Spatch: 3 Hunter Square, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
The transition of burgers from grease-drenched guilty pleasures to gourmet restaurant fare would have been unthinkable 10-15 years ago, and there are signs that the same thing might be about to happen with chicken.
If it does, we may well look back at Spatch, Merchant Leisure’s new eatery just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, as one of the real trailblazers.
Wipe any thoughts of Nando’s or KFC from your mind – Spatch is a different breed, as the décor, the expansive craft beer selection and the chicken itself prove. Spatch’s birds are barn-reared, spatchcocked – hence the name – and charcoal fired on a custom-made rotisserie, all right in front of your eyes in an open kitchen.
The cooking method and kitchen design were both inspired by Merchant Leisure owner Jim Tullis’ holidays to Portugal, as Operations Director Arthur Mustard informed DRAM.
He said, “The concept came from Jim himself. His favourite restaurant in Portugal does a similar spatchcock chicken grilled on charcoal coals, and once he’d seen it there he started trying to work out how to do it here. We looked into it and came up with the type of flame grill we needed, which was specially made for us by The Clay Oven Company down in London. The chicken is supplied by The Buffalo Farm and we worked hard with them to source Scottish chickens that were the right size. That was one of the main things, getting the right size of bird so that you get consistency. When you order it today it’s roughly the same size as yesterday, and the week before.”
Newcastle firm Collective Design were behind the aesthetics, having also worked with Merchant Leisure on Burgers and Beer Grillhouse and The Newsroom in the Capital.
Owner and lead designer Simon McIlwraith explained, “Arthur and Jim I’ve known for a number of years, so we had a good relationship with them. We’ve been quite in depth with this for a couple of years to get it to fruition, it wasn’t any one thing, or a written brief, it was a work in progress. It wasn’t the usual, sit down with a client, it was much more organic than that. And because of that we’ve been able to do something quite creative and I think that shows in the actual design.
“The open kitchen was number one, THE most important thing. The theatre of that was important to us, and everything that followed after was secondary.”
The restaurant has an outside area with tables and black wicker chairs looking onto Hunter Square and the Tron Kirk, a neat spot for sampling the atmosphere of the Edinburgh Festival and soaking up those rare glimpses of Scottish sunshine.
The bar and that showstopping open kitchen can be found side by side on the left immediately inside the entrance, which is ringed by vintage Edison bulbs. The prime spectating spot for those wanting to monitor their chicken’s progress on the flame grill is the brown leather banquette running down the opposite wall. Sections of wood panelling and exposed brickwork alternate on the walls and there’s a nice variety of contemporary light fittings. The colours present could broadly be described as russet, but there’s also splashes of green in the form of potted plants on shelves.
Arguably the coolest seat in the house is the table just off the front of the restaurant, bathed in red light emanating from a neon ‘SPATCH’ sign. The contrast is sharp with the section at the rear, where natural light flows in through windows and skylights. Ingredients like lemons and mushrooms feature in rustic, worn illustrations, the light fittings are reminiscent of greenhouse windows and there’s a series of five chalkboards showing every stage of the Spatch process – egg, chick, chicken, fully grown chicken, cooked chicken!
Simon expanded, “The food has that Portuguese influence 100%, but we wanted to bring the chicken influence into the design. I don’t want to say ‘farmhouse’ as such, but we wanted to go somewhere organic enough that it was almost like your home kitchen. So it’s like a homecooked, good quality, wholesome chicken meal that comes from the farm and is fresh, and it was that understanding.
“That was all part of the branding, hence why we’ve got the chicken icon. It was all about homecooking, good values, and hopefully that comes over. It’s dressed like a home kitchen, it feels like that, there’s some botanicals in there as well on the fabrics. We wanted people to feel cosy in there, it isn’t hard or harsh, it’s warm, it’s friendly, and that conveys what the clients are all about as well. They’re very passionate about their product and what they do.”
When DRAM paid Spatch a visit it was alive with animated conversations in foreign languages, but the team behind the venue – including General Manager Nick Callaghan and Executive Chef Gregor Annand – are determined to make it a hub for locals and tourists both.
“Purely by our location, the tourists are a big part of the business,” Arthur added. “But we believe that what we are doing is so good and so unique we will attract a lot of local customers as well.
“The Royal Mile has got a bit of a reputation as a tourist trap and we’re trying to shake that off so that local people will be comfortable coming up to visit us and experiencing the chicken and the atmosphere. Tourists won’t necessarily be here tomorrow and you need people coming back over and over again.
“So far it’s been great, we’ve been queued out the door, but the Festival has been on so I wouldn’t expect anything else! The reaction on social media and TripAdvisor has been tremendous, so we’re really pleased with that.”
Spatch’s website proclaims the restaurant as “the best thing to happen to chicken since feathers.” http://www.spatchchicken.co.uk
We can’t attest to that bold claim, but it’s certainly crafted with passion and dripping with attitude – just like the food.