Ferrier Richardson is described by many as a ‘celebrity chef’ and certainly his past would lend credence to the descriptor, today, Ferrier who has more than 40 years’ experience in the hospitality business is using his talents in Glasgow’s East End with his first Scottish culinary business in more than two decades, the Gastro Pub – The East End Fox. He still continues to do work with his HNWI and A list Celebrity clients, home and abroad, though he has given priority to his new venture to get it off the ground and cement it’s long-term future.
Ferrier is a well-known face in the Scottish culinary scene having been successful for more than two decades in the 80’s and 90’s as one of Scotland’s most distinguished chef/ proprietors with contemporary award winning venues such as October, Bearsden and Yes in Glasgow’s city centre, he was the opening Chef at Glasgow’s first Five star hotel and also owned Eurasia which unfortunately imploded in 2001, despite being the “New Scottish Restaurant of the Year in 2000”.
However, he hasn’t returned to the fine dining scene, instead its traditional, comfort dishes that grace the menu at his new Garrowhill gastro-pub and they are going down a storm. Ferrier is delighted, “We have certainly hit the ground running. I didn’t think it would quite take off in the way it has but I think it has been helped by my decision not to open on a Monday and Tuesday. The business we would have had over seven days has been condensed into five.”
The Garrowhill site was not the only one that Ferrier considered after he decided to return to Scotland, his decision was also family-motivated after his first grandson Rouzbeh arrived. Says Ferrier, “People would be amazed at how many places you discard before you throw your money at one. I had a serious look at the town and had considered one or two units for various reasons. One was in the financial district. I walked along the street chapped every door and spoke to every concierge. I decided not to go for it. Today the Ho Wong is successfully trading there. I’m not sure if anyone else could have made it work so I take my hat off to them. I also took a look at what was Hutchesons. However, at this stage in my life although I don’t want to retire, I also don’t want to throw money down the toilet so I wanted to make sure anything that I was going to do was going to work. I took advice from various people I knew in the trade including my brother who has been in the industry a long time and runs The Lab, and friends such as Mark Lappin, who runs multiple successful ventures. The general consensus from everyone who I respected was that outside of Glasgow was doing much better than the town itself, hence the reason I threw my hat into the ring for this site.
“Initially owners Greene King put the site of The Barrachnie Inn up for sale, but I think they were surprised not only by the sums of money being offered to buy it, but the quality of individuals bidding on it. They subsequently took it off the market for the best part of six months and then advertised for someone to take a lease on it. Luckily out of around 55 applicants for the unit I was successful.
My proposition was attractive to them because I was just about the only one who planned to make it food driven. I was also lucky that it wasn’t quite a normal deal and I managed to do it free of tie. Having said that I have still gone with Belhaven, although I did speak to other brewers too.
“My idea was to create an English-style pub which was female friendly, food driven, but offering good wine, cocktails and beer. A mid-market venue and the design had to reflect that. Greene King allowed me to get involved with the design process and help develop the concept. I admit I do really like the development side, and getting involved with the architects and designers, and I was lucky that Greene King believed in what I was planning to do.
“The market is a lot more casual now than it was back when I did fine dining. People are looking for something more relaxed and I don’t think they want to spend £120 – £150 quid every week so I changed my tack concerning the style of food on offer.
“I also remembered how well my great friend Iain Murray at the Ship Inn in Irvine did when he presented great traditional pub dishes. He used to have one of the busiest pubs around for food – he must have done 300 covers a day at the weekend and his customers bought their drinks at the bar. People definitely consider this a pub, although we do table service, but then they are pleasantly surprised at how good the food is. That is because we put love and care into it, whether it’s mince and potatoes or a steak pie. We have tried a few sexier things as specials such as lobster thermidor, but we have found that our customers generally want comfort food and more vegetarian and vegan dishes. So that’s what we deliver. The trick is to know your market, find it and stick with it. I don’t want to force our customers into areas they don’t want to go.”
The quality of the food is evidence that Ferrier has a good team in the kitchen, he agrees, “I have been very lucky. The guys here have a great temperament and although we are closed on a Monday they will come in and portion up the food and do other things so we are ready for the rest of the week. We can only have five chefs in the kitchen so they all need to know what they are doing.”
