An interview with Fraser Allan, Head Chef at The Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh
Q: What is your background, where did you train?
A: I’ve been very lucky in my career to have worked with some of the best chefs in the country, which has given me a really varied career. I started out at the Peat Inn, where I worked for three years, initially with the legendary David Wilson before it was taken over by Geoffrey Smeddle, who has been a fantastic mentor throughout my whole career. I have very fond memories of my time there.
I went on to hold positions at Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, Willie Deans in Perth, Ondine and 21212 before I got my first head chef job at the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe and then The Pompadour by Galvin. My years working with the Galvin brothers were the most important of my career. Of course, I benefitted from working alongside the many talented chefs in our kitchens, but I also learned how to successfully run a business.
Q: What’s special about the menu at The Ivy on the Square?
A: There is a wide variety of dishes on the menu, drawing influences primarily from Britain and France, but also borrowing flavours and ingredients from across the globe. The result is a menu that is suitable for all occasions, whether relaxed or special, at any time of the day, seven days a week.
Q: The Ivy Collection is synonymous with classic cooking – are there any Scottish twists on the menu?
A: We have steak tartare, which features a splash of Glenkinchie Whisky in the dressing and is smoked with a piece of wood from the whisky barrel. It provides spectacular theatre when the cloche is removed at the table and the steak tartare appears as the smoke clears. The whisky is produced a few miles away from the restaurant and its smooth subtle flavour lends itself well to food.
Q: How do you keep innovating while maintaining the standards of the classics?
A: As a collection of restaurants, we are continually working on new dishes and improving our classics every day. We have a dedicated team of development chefs who use the feedback from our head chefs to make improvements to our dishes. As with any restaurant, consistency is key.
Q: Are ingredients sourced locally? Who are your primary Scottish suppliers?
A: Because we offer such a huge variety on our menu, we use a wide network of suppliers. For our cote de boeuf steaks we use Campbells Prime Meat, which is based just out of town in Linlithgow. They are a very reputable supplier.
Q: How does the Ivy on the Square differ from the other restaurants in the group?
A: The Ivy on the Square is the first Scottish restaurant in the collection, which is something the team is very proud of. Many of us were recruited because we had worked in Edinburgh for a large part of our careers. The Scottish restaurant scene – and Edinburgh in particular – has seen huge growth in the past ten years. There has never before been such a high standard and wide variety of restaurants available. This means that guests come through the door with high expectations and no shortage of alternatives, so the challenge of meeting those demands is something the team relishes.
Q: How do you feel about the other restaurants opening up on the Square? How do you feel about the ‘chain vs independent’ debate?
A: I think healthy competition is good for business. In particular around the Square, because it increases footfall and boosts business. It’s refreshing to see this end of town thrive and grow. There is nothing nicer on a sunny day than looking down Rose Street from the first floor of our restaurant and seeing the area buzzing and alive with people.
Q: What’s on the drinks list that is extra special?
A: Our bar manager Jon has developed a fantastic range of whisky and gin cocktails to celebrate all that Scottish spirits have to offer. The brasserie also houses a specially-curated drinks trolley dedicated exclusively to Scottish whisky.
Q: What’s your favourite dish on the Edinburgh menu?
A: Lunchtime is very busy for us and that is partly due to the set menu, which offers amazing value for a two or three-course midweek lunch. I often find the dishes on this menu are some of my favourites.
My two standouts are the bang bang chicken, a punchy, textured salad that is a great start to any meal, and crispy fried chicken thighs, dressed in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Another favourite is the dressed crab, watermelon and radish dish – the creamy crab is refreshed by the watermelon and a textured crunch from the radish.
Q: When you’re not at The Ivy on the Square (which I imagine is rare), where do you like to eat in Edinburgh?
A: Being a father to two gorgeous but crazy young girls, my wife and I rarely find time to eat out, so when we do I like to return to a place I know and love, and that is consistently great. I may be slightly biased, but for me the Galvin Brasserie de Luxe and Ondine tick those boxes. I love dishes that are simple and uncomplicated, allowing the quality of the cooking and the freshness of the ingredients to shine instead of being hidden behind the latest cooking gadget or chemical.
Q: What’s your go-to dish at home?
A: Curry, like 90% of chefs, I believe! Strong, bold spicy curries are my favourite, served with a homemade lime pickle. I tried my hand at making my own once and stored sundried limes in a jar of salt for 12 months before cracking them open to make the pickle. The result was fantastic and well worth the wait!
Q: What’s next for The Ivy on the Square?
A: Like the rest of the city, we are gearing up for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This will be our first one, so it presents an exciting challenge for the team. We’re all looking forward to the buzz and atmosphere that is around Edinburgh at this time. We are also working with new Scottish gin distillery, Oro Gin, to create two bespoke cocktails in celebration of World Gin Day.
Located on St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, The Ivy on the Square is an all-day British brasserie serving modern British and international Ivy-inspired classics, seven days a week. The Ivy on the Square, 6 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2BD Mon-Sat 8am-midnight; Sun 9am-10.30pm (0131-526 4777, www.theivyedinburgh.com)