Vegan chef, Emma Rae, tells us about the new branch of Erpingham House at St James Quarter's Bonnie & Wild

She has studied in Bali and headed New York pop-up, Farmacy

Published 14th Jul 2021
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

“I think it’s going to have a really good buzz,” says Emma Rae, 30, the head chef of Edinburgh’s Erpingham House, which opens on July 15 as part of Bonnie & Wild marketplace at St James Quarter. “I’ve never worked in a food hall but I’ve always cooked in open kitchens. People just like seeing their lunch being made”.

This is the third outpost for the 100 per cent plant-based and plastic-free chain, which was founded by entrepreneur, Loui Blake, and footballers, Declan Rudd and Russell Martin, back in 2018. It’s in a prime spot, on the left when you enter Bonnie & Wild.

Emma bagged her job after hearing about it through the vegan grapevine.

“My old head chef is really good friends with Loui”, says Emma, originally from Aberdeenshire. “I was moving home to Edinburgh from London, where I was working as a vegan chef. He said Loui was opening a restaurant and needed someone to head it up - do you want to do it? I said maybe”.

Just in case you haven’t guessed, she took the job.

“I’d been in London as a vegan chef for five and a half years so it was time to come back to Scotland and put down some proper roots”, she says.

The menu at Edinburgh’s branch of Erpingham House will mainly feature dishes that have been designed by the group’s executive head chef, Meg Greenacre. However, it will be edited somewhat, as this is a concession, as opposed to the brand’s comparatively large Norwich or Brighton restaurants. There, among many other things, they even serve a seitan (gluten protein) or nut roast en-croute version of a Sunday lunch.

Emma has already added her own flair to a few of their tried-and-tested dishes, and hopes to bring a Scottish flavour to future offerings, as the food list will be changed every three months. They’ll also be expanding their use of local suppliers, though they’ve started off with Edinburgh’s Charles Stamper and Glasgow’s GreenCity Wholefoods.

Their head chef has already decided on her favourite dishes.

Miso aubergine

“One of the things that’s gone on is the barbecued jackfruit roll, which comes with a really nice avocado coleslaw pickle,” she says. “It’s a really good warm hearty sandwich, as one of our lunch options. The chimichurri tacos are super popular in Norwich, but I’ve added a chipotle mayo, and tweaked the recipe for the chimichurri. My personal favourite is the miso aubergine - charred with miso dressing, there’s a really good whipped tahini cream on the bottom and it’s got hoisin beetroot, pak choi, and a punchy pea puree. It’s really delicious”.

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Vegan food seems to be evolving fast at the moment.

Although seitan, tempeh (fermented soybeans), jackfruit, which has the texture of pulled pork, and aquafaba (a sort of chickpea water stock) might seem new, Emma has known about them for ages. Another of her favourite menu offerings is Erpingham House’s innovative-sounding take on fish and chips, with “fish” that’s made from a banana blossom, brined overnight, wrapped in nori and deep fried. “It’s weirdly fishy, considering there’s zero fish”, she says.

There’s also a tribute to smoked salmon - their carrot lox, which is made from this vegetable, sliced and smoked with dill and seaweed.

There are no dessert options yet, though Emma hopes that there will be scope for them, as the original restaurants do puddings including a rhubarb frangipane tartlet.

Although the return of Hendersons should be a boon, the capital doesn’t have a huge amount of vegan or vegetarian restaurants to compete with Erpingham House. As this chef is from a family of vegetarians, she’s already done her local research. The ones she rates highly include David Bann, Harmoniumdoughnut purveyors, Considerit, and Seeds for the Soul at Bruntsfield.

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She also has plenty of global experience to draw from, including setting up a New York pop-up for London restaurant, Farmacy, and travelling with her mother to India, where she learnt how to cook okra and chapatis. Then there was a course at organic vegan restaurant, Alchemy, in Bali.

“I want to call it a cooking course, though there’s no cooking. They do raw food training and cover dehydration and marinating”, she says. “ You can make the weirdest things. We made raw bread, which sounds horrific, but is so good, with seeds and olives, and we also tried raw pizzas and much healthier versions of things. It’s not what I’d want to eat all the time but there are elements you can pick out and add to another dish”.

Emma, who studied environmental science, has only been vegan for five years. “I went cold turkey after watching a documentary, Cowspiracy”.

She’s committed to the diet, and doesn’t miss red meat or dairy, only seafood - “everything else I’m not that fussed about”, she says.

Since Erpingham House is the only vegan place in this new food hall, she can only window shop and enjoy the aromas, when it comes to Bonnie & Wild’s other restaurants. “There’s a really good fish restaurant called Creel Caught”, she says. “That looks delicious, and there’s somewhere called Salt & Chilli, as well as a really good-looking gelato bar, Joelato”.

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Hopefully, as her restaurant is near the entrance, she will attract vegans, but also carnivores, pescatarians and omnivores, who might feel like giving miso aubergine a whirl.

“I hope we can turn some people onto the vegan side, who wouldn’t necessarily usually try it.” she says. ”The menus are on really nice display boards, so people will look at those and might see something they want”.

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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