The success of the business to date has also meant that already Ferrier is thinking about extending the kitchen. He tells me, “I love Terence Conran’s places, and always bought his design books – he always gave 40% of space to the back of house. He used to say, “without a proper engine you can’t work properly.” We are just coping with our numbers at the moment, so I will review them after we get to the six months mark so we can enhance what we are doing. I’m not talking about taking our food to Michelin star level, just continuing to improve it day by day, giving our clients a greater experience”
That has really been the story of Ferrier’s career – he has always strived to build on what he has been doing. It was his mum that can be credited with his move into hospitality – she had been working at the Bellahouston Hotel and introduced her schoolboy son to Chef George Quar who advised him to stick in at school and go to college if he wanted to get into hospitality. And this is what he did – and although he originally wanted to be a hotel manager it was in college that he discovered his love of cooking.
His first role was at the Central Hotel in Glasgow – but says Ferrier, “The style of management was not to my liking which resulted in me getting fired. I thought at the time lunatics were running the asylum! However, the same day I walked along the road and got a job at the Albany where I spent two years – and really enjoyed it. Five months before my apprenticeship finished I chapped the door of the Executive Chef Eduard Hari and said I would like to go abroad and work – and he used his contacts to get me a job at the Intercontinental in Geneva which at the time was owned by Pan Am. I spent nearly a year there before coming back to Glasgow and getting a job at The Fountain in Glasgow – which was headed up by George Quar. He was a great motivator and just before I was 22 I got the number two role at the restaurant.
“Sir William Lithgow owned it and George was then moved to Gleddoch House – and it was suggested by the then Managing Director that now I had an opportunity to really prove myself – at the age of 22 I was Head Chef at the Fountain.
“In hindsight although it was certainly good for me, I would question whether it was a good move for the restaurant. I could cook, but I didn’t know how to run a restaurant. Before long I met Ken McCulloch – he was initially looking to buy The Fountain but ended up buying The Buttery instead and he approached me to join him.
“The biggest compliment in my whole career was that every member of my kitchen brigade came with me from the Fountain to the Buttery, even when I couldn’t tell them where I was going. They thought if it was good enough for Ferrier it was good enough for them. It was the springboard for my career.
“The same day that Ken opened the Buttery he bought the Rogano and I became Executive chef for both and I was still not even 25. It was great for me and working for Ken McCulloch ultimately took me on a completely different journey. I didn’t just improve my cooking ability, but his vision and attention to detail made a real impression. That’s where I learned to work with architects and designers and such like. He also involved me in the opening of One Devonshire Gardens.
“Then myself and a colleague – Hugh MacShannon – decided to open our own business in Bearsden. We called it October and we opened it in 1988. We were just two young ambitious guys and Glasgow was just blooming – literally – it was the era of the Garden Festival and Glasgow’s Miles Better which changed the perception of Glasgow as a city. I just happened to be one of the people who benefitted from that national and international publicity.
“October was a great success. We were booked out six weeks in advance and we were constantly full. We had a great team, and the style of the restaurant was something new. I had visited an Italian restaurant in London with Ken – and had loved the design so much – I reflected it in October. The design was timeless.”
October Cafe in Princes Square followed a couple of years later but not before the Bearsden restaurant was cited in The Good Food Guide which voted it newcomer of the year in 1988 and later Scottish Restaurant of the Year as well.
However, Ferrier’s ambition to work for a hotel was still there. He had always wanted to work on Park Lane, London. So, when Hilton approached him a few years later to go to the new Glasgow Hilton the lure was too great. He says, “It was a high-profile appointment for them. At the time I was involved in the Culinary Olympic team and was doing a column for the Evening Times. They initially asked me to do the fine dining restaurant but I said why would I do that when I had two of my own? I certainly saw the role as a steppingstone.
Part of the deal was that I had to relinquish October – so I did a deal with Hamish McLean who subsequently turned October into Fifty-Five BC but just before we finalised it the UK went into recession (2008), I thought it might not get done, but luckily Hamish was a cash buyer and I had also managed to get a public house licence for the venue which made it very attractive to him.
“Again in hindsight, the Hilton move wasn’t right – either for them or me. I had been used to working for Ken and with Hugh, we had always been on the same journey to Damascus together, but I soon learned that in a larger corporation, everyone tends to look out for themselves. That was difficult for me, but I learned a lot about myself, how to manage numbers and more about purchasing, it also made me realise how I wanted to treat people. After two years we parted, it was very amicable both parties realising it wasn’t working as we both had different values and aspirations”
Ferrier then put all his energies into opening Yes in Glasgow another fine dining restaurant before becoming Managing Director of Eurasia, a new Asian fusion restaurant in Bothwell Street. It was an instant success so much so that Ferrier felt able to concentrate on another consultancy role with Johnnie Walker. He explains, “I started doing various media work for them in New York and the carrot was a plan to put a Scottish restaurant in the Rockefeller Centre.”
I took my eye off the ball at Eurasia, and left others in charge. I didn’t fully realise what was going on.” As the business failed with suppliers going unpaid Ferrier’s business partners put the business into administration.” He says, “It took me a long time to get over it because “I had never known failure.” Everything else up until then had been a success. It is still one of my biggest regrets.”
He then took off to America with his wife Anne-Marie and worked there for a while before coming back and helping James Mortimer with Rogano. Then Ferrier went to Spain to work and the best part of the next four years was spent living in Sotogrande – a place that is now one of his favourite spots.
Cairo then beckoned says Ferrier, “It was the craziest place ever. But I smiled every day whether it was at a family of four on a moped or a flock of sheep on the highway. A journey could take 20 minutes one day and two hours the next.” His next role, was his most favourite job – as Private Chef to the President and First Lady of Gabon!
Although it initially was a three month contract – four years later he was still there. “Out with working for myself it was the best job I ever had. I was responsible for houses in London, Paris, Marrakesh and more. I flew in a private planes and visited the King of Morocco, President Obama and the Queen and Prince Philip. I went to the likes Rio De Janeiro for the World Cup and London for the Olympics and enjoyed many more extraordinary experiences. But I worked hard, and they appreciated everything I was doing for them as a family.”
But then Ferrier got a phone call that changed his life – he learned his brother Simon had been murdered. He had been in the wrong place at the wrong time after a night out with friends. Says Ferrier, “It shattered my world. Simon and I had been through so much together. He had been involved with October and Yes and wasn’t only my brother but my best friend too. If he had died of cancer or been hit by a bus I would have been devastated but I might have been able to accept it easier. But the way that it happened I just couldn’t deal with. Then six weeks later my mum died. She had Alzheimer’s and cancer, Simon had looked after her, but after he died she just shut down.”
These twin tragedies led to Ferrier handing his notice in to the President of Gabon. He then took two years out in an effort to come to terms with the grief and he admits he was not easy to live with. But time passed and he finally decided to re-join the industry that he loved, first of all with a role in Gibralter and then he joined former Towie star Elliot Wright at Olivia’s in La Cala. “He had issues with his kitchen, and I came in to help sort them out,” says Ferrier.
He then went to Nikki Beach in Marbella for a season. He smiles, “Nikki Beach was amazing. It is a phenomenal business. I recall a White party when we took a quarter of a million in one day, and 70% of that was alcohol!”
His last role before coming back to Glasgow was working as a private chef for the leading professor in the world for Osteoporosis, working in Surrey and Vichy, travelling back and forward to his home in Sotogrande. It was back to private jets and meeting interesting people. Then Covid came along. Ferrier then decided to return back home to Glasgow with his wife Anne-Marie – which was good timing as his daughter had just given them their first grandchild.
The rest is nearly history – the former Barrachnie Inn came onto his radar, and today it is has exceeded everyone’s expectations. It is also a family affair, with his son and daughter also working in the business. Ferrier comments, “We didn’t set out with a low bar but even we have been surprised at how well it has been received. I think the business has also been helped by La Vita opening nearby – it has brought more people to the area and some of their customers now come in for a pre and after dinner drink. We have also been working hard at doing special events like Burns Nights, and music evenings to enhance our offering with more events in the pipeline to keep our guests coming back on a regular basis.
“Do we get it right all the time?“ Probably not, but myself and the team at the East End Fox are doing their very best, we genuinely care about our product, the customers appreciate all our hard work and thankfully it seems to be paying off !!!