NICOLA and Keith Braidwood have worked for some of the best chefs in Scotland. Now they are working for themselves - at their eponymously named new restaurant, Braidwoods.
The husband and wife duo, who have worked with the likes of David Wilson and Bruce Sangster, opened their 28-seat restaurant in the market town of Dalry, Strathclyde, on July 8.
With an impressive reputation - Nicola is a former Scottish Young Chef of the Year, Keith is a Caterer & Hotelkeeper Acorn Award winner - they expect to pull in clientele from as far as Glasgow, 22 miles away.
Their menu is distinctively Scottish, featuring local produce such as roe deer, west coast halibut and fillet of beef. "Dishes are light and cooked in a modern British style," explains Keith Braidwood.
If their first menu can be said to have a main-course signature dish, it is the honey-glazed breast of Gressingham duck in a confit of its own leg and a cranberry and caramelised ginger essence.
The Braidwoods are best known for their desserts, which can claim credit for the trio of caramel puddings at this year's Scottish Food Proms gala dinner.
That dessert, which has become one of their specialities, will find its way on to the menu and probably stay there, says Keith Braidwood. The three-part dessert comprises: a caramel ice-cream served in a brandy snap; a caramel and praline mousse; and a small caramel cräme brñlée served on rum-scented bananas glazed with brown sugar.
The Braidwoods' lunchtime menu, aimed primarily at local businesses, will change weekly. Average spend, including wine, is around £12.50. Dinner, which is to be positioned as more of a special occasion meal, changes either daily or weekly depending on the availablility of produce. Three courses are offered at £21.50 and four courses at £24.50.
Both meals include another of the couple's specialities - home-made chocolates, made from Valrhona chocolate (milk chocolate with 40% cocoa solids; bitter chocolate with 66% cocoa solids).
Three white wines and three reds have been selected as house specials. There is a heavy emphasis on New World wines: an Australian (£9.95) and a South African (£7.85) white sit alongside a Bordeaux (£12.50), while Australian (£9.95) and Californian (£8.75) reds vie with a Côtes du Rhône (£9.95). In addition to the six house wines, there are another 50 to 60 on the wine list costing no more than £33.
Braidwoods is a long, white Ayrshire cottage, "much like the kind Rabbie Burns was born in" says Keith. Internal decor is sky-blue, with pictures and pottery picking up on the building's past as a mill cottage.
Unlike many husband and wife teams who have to learn to work together when they set up a business, Keith and Nicola are old hands at sharing a kitchen. They first met at the Royal Oak Hotel, Yattendon, six years ago and have worked together at Murrayshall House Hotel and, most recently, Shieldhill Hotel. n
THE weather is important to new Chelsea restaurant Thai on the River, which opened at the end of March this year.
Proprietor Andrew Milne sticks his head out of the door on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes to decide whether to open up or not.
The outside terrace, which seats 40, opens Monday to Friday lunchtime, and weather permitting, Saturday and Sunday as well. The main restaurant, which seats 90, closes lunchtimes at the weekends to free up the seven kitchen staff who devote their time to copious preparation for the week ahead.
"My staff are here seven days a week, but weekends are set aside for preparing marinades, spices - things like that," explains the designer-suited and streetwise Milne. Playing the reluctant restaurateur, he muses over how he ever got into the restaurant business, having spent most of his working life wheeling and dealing in the property world, "mergers and acquisitions - that was me before, then I found myself opening up a Thai restaurant in Oxford." He sold up his share there to open the new restaurant on Chelsea Wharf with partner Carol Reynolds.
Soimalee Promsan, the diminutive head chef, Milne recruited through contacts from his old restaurant. All but one of his staff are from Thailand's second city, Chiang Mai.
The narrow kitchen, crowded with woks frying eye-stinging chilli, copes with around 150 sittings on a busy Friday night.
Mieng Gai (or No 1 from the menu, for those too timid to attempt pronunciation) is the biggest selling starter: lightly spiced chicken cooked with ground peanuts, fresh peppercorns and garlic and served on fresh Thai spinach leaves which you wrap yourself into little parcels.
To assist customers in selecting a dish to their desired "hotness", the menu is dotted with small chillis indicating the level of fire to expect.
Tom Yam Gai - a hot and sour chicken soup flavoured with lemon grass, lime juice and chilli - is their most popular soup. It scores one chilli on the menu for hotness and arrives in a clay pot with a burner underneath wafting spices.
Plaa Choo Chee, number 31 on the menu - "big with the customers" arrives in one of the clay fish pots - a whole fish cooked in coconut curry, lime leaves, thai herbs and fresh chillies.
Milne has an unusual wine suggestion to accompany the meal, "I like a nice Rioja," he says, pouring a chilly 1992 Montecillo. All the wines carry a brief description, with a 1992 Bordeaux Clairet from Chƒteau Les Marches (£11.70) singled out as "quite delicious with Thai food"
Herbs are flown in from Thailand to Heathrow twice weekly. Fish and meat are bought locally from Billingsgate and Smithfield.
As far as marketing the restaurant is concerned, "little snippets in the press" are the restaurant's main form of publicity, but local hotels have been informed: "we're hopeful with the Conrad round the corner." n