‘We are so grateful to have a core of customers that continue to support us week after week. Where will we end up? I don’t know, so we will keep going.’
This is a story by a chef determined to survive. Fred Berkmiller owns and runs a small French restaurant in Edinburgh and with his permission Sceptical Scot republishes his latest blogpost. As Covid restrictions tighten and lockdown closes doors once again, the challenges he describes will strike a chord with thousands of independent cafes, restaurants and bars across Scotland. (Even if not everyone eats cold stuffed cabbage for breakfast.)
I just had breakfast. I finished last night’s dinner with bread and butter and a cup of tea. You won’t believe it (but the ones that know me will) I scoffed a whole choux-farci from last week’s take-away menu. God it was tasty. I might have another one tonight.
Leftovers from dinner are my favourite breakfast, alone in the kitchen while everyone else is still asleep. It wouldn’t take much for me to open a bottle of wine to go along with it, but I am not on holiday and I have to go to work shortly.
I spent Sunday at Newton Garden and picked my first Brussel sprout. A proud moment. We also got the apple vinegar on the go. I’ve written about this before, it’s easy and something I recommend you try yourself.
I am very moody these days. We are 8 months into that “chou-baby-silly-scary” time. Did you see that restaurants in France are not allowed to open until January? I can’t ignore this in my writing to you, so here are a few facts.
l’escargot blanc closed on the 16th of March and has not re-opened at all. Most probably it won’t open again. But even closed, we still need to pay the running costs, including the rent. At bleu we have been offering a take-away since the 18th of May.
So in the 8 months since March we have traded for a total of 14 weeks, including 8 weeks as a restaurant, running at less than half-speed (30 seats instead of 60) and more-or-less closed since the 6th of October. The result? We have achieved 14% of our usual annual turnover so far this financial year.
In simple terms this explains my mood, not that I am asking for sympathy. I am lucky to be able to keep my head above water and not be traumatised by money. But with very little help and direction it has been disorientating. Betty and I are self-employed. There is no income for us, or any furlough grant. This said, we do feel privileged to be able to eat well and are spoiled with quality products to cook with. This in itself is a luxury. We are also so grateful to have a core of customers that continue to support us week after week. Where will we end up? I don’t know, so we will keep going.
This was first published on in Escargot bleu news section. Sceptical Scot editors add to the story below…
Sceptical Scot editors add:
L’escargot bleu is a French restaurant which opened its doors in Edinburgh’s Broughton Street in January 2009. As it happened that was the day of Barack Obama”s inauguration as the first black President of the United States. It seemed a good omen.
The restaurant, owned and run by French-born-and -bred Fred Berkmiller quickly clocked up awards. ‘Best Newcomer of the Year’ in The List Eating & Drinking Guide, annual listing in the Michelin guide, one of Pete Irvine’s ‘Five Best Restaurants in Scotland’…and so it goes on.
In January 2020, as Covid was advancing unseen into Scotland, Berkmiller’s 50th birthday was marked in an interview with the Scotsman for the food and drink section
The chef reflected on where he had come from with optimistic and evangelical views of where he was heading. L’ escargot story had emerged from the opening of his first Edinburgh restaurant, Petit Paris, in 1998. Just over ten years later L’ escargot blanc opened in the west end as a sister restaurant to L’ escargot bleu in the east. Fred Berkmiller looked forward to sourcing, growing, cooking, sharing and serving good food
‘A constant theme for Fred is his ethos that good food is central to our society, and should be accessible to all.’ Catriona Thomson, Scotsman 31 January 2020
Covid forced a new reality. Less than two months later all restaurants closed their doors as the UK went into full lockdown. Under Scottish Tier 3 restrictions L’ escargot bleu continues to serve take away meals and lunches in the restaurant. Escargot blanc remains closed and unlikely to reopen.