[- Prize- worthy
When Scottish foodies went to Islay to hand out awards to their favourite restaurants, Catherine Fellows went along to ﬁnd out who leads the ﬁeld.
The life of a restaurateur is full of surprises; one moment you‘re up to your ears in fish stock and bread dough and wrangles with your suppliers, the next, you're soaring above the clouds in a private plane bound for Islay. At least, that‘s how it was for the dozen who were shortlisted for the 1993 round of the Scottish Field/Morrison Bowmore Restaurant of the Year competition, the award ceremony of which was at the Bowmore distillery earlier this month. They had been told just days before of their selection, and most of them were reeling -— not so much from the honour, because half of them were not even sure what it meant. but from the sheer effort of arranging everything to allow them to take a day off.
This particular series of awards is based on nominations made by readers of Scottish Field. The hundred or so eateries put forward ranged from ‘serious’ restaurants right through to pubs, delis and cafes. The breadth had its limits though; there were none of the five star hotels or petrol station snack bars suggested in previous years. and only one lndian restaurant.
Each nominee submitted a menu which was scrutinised by a panel of judges from Scottish Field and co- sponsors Morrison Bowmore, headed by Catherine Brown, food writer of the The Herald. Any menu that showed ‘obvious faults' was rejected. (If a menu is too long, it implies that the food is frozen/microwaved; if it is
laminated. that it never changes in
f response to seasons etc; if it is written in Franglais, that the proprietors are not
aufait with the concept of Scottish quality.) The survivors were visited incognito and assessed for ambience. service. value for money and of course, food. Whether or not the original list of nominations contained all the places that she would have considered worthy of note, Brown was not prepared to say. Fratelli Sarti, Glasgow‘s extremely popular Wellington Street deli cum bistro was shortlisted, and two of the three winners were from Edinburgh. The choice of Atrium as best newcomer, and The Vintners Rooms as best restaurant at over £50 for two. best promoter of Scotch Malt Whisky and overall Restaurant of the Year, reﬂects the judges’ emphasis on excellent Scottish produce imaginatively used. Andrew Radford, chef at the Atrium, is
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becoming increasingly renowned, not for any elaborate cooking, but for simple assemblages of carefully chosen ingredients. Likewise, Tim and Sue Cumming, the couple behind The Vintners Rooms, have always looked to the unfussy Mediterranean style of Elizabeth David for inspiration. In both restaurants. everything from bread rolls to terrines to sorbets and ice creams is made on the premises.
Another thing these restaurants share is a rare combination of elegance and informality. The service is polite and attentive, and the linen crisp white. But, in the case of the Atrium, the totally modern decor leaves no room for stuffiness; and The Vintners Rooms. lofty and baronial, with an open fire blazing in the huge grate, candlelight and oddments of dark wood dining furniture, is the kind of place you could happily hole up for an entire afternoon
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or evening. The menus of both places
are also designed to be accommodating.
If you are not hungry or wealthy enough for a full in la carte meal. it is perfectly acceptable to order a couple of starters, or even a pudding and a cup of coffee.
The Vintners Rooms runs a lunchtime bar menu at £8 for two courses, £10.75 for three, which. with dishes like shellfish and sherry bisque. pigeon salad with fig and raspberry vinaigrette and lambs' kidneys with marjoram. gin and juniper included. is hardly less sumptuous than the a la carte. As Sue Cumming argues. the bar menu may not make a great proﬁt. but it generates and maintains a loyal customer base. which is important in business terms. but also to the atmosphere of the place. If her restaurant was not accessible to friends and faithful. she implies, what would be the point?
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80 The List 24 September-7 October 1993