The new head chef, James Murray, at Edinburgh's Timberyard tells us what's in store for the iconic restaurant

He’s taking over from Ben Radford, who will be concentrating on other aspects of the business

Published 7th Sep 2021
Updated 18 th Sep 2023

It’s hard to imagine an Edinburgh dining scene without Timberyard.

This pioneering restaurant, owned by the Radford family, including Andrew and Lisa, daughter, Abi, and sons Ben and Jo, has been around for nine years.

It was one of the first to have its own kitchen garden, where, among other things, they grow nasturtium, woodruff and mint, a Scandi industrial interior (the 19th century building was formerly Lawson’s Timber) and a focus on foraged ingredients, plus local and seasonal produce, all served artfully.

Now, to allow head chef Ben to focus on other aspects of the business, they’re taking on James Murray, 36, formerly of London restaurant Lyle’s, Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Nur in Hong Kong, The Edinburgh Food Studio, as well as the capital’s lockdown sensation, fried chicken vendors, JFC.

We asked the head chef a few questions in advance of their new menu launch on September 16.

When was the first time you visited Timberyard and have you always been a fan?

“The first time I visited Timberyard was about an hour after I landed back in Edinburgh in 2016 having spent the last four years in Hong Kong. I’d been watching their progression through social media. I’d learnt about natural wine whilst I was away and saw that they had a huge focus on incredible wines from small producers. So I went in and said hi to their sommelier, Jo, and asked if I could have a couple of glasses at the bar. He obliged and let us taste some incredible wines from that evening’s wine pairing menu. We instantly had a rapport and have remained in touch ever since.

My first proper meal there was when I moved to Edinburgh in 2018. I’ve always held the same values as Ben when it comes to food and absolutely loved my meal. Yesterday, I ate there for the last time as a guest. The collaboration feels right and I’m looking forward to developing the next chapter”.

Why did you decide to join the team?

“During the pandemic I was very focused on JFC. It enjoyed great success and all my attention and efforts were on that and staying relevant in the industry. So when Jo and Ben contacted me in March of this year to discuss the possibility of us working together, it was a little unexpected, but hugely tempting. My plan at that point was to find a space for my own restaurant in Edinburgh. However, there is probably only one kitchen/restaurant/dining room that would have swayed me to change direction. We met a few times to see what each other was thinking and it was clear we all shared the same drive to take this amazing restaurant into its next chapter.

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I will be working with driven, ambitious professionals in one of the most iconic dining rooms in the country with the finest wine list. We are a good match.

We have had a whole new kitchen suite put in with a huge charcoal grill, I think the first one of its kind in Edinburgh. These commitments show how serious they are about going forward. And I am thankful they have full belief in me, as I do with them”.

What do you hope to bring to the job - any new dishes, inspirations or experiments?

“I'm hoping to work on my already close relationships with the 25-30 suppliers I use.

All of them are Scottish or British and artisans in their craft. I'm expanding this list and discovering new people doing great things. The real focus is on the food chain, seasons and pedigree of produce.

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We want to be very flavour focused. That comes from excellent farming and ageing of our meats, fantastic soil for our vegetables, knowledgeable fisherman and suppliers dealing with what’s in abundance, sustainable, seasonal and fresh. I want to simplify my cooking but that’s only possible when I manage to join the dots. The ingredients have to be outstanding. I learned this while working at Lyle’s in London and I believe it’s the only way to cook.

The menu will flow and evolve all the time. There will also be some staples on there that I feel help use lesser appreciated products. Pigs head terrine, for example. When it’s made well it’s as good as any creamy slice of foie gras, and a lot more ethical.

We will have a focus on whole animal butchery, fish maturation, cooking over fire and also classical techniques, as I was trained at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons which had a huge focus on proper cooking methods.

Charcuterie, interesting lesser-known techniques for preserving vegetables, fermenting and pickling will be a backbone to what we do day-to-day.

In short there will be lots of new dishes coming out of the kitchen and we will always be trying to inspire more creativity and welcome experimentation”.

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Will JFC ever be revived?

“JFC was born out of necessity. I had to pay bills and stay relevant in lockdown. Had I not joined Timberyard then I would have most likely seen it develop and evolve into a full time restaurant. It’s still a passion project that I would love to return to. But my whole attention going forward is on Timberyard”.

What did you learn about food during the pandemic?

“I learned that food is one of our greatest comforts. My personal experience was cooking comfort food when doing JFC. If we could do our bit to bring a little normality to someone for an hour whilst devouring sticky fried chicken in the middle of a global pandemic then that felt pretty good. We all know how important food is, the pandemic only confirmed this”.

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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