Martin Wishart

Martin Wishart

Martin Wishart

Martin Wishart trained under many masters of classical French cuisine before returning to his native Edinburgh, where he has earned himself a legion of loyal fans across his restaurants. Making the most of his surroundings, his seasonally changing menus showcase the best in famed Scottish produce such as shellfish and game.

Martin Wishart had a modest upbringing in the Blackhall area of Edinburgh. Growing up his mother did most of the cooking – plenty of hearty soups and casseroles – and, while he enjoyed cooking himself from an early age, becoming a chef was not an ambition that had really occurred to him. Leaving school at fifteen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a carpenter but, fortunately, fate intervened and the young boy was first offered a job as a kitchen apprentice at a popular hotel in Edinburgh.

Martin accepted the position and spent the next five years of his life working in kitchens across Scotland. At the age of twenty he left his job at Cameron House in Loch Lomond and set off to France, turning up on the doorstep of renowned chef Marc Meneau’s restaurant in Burgundy. Meneau took a chance on the young chef, and Martin stayed a number of weeks, flourishing in the intense environment of a Michelin-starred kitchen.

Throughout his career Martin has remained focused on his own future as a chef. Clearly he is of discerning taste, for his early mentors include such culinary heavyweights as Albert Roux, Marco Pierre White, Charlie Trotter, Michel Roux and John Burton Race.

Owning a restaurant of his own was always Martin's dream, however, and in 1999 he opened Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith, Edinburgh. Despite somewhat modest beginnings – the chef recalls 'wobbly chairs' and concrete floors during its shoestring early days – the restaurant quickly gained a loyal following. Restaurant Martin Wishart was awarded a Michelin star in 2001 and has retained it ever since.

Martin also holds a Michelin star for his second venture, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond (currently closed due to a fire and set to reopen in Autumn 2019), where diners can enjoy elegant cuisine against the dramatic backdrop of the loch and Ben Lomond. Aside from fine dining he also runs the Honours, a more casual, brasserie-style restaurant which opened in Edinburgh in 2011. A sister restaurant in Glasgow followed in 2014, but has since closed.

As the chef says himself, classical French cuisine is 'very much the backbone' of his cooking style. Texture, too, is important, and Martin is careful not to overload his dishes with too many flavours. He focuses his dishes around a central ingredient and builds on complementary flavours and garnishes from there – langoustine ravioli is simply served with braised orange endive and langoustine jus, while Wagyu beef sits on fregola pasta, broad beans and black garlic, dressed with a roast onion sauce. Halibut ceviche with mango and passion fruit is a popular signature at Restaurant Martin Wishart, and the dish is in part a tribute to his Mexican-born wife, Cecile, whom the chef met while working at L’Ortolan under John Burton Race.

Provenance is key, not just in the making of the dish but in the serving of it too – Martin expects his front of house staff to be able to talk as knowledgeably about the food’s ingredients as an expert sommelier might do about wines. There is plenty to talk about, for the chef sources his ingredients from some of the finest producers in Scotland. The North Sea provides many of Martin’s cherished ingredients, such as shellfish, monkfish and salmon, and Restaurant Martin Wishart offers a full fish tasting menu along with the standard version (in addition to a highly praised vegetarian menu).

Martin's menus change with the seasons in order to make the most of the quality produce that is available, and the chef is known for the instinctive sensitivity with which he treats his ingredients in order to bring out the best of their flavour. Game is a speciality when in season, and the meat is prepared with suitably autumnal accompaniments – think roast grouse with braised cabbage and sauce Albert, served with a heady celeriac purée.

Martin became the first chef in history to receive an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh in 2012, and contributed a food column to the Sunday Herald’s magazine. He also runs his own cooking school, offering half-day, full-day and three-day masterclasses to eager attendees. The classes book up weeks in advance and it is little wonder, with students hoping to absorb even a little of Martin's culinary magic.