Something new on restaurant scene
Every hospitality business operator in the Western Isles is hoping for a relaxation of the lockdown rules – and none more so than Lach MacLean, the new operator of what was Digby Chick restaurant in Stornoway.
Lach said: “We’ve been bringing back staff and hope to open by the middle of May, but we don’t want to open without being able to serve people a drink”. His existing restaurant, Harbour Kitchen, is due to re-open next weekend.
Digby Chick, which built a huge reputation during its 20 years of operation by James MacKenzie, closed around the start of the pandemic and there were fears that in the present climate it would become another long-term casualty of the lockdown.
Lach will be using a new name for the restaurant. He has “a pool of names” to consider but is not yet ready to decide. “I don’t want it to be seen as taking over Digby Chick,” he says, “but the start of something new – though, of course, I hope we can keep the customer base”
His own high culinary standards are already evident at Harbour Kitchen which is also in Stornoway town centre. TripAdvisor rates Harbour Kitchen as number one of 35 eating places in Lewis and Harris with five stars from reviewers.
Although Lach grew up in Stornoway, his parents are from Barra and South Uist. Part of his interest in food and good local produce came from his father Donald and uncle, Archie MacLean, who has run Gearraidh Mor Farm and abattoir at Craigston on the island of Barra since 1984, supplying many top mainland restaurants.
However, Lach says he owes the course of his career to the off-chance of a training development officer from Perth College being on a visit to Lews Castle College on the right day in 2003.
Unrelated to his visit, there was a “competition” among catering students that day and Lach emerged on top. The training inspector was also a “spotter” for Gleneagles Hotel and at the age of 17, he started his career in Scotland’s top hotel.
Lach began as a Commis Chef, the youngest employee at Gleneagles Hotel and the most junior of 52 other chefs. “It was a big learning experience,” he says. “Then I became a Chef de Partie, which is a little step above where I was and so on through the ranks”.
Among his career highlights at Gleneagles was cooking for the G8 summit amidst “incredible security” when the guests included George Bush, Tony Blair and U2 lead singer Bono.
Lach says that the norm for chefs is to move on after a few years to build experience. First he followed his head chef to a restaurant in Chester. Then onto the Ritz Carlton in London. Back nearer home to Inverness and then four years at the Hilton in Glasgow.
His ambition, however, was always to have his own place and this came to pass in 2017 when he took over the lease of what became the Harbour Kitchen. The location had endured a couple of false starts, but became a success story under Lach, until the pandemic struck.
As you would expect of an island chef, his first love in cooking has always been seafood. “From when I was very young, I had an aspiration to have a seafood restaurant. I didn’t promote Harbour Kitchen as a seafood bistro as that can scare a few customers away but fresh local seafood will always be prominent on our menus”.
Lach is grateful to the owners of both properties, Norman L MacDonald and Allan MacDonald, "for giving me this opportunity and continued support during what has been a very difficult time for everyone and particularly within the hospitality industry".