Martin Wishart’s name above the door of his charming harbour-side Leith eatery attracts foodies in their droves, but when he first set up his burgeoning food empire he had a limited bank balance and very little equipment
When Martin Wishart set up his now Michelin-star restaurant he had hardly any equipment and was sofa surfing at his brother’s.
“We had no hot plate, a mixer which I borrowed from my mother and a blender she lent us as well,” laughed Martin.
“I remember it finally packed in about six months later. I don’t think I’ve ever replaced it for her!
“What I did buy however – which I still to this day think is one of the most important things a chef needs – was the very best pots and pans I could afford.
“We didn’t even have menus printed, I just stuck a piece of A4 paper in the window with the menu on.”
What drove him on was the fact that his whole career to date had been geared to this point, that he would one day own his own restaurant.
His flagship Michelin-starred restaurant, in Leith, Edinburgh, right by the river (chosen partly because it evoked strong memories of his time in Amsterdam) is now the epitome of elegance.
Restaurant Martin Wishart – so named because one of the few bits of marketing advice he’s ever taken was to call it after himself – is understated and stylish.
Light wood walls, elegant Art D eco-inspired lighting and – as you would expect – pristine white tablecloths, are the perfect backdrop for awe-inspiring tasting menus, which include one devoted entirely to seafood and a highly acclaimed vegetarian offering.
“I had been cycling around Edinburgh for months, looking for the perfect venue,” said Martin.
“I felt the time was right for me to open my own restaurant and I just kept looking until I found somewhere that I knew would be the place.”
He admits that part of the appeal was “that the building was council-owned so the rent was only £500,” an important factor given that the chef had only £7,000 – his entire life savings – to get the former Italian restaurant off the ground.
Friends and family chipped in to paint and decorate, with the restaurant opening using the rustic chairs and tables which Martin inherited from the previous owner.
The creation of the restaurant was the culmination of skills learnt across the globe, honing his craft under the watchful eye of chefs such as Nick Nairn, Marco Pierre White, John Burton Race and Albert Roux.
Of his own time spent working with some of the biggest names in the industry he says: “They were fantastic experiences, particularly working in a three Michelin star restaurant.”
He returned to Edinburgh and worked at the famed Balmoral Hotel and then in 1999 he decided it was time to branch out under his own name.
“Our starting prices were about £6 for a starter and £14 for a main course and I was a little worried because there wasn’t really a fine dining culture in Edinburgh at that time,” he revealed.
“It was hairy for the first couple of weeks and then we started to get fantastic word-of-mouth and the bookings just started to flood in.”
Now he also runs a Michelin-starred restaurant at Cameron House Hotel, along with Honours, a more casual brasserie-style eatery in Edinburgh and then a sister restaurant in Glasgow.
He has also developed a very healthy outside catering operation, enjoying the challenge of cooking everywhere from Singapore to New York.
“Those kind of events are huge logistically but incredibly satisfying,” he said.
“It also helps us develop an internationally recognised reputation.”
Wherever he travels in the world, there’s no doubt that his heart remains in Scotland and the rich bounty the country produces makes endless appearances on his menu.
Langoustines, scallops from Orkney, roe deer – all find their way onto the Wishart table.
“We have so many amazing ingredients here in Scotland and we take every opportunity to showcase them,” he said.
For further details visit www.restaurantmartinwishart.co.uk