The next stop on our tour of UK chefs takes us to Edinburgh. It's well-known for its wide variety of quality restaurants, but unless you've visited The Whistle Stop Barber Shop we can guarantee the concept will come as a bit of a surprise…
We meet Simon Douglas – co-founder and the man behind the menu – in the bar, along with his pug Peggy (who seems to be a permanent fixture). The first thing we discuss is the elephant in the downstairs room.
"The space downstairs wasn't a particularly useful space to put a restaurant in… When we looked at it, we thought it would be conducive to a barbershop. It was shaped nicely, it had its own little waiting room on the left and the rest is sort of built in."
You did read correctly, there's a restaurant and bar upstairs and a barbershop downstairs, but we'll get back to that later.
Born in the USA
Whistle Stop's menu is packed full of American-inspired dishes, a cuisine that Simon was drawn to years ago.
"I fell in love with American food while travelling in America when I was younger. Experiencing these spices and flavours and ingredients that we never had growing up – Creole spices and Southern cuisine – that kind of stuff."
The influence is clear from the names of the dishes – The Southwest Benedict, for example – to the name of the restaurant, which comes from a famous American book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.
"We actually have a photo of the real Whistlestop Cafe down there in the corner, next to the picture of Catwoman. I read the book years and years ago, it's got recipes from the café in the back."
And the inspiration for the barbershop comes from across the pond too: "These New York barbershops from the 60s and 70s were really social spaces – especially in areas like Harlem. They weren't just somewhere you'd go to get a haircut, they were somewhere you could spend a whole day."
If you're there all day, you're going to need to eat. So we asked Simon for his recommendation: "I need to look at the menu," he says. "I'm proud of them all. Oh God, what would I say? Best dish on the menu…Nick?" He turns to his co founder Nick, who isn't much help either.
"I like the Philly egg rolls – we do a Philly cheese steak inside a crispy egg roll. We use minute steak, really authentic quality American cheese, the bright orange stuff – I love that one."
Haggis hamburger, anyone?
It's not all stars and stripes, though. Some of Whistle Stop's dishes have a Scottish twist. The Rowdy Roddy Piper Burger caught our eye from the moment we first saw the menu, how did that come about?
"Well, we're so close to the Royal Mile we thought it would be churlish not to get into the Scottish side of things. We know haggis always goes down well this side of town so we threw some on a burger, tasted it and if it was good, it was good. We added whisky sauce, some nice crispy bacon and made a good burger – it's a really popular dish as well.
"All of this stuff came from the kitchen team and myself. We all came together and threw ideas around, tried hundreds of combinations and these were the ones we liked the most."
Simon had something to say when it comes to recreating their famous Whistle Stop atmosphere at home: "We really like our music, so that's a good place to start. We listen to jukebox rock n' roll, East Coast hip hop, soul, motown and funk – all of that kind of stuff."