Making seasonal and sustainable seafood work for 25 years
Fyne Seafood & Grill’s founder, Johnny Noble, grew up on the shores of Loch Fyne, set within the majestic landscape of the Scottish Highlands. His desire to create a sustainable future for this unique environment and community led him to develop the first oyster farm with partner Andrew Lane in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, the company expanded to add a smokehouse, farm shop and oyster bar, which provided the springboard for further restaurant expansion.
Twenty-five years old this year, the group now has 41 restaurants throughout the United Kingdom, but nonetheless strives to stay true to its roots, with much of the shellfish and smoked fish served still delivered from Loch Fyne, says Liz Williams, director and general manager.
Holland: How have consumer tastes changed over the last 25 years?
Williams: Consumers have become more informed about the food they are eating and its origins and demand higher standards than they did 25 years ago. Diners not only want to enjoy delicious food, they want to know that the food they are eating comes from sustainable sources or is responsibly farmed. There is a much stronger focus on fresh, seasonal produce. Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill prides itself on serving top quality, fresh and seasonal food. Fish and shellfish are delivered daily to Loch Fyne restaurants across the U.K., with the exception of Sundays when the fishermen don’t go out. Diners are becoming more health conscious in their choices, opting for low fat, low calorie dishes. Seafood and shellfish are known to be great low fat sources of protein, so we have a great range of options for customers who want to remain healthy while eating out. Our customers can choose low calorie dishes such as steamed fish from the Fish Bar with fresh vegetables or seared king scallops and bacon salad. Finally, there is a growing demand for food which meets special dietary requirements such as allergies. Loch Fyne has a comprehensive list of what allergens appear in its dishes, ensuring diners can make an informed choice. A new non-gluten menu has now been launched, offering diners who wish to avoid gluten greater freedom of choice.
Holland: What have been Loch Fyne’s standout successes over this period?
Williams: When Johnny Noble and Andrew Lane set up Loch Fyne restaurants they wanted to make the wonderful flavors and health benefits of oysters and mussels available to everyone, as they had been as a staple food in Victorian Britain before becoming the preserve of the elite. Noble and Lane succeeded. Oysters and other shellfish have seen a surge in popularity in the last two decades with restaurants and supermarkets reporting higher sales. A more recent success has been the introduction of the Fish Bar, a customizable main course which allows diners to choose from a range of different types of fresh fish, the cooking method, sauce and side dishes. The Fish Bar has outstripped fish and chips as Loch Fyne’s best-selling dish.
Holland: What are the biggest challenges that U.K. seafood restaurants face?
Williams: Fish and shellfish are expensive products, particularly if the buyer wishes to ensure they are good quality and sustainably sourced. This means a seafood restaurant like Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill has to work harder to compete with the low prices offered by many cheaper restaurants. For this reason, seafood restaurants are generally considered more premium places to eat and must therefore provide customers with top quality food and service that ensure value for money.
Holland: What advice would you give any new and aspiring restaurant businesses?
Williams: The key to running a successful restaurant business is offering customers top quality food and service. All staff should be fully educated on what is being served and understand and support the company ethos so they can advise and help customers. Customers should always leave the restaurant having had a great dining experience and feeling they have been taken on an exciting and authentic journey. At Loch Fyne, we want customers to feel special from the moment they are greeted at the entrance to the restaurants and shown to their table.
Holland: What steps has Loch Fyne implemented to ensure the seafood it serves is sustainable?
Williams: At Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of environmental initiatives, ensuring that all fish and seafood served is not only of impeccable quality but is also sourced responsibly. We work closely with several leading marine and environmental bodies, such as the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), giving us access to the very latest information on fish stocks and on any species that are being overfished. Loch Fyne will not serve fish from endangered stocks. Oysters, mussels and langoustines come fresh from Loch Fyne Oysters, which is actively committed to supporting and protecting the loch, its ecology and coastal communities.
Loch Fyne was the first restaurant to support a number of important initiatives that have now filtered into the mainstream. In 2001 for example, we removed endangered species such as skate and swordfish from our menus. It took the supermarkets a further six years to do the same. We put a strong emphasis on seasonality, not only to provide the best flavors but also because using seasonal fish stocks and ingredients supports sustainable fishing and farming. Loch Fyne works with industry professionals with access to over 100 available seafood species. In addition, our chefs and serving staff are trained to be able to advise customers where their chosen fish and seafood was caught and when.
Holland: In what ways do you communicate these efforts to Loch Fyne restaurant goers?
Williams: Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill menus carry a clear message which explains to diners how sustainable fishing by local fishermen and a respect for the natural environment is at the heart of everything we do. All our staff are trained on the sourcing of our food and can explain this to customers where necessary. In every Loch Fyne restaurant the Gaelic phrase, ‘Nach Urramach an Cuan’ – How worthy of honor is the sea – is displayed in large letters on the wall to encapsulate our philosophy of respect for animals, people and ecology along with a commitment to independent producers.
Holland: What are the current key trends in the dining out industry and what opportunities are there for seafood?
Williams: There is currently a big focus on seasonality in the restaurant industry and in sourcing food locally wherever possible. This is something Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill has been doing since it was founded 25 years ago. Much of the shellfish and fish on the menus are sourced from Loch Fyne itself, while the rest is sustainably sourced from other areas of the British Isles. Fresh fish is delivered daily to Loch Fyne restaurants across the country. They also use seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs.
Hollland: What growth plans do you have in the immediate future?
Williams: We are looking at new restaurants to open in the next 6 months but cannot give details on sites or numbers at this stage.