Ian Wisniewski talks to Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale Restaurants,London
IAN: Running a Scottish restaurant with a specialist selection of Scotch whisky seems like a reward rather than a job?RANALD: I think a lot of people would assume the way I spend my life is one constant reward.Making a restaurant work is simply providing excellent produce and a lovely atmosphere, but doing it in the context of running a business.You’ve got staff, margins, suppliers, customers, the building, there’s a huge number of variables, and all those variables have to be sandwiched into a one and a half hour or two hour experience.IAN: Various Scotch whisky bars have generally been library style or covered in tartan,whereas you have your own style at Boisdale.How important do you think this can be in terms of introducing Scotch whisky and Scottish food to a broader audience?RANALD: We’ve never had a designer, I’ve evolved the way it looks and I think of ourselves as being quite egalitarian, you get a nice mix of young and old, affluent and not so affluent, I think everyone quite likes that, it creates a buzz. In the evenings you get jeans and tee shirts, and suits, and I think we’ve definitely introduced a lot of people to whisky, I certainly have. If anyone tells me they don’t like whisky I’ll pour them something light and delicious, and take them through how to nose it and add a little water.IAN: As customers are more experimental when ordering cocktails,and so more likely to try a spirit they’re not familiar with, do you think whisky cocktails are a goodway of introducing people to whisky?RANALD: I think it’s a way.I like to think I started malt whisky cocktails, in 1999, I certainly had the idea independently of anyone else suggesting to me that we should do it. You’ve got more room to experiment with whisky because there are so many different styles.IAN: Your menu is amazing in terms of the selection, but also in featuring tasting notes.RANALD: Tasting notes are just a bit of time and effort. I’ve always had descriptions of anything that requires it. The staff would never know 200 malt whiskies.IAN: Do you see whisky ordered as an aperitif or more digestif?RANALD: It’s more the end of a meal, we do flights of whiskies for digestif malts, though people probably tend to drink a blend more before they settle in to dinner.IAN: Are customers naturally more experimental in a bar, where they can order by the glass,compared to a retail purchase when they have to obviously have to buy an entire bottle?RANALD: Undoubtedly.When you buy a glass of whisky in a bar you’re renting a home for an hour or two, which is another way of looking at the cost, and you’re also renting staff for a period of time.IAN: What trends have you seen among your customers,are peated malts showing increased demand?RANALD: Yes. And people particularly like buying one for a friend who hasn’t had one before.IAN: When revising your list do you add whiskies in order to take customers somewhere new,or do you take into any emerging trends?RANALD: Essentially what one is doing is always attempting to upgrade and improve everything you do.IAN: How does your range of whiskies fit into the overall selection?RANALD: They’re interesting because they’re limited edition, single cask bottlings, so I call them live recordings as opposed to studio recordings. It’s a regional spread. Tiny quantities.They can be any price.IAN:You cater for beginners to connoisseurs,which means staff must be adept at having more straightforward as well as detailed conversations about whisky.RANALD: Part of our advantage, apart from having an annotated list, is that the average amount of time most people have been working behind the bar or on the floor is at least five to six years, and it’s very helpful that people stick around. We have whisky training every couple of months, suppliers come in and talk to the staff.But you always need to keep improving staff knowledge and there’s nothing quite like going to a distillery.IAN: Apart from London regulars,you must host whisky lovers from various countries.RANALD: We specifically get Japanese groups coming in, and I’ve done quite a lot of Japanese television, some Americans and Germans, some tourists find their way here specifically to drink whisky, they don’t neccessarily come at typical times of the day, mid to late afternoon for example.IAN: Do you get much time to meet whisky lovers?RANALD: I’m at the bar all too often, late, normally three nights a week.I’m quite often at the bar suggesting whiskies.IAN: It must be great to recommend something and see people’s enjoyment from it.RANALD: Yes, that’s very satisfactory indeed. If they’ve really enjoyed it that’s superb.
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