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Scotland's leading restaurateurs share their experience of lockdown as they prepare to reopen

The excitement of launching an eatery or bar was dashed by the lockdown, but owners are raring to get going again.

Published: July 1, 2020
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As the coronavirus took hold and the UK entered into lockdown in March, many new businesses had to close before they’d even fully opened. One of these was Pier Brasserie in Edinburgh.

Pier Brasserie's fight for survival

The restaurant, which was the result of a £100,000 transformation of the former Prezzo site within Newhaven’s prime former Fishmarket building, launched with much anticipation in February.

But within weeks it became clear that the spread of Covid-19 was set to devastate the sector along with the dreams of owner Mark Patonyi, one of the city’s best-known restaurant managers, previously front of house at Martin Wishart’s The Honours, manager of Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond and general manager of Steak Restaurant at Picardy Place.

To survive, Mark along with head chef and friend Vladimir Garcik and two colleagues, opened a takeaway offering, enabling Edinburgh residents to sample high-quality bistro dishes while taking in the views of Newhaven lighthouse and the bridges from the harbour.

The father of one, who moved to the UK from Hungary in 2007, said: “It may sound cliché, but 2020 has been an unbelievable rollercoaster of emotions.

“From the highs of our amazing opening – and those initial few weeks which saw us packed out – everything came crashing down.

"It looked like we would never be able to recover – and it has been heartbreaking that we can’t even offer our team the small comfort of furlough, as we’re so new we didn’t receive our PAYE reference number until after the 19 March cut-off date.

“We’re still doing everything we can to appeal that, as it just feels so unfair. As a new business we’ve not had any chance of building up cash reserves.

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"Up until a few weeks ago it didn’t seem feasible that we could launch a takeaway offering, but it got to the point I couldn’t sit around
and wait for my fate any longer.”

The takeaway menu utilises the best local and Scottish produce, including seafood landed in the harbour and meat from Donald Russell butchers.

Options include ciabattas, fish and chips, burgers, salads and desserts – as well as a few choices available each day for children.

Ahead of the February launch Mark had been at the heart of the transformation of the site, project managing to ensure everything met his high standards – as well as handpicking a 15-strong team.

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New Glasgow restaurants set to open

Over in Glasgow, two restaurants set for a March opening (before lockdown) were the transformation of 111 by Nico to 111 by Modou – the restaurant’s head chef turned owner, and Glaschu, a modern bar and restaurant in the city centre.

Former owner of 111 by Nico, chef Nico Simeone, was also about to take his Six by Nico concept to London but this was also delayed due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

Glaschu was set to open in the building which was The Western Club at the heart of Glasgow’s Royal Exchange Square at the end of March.

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Despite being closed before even opening, the eatery has survived and will welcome diners from late July.

Restaurant owner, Andy McCartney said: “We’re still facing a lot of challenges, we don’t know what exact restrictions will be placed by the Scottish Government on kitchens, whether social distancing will mean one metre or two, but Glaschu will open in an elementary form at the end of July.

“The safety and wellbeing of our team and those who eat in the restaurant is our priority, so we’re implementing rigorous hygiene procedures and launching a reduced offering of our intended menu.

“Curated by our head chef Dion Scott, who trained in Blumenthal’s kitchens, the à la carte menu will carry stand-out dishes such as the
signature Beef Wellington.

“However, we won’t introduce a tasting menu or brunch offering until we have assessed the postlockdown market and can see an
audience willing to return to their usual dining habits.

“The menu we’re launching has been designed with social distancing in mind, so it will mean reduced contact, but not reduced service.

"We can’t wait to welcome people through our doors, into a new and very different era for this historic building.”

Nico in London

Speaking of opening Six by Nico in London, Nico said: “The weeks running up to the launch of London and before an official lockdown in March were challenging for the team in all our restaurants.

“Clear guidelines had not been issued by the government, yet customers had started to cancel their bookings due to personal concerns - so it was a very difficult time for the business not fully understanding how disruptive this virus was and is.

“We do however have the best team around us at Six by Nico and made decisions based on what facts we had, our knowledge of what other operators across the UK were doing and our insights into what potentially was about to happen.

“As business begins to reopen, we have mapped out our roadmap to reopening Six by Nico.

"We announced this across the UK with Manchester and Liverpool restaurants opening first on Monday 13th July, Belfast on 15th and Glasgow and Edinburgh on the 17th.

"The new London Fitzrovia restaurant will open for the first time on Monday 20th July. We are excited to get back into the restaurants.”

While the Six by Nico concept is growing, it is expected that the new 111 venture by new owner chef Modou will start afresh and open soon.

New beer garden

beer garden

With beer gardens set to reopen on 6 July, ahead of restaurants that can only seat people indoors, the launch of a new outdoor drinking space in Glasgow's Merchant City seems a shrewd move from Glasgow Beer Works.

The space, which will serve drinks and street food, is set to open on 19 July and will be located below the famous John Byrne Billy Connolly mural on Osbourne Street in the city centre.

Speaking of the new arrival to the city, Rhona Wheatley, business development manager at Glasgow Beer Works said: “At the beginning of this year we were really excited about what the summer would hold for our business.

"The beer garden at Osborne Street is a project ongoing since the starting days of the brewery and the opening of the space this summer was to be a landmark in our journey as a small family-run business.

"We had intended to hold a summer long celebration of great beer, drinks and scran under the 50ft Billy Connolly mural, investing in our ability to host up to 200 people.

"However our plans were scrambled by lockdown, so we’re trying to make the most of the last of summer by opening on July 9 at reduced capacity of 80.

"It’s unfortunate we haven’t opened before now, but we’re taking every precaution to guarantee the safety of our guests and staff and we’re sure we’ll see some great times at the Glasgow Beer Works this year.”

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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