has already thought about branching out to offer live music, like Hendersons used to, with their jazz evenings on Friday nights. He also hopes to use coffee from neighbours, Modern Standard, as well as getting more involved with Edinburgh's street food scene at Stockbridge Market and The Pitt.
It’s been a rough year, but he’s focused.
“The main restaurant at Hanover Street was like a massive juggernaut, then we had the shop and the vegan restaurant, there was a lot”, says Barrie. “An exciting thing for me is, with this new restaurant, I can focus on one menu and a single premises”.
Hendersons, 7-13 Barclay Place, Edinburgh, www.hendersonsrestaurant.com