AFTER 37 years in chef’s whites and 13 at the helm of Ondine, Roy Brett is still happiest in the kitchen. “I just want to keep cooking,” he says. Despite a storm-battered few years for the restaurant industry, Roy’s enthusiasm remains. “Working in hospitality, you either love it or you don’t,” he adds. “I love this restaurant. It means a lot to our family. It’s our way of life.”

Staying at the top of Edinburgh’s ever-evolving food scene is tough, but Ondine has managed it, scooping restaurant awards year after year.

HeraldScotland:

“We’re lucky,” says Roy. “Thirteen years in Edinburgh working at Ondine we’ve had to evolve, diversify. We still have our core, simple beliefs but we’re always trying to make it interesting for people to eat here or come here to work.

“It’s the team’s work and effort and commitment. They’ve kept the consistency of what we do.”

What’s more important to him is “being a restaurant where people like to come and enjoy good food and wine, and get great service”.

At the heart of Roy’s restaurant ethos is a real reverence for ingredients. “I still get so excited about the produce arriving” he admits.

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He credits five years working with Rick Stein in Padstow, latterly as his executive chef, for his real fish education. Roy says: “I thought I understood fish but then I met fishermen. We’d get calls from boats telling us what they had. It was line caught then straight into the restaurant. A lot of the kitchen team came from fishing families for generations and you start to get that real connection and appreciation.”

That respect for the fishing community and for the sea has never left him. “The fishermen know so much. They’re your eyes and ears”.

Roy will only use creel-caught shellfish. “How important is it to have langoustine on your plate or a scallop ... if it’s damaged the environment forever, and if the beds have been torn up? I’m not having that on the menu,” he adds.

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Rick Stein’s cooking ethos also influenced Roy. “I’ve worked with a lot of great chefs but the one thing that Rick always has is restraint, not overpowering a fish, not messing around with it too much.”

Roy talks about one of his favourite dishes and the same simple, skillful approach is evident. “When you have something as beautiful as a whole lemon sole, the last thing I want to do is turn it into an espuma or a mousse. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do that, but I just want to give you the best cooked fish possible, with some caramelised brown butter, capers, lemon and parsley – that’s it.”

He makes it sound easy. “We get great fish from Welch Fishmongers from the cold waters off Peterhead. It’s been handled really well. Then it’s just the heat of the pan, the quality of the butter.”

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Celebrating seasonal produce is key at Ondine, as is ensuring producers are supported. “They’ve grown this for us, for our industry and for our country – we should use it and embrace it,” Roy says.

Currently, he is delighted by Scottish asparagus, Isle of Wight tomatoes, and Wiltshire summer truffles, all of which inspire constant tweaks and changes to the menu. “It’s giving myself and the team the opportunity to diversify what we do.”

Roy recently introduced a Robata grill and more meat to the menu, partly to provide a positive, new focus as his beautiful, airy restaurant remains wrapped in scaffolding.

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Some dishes are Ondine classics, like the fish and shellfish soup. “It’s really important to have that on, because it’s almost like who we are,” he says. “It’s a really simple traditional dish but it has to be made properly. If that comes off, that’s it, time up.”

Like everything at Ondine, it’s deceptively simple, complex, and layered as the sweetness of the shellfish meets tomato and pepper, with rouille and gruyère to swirl in and garlic croutons to dunk.

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Roy may be the captain of this ship but he constantly credits his restaurant crew, trusted suppliers and everyone who chooses to eat here for Ondine’s enduring success. “There are many parts to running a restaurant, but the main thing is the customers and your team, and the produce and how we choose it, how we approach it, our ideals – all these layers build up to what a restaurant is.”

When the scaffolding comes down, Roy and team will be glad to let the light back in.

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 It’s a port in a storm, a hideaway on an elegant ocean liner miles from the busy streets below. With a seat at the bar, oysters and a glass of fizz, it’s always smooth sailing at Ondine.

 

RECIPE: MUSSELS GNOCCHI MARINIERE

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Gnocchi is a labour of love and it’s important to work with a dry potato mix.

Try to work with small batches at a time, keeping the dough covered not allowing a skin to form.  

At Ondine this is our version – adding mussels and making a mariniere-style sauce.

The freshly-cut parsley and a good punch of garlic lifts the dish to a point of true satisfaction. It reminds you of the joy of cooking and the point of simplicity.

PREPARING THE MUSSELS

To prepare the mussels it is important to remove the beard from the mussel that is attached to the outer shell.

Rinse well under cold running water.

Discard any shells that are damaged or remain open.

INGREDIENTS
MAKES 6

500g Maris Piper potato (baked, peeled & riced)
160gms 00 flour or strong flour
1 small egg (whisked)
Seasoning

Gnocchi

To make the gnocchi simply mix together the flour, eggs and potatoes in a bowl.

Season well at this point then work it all together to make a well combined dough.

Roll into thin sausage shapes then cut into little pillows.

Bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil then simmer.

Now add the gnocchi to the simmering water. The dumplings will naturally float to the top to tell you they are ready.

Mussels

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ kg mussels
1 shallot finely diced
small bunch chopped parsley
6 garlic cloves finely diced
1 glass of white wine
100ml fish stock
2 tablespoons of diced unsalted butter
a small bunch of chopped parsley
seasoning

Bring a thick-bottomed pan to a moderate heat, add a splash of olive oil and allow to warm through before adding the thyme, shallots and garlic. Cook for a few minutes without colour then add the mussels and fold in. After several minutes add the white wine and fish stock.

Cover with a tight lid for several minutes until all the mussels have opened.

Add the diced butter and parsley to enrich the juices in the pan.

At this point add the gnocchi to the pan – simply skim them with a spoon and add to the mussel broth.

The cooking liquor will coat the gnocchi perfectly. Sprinkle with the parsley and fold together. Check the seasoning before serving.