Scotland’s best-known restaurateur
For almost four decades, since he opened the oh-so-famous Witchