Flavour Profile Q&A - James Thomson OBE, owner of The Witchery and Prestonfield

James Thomson – the restaurateur and hotelier in charge of The Witchery and Prestonfield – tells us about his foodie favourites.

Published 18th May 2021
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

What’s your favourite ingredient?

Rhubarb. I used to pick it, dip it in sugar and eat it raw as a child.

I never imagined then that I would one day inherit the rhubarb patch at Prestonfield where Sir Alexander Dick introduced the very first rhubarb to Britain.

That’s why it’s the name of our restaurant, Rhubarb, at Prestonfield.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

The twice baked almond pain-au-chocolat from Bostock Bakery in East Linton.

Tell us about your first food memory?

My grandfather was a grocer in the Sixties, and, when I was a child, I often visited him out of hours and played at shops.

Everything was sold loose in those days and was sliced, weighed and packaged in front of you.

I loved the theatre of it all and all the amazing aroma of the coffee beans, cheese, smoked gammon, teas and dirty earthy vegetables.

What’s your favourite Scottish restaurant, deli or cafe?

I’m often asked this question and it’s a really hard one to answer as I genuinely have so many.

It really depends on whether it’s a casual supper with friends, a special occasion or lunch with my bank manager.

One of my goals this year is to complete the North Coast 500 and I plan to take a slight detour to one of my real favourites, The Three Chimneys on Skye.

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I absolutely love it there. The food is so stunningly fresh and truly delicious.

I usually go out of season when Skye is quieter and I can enjoy some peace and tranquillity, including long walks, taking in the beautiful scenery and contemplating on life.

What would be your last supper?

To start, we’d have shellfish bisque.

That’d be followed by a main course of Dover sole meunière with Jersey royal potatoes, fresh pea pods and buttered spinach.

I’d have a knickerbocker glory to finish.

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Starter or pudding?

I’m a bit of a glutton and would probably go with both. If I was forced to choose it would have to be pudding.

Do you have any food hates?

Tripe. My father loved it and I’ve always hated the smell of it cooking and its texture.

What starters, main and dessert would be served at your dream dinner party and who would you invite?

I’d invite Augustus Pugin – pioneer of Gothic Revival architecture and architect of the Palace of Westminster.

There would also be Sir William Bruce, the King’s architect who rebuilt Holyrood House in the 1670s, Prestonfield House in 1678 and George Heriot’s School.

We would have roast beef with all the trimmings and some stunning claret.

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What's your favourite geographical foodie destination?

It’d have to be Lyon, the home of gastronomy. It’s only an hour from Burgundy, which is my spiritual home. 

The food markets there are like nowhere else I have ever seen and the restaurants are sublime.

Thomson’s venues, The Witchery by the Castle and Prestonfield have now reopened.

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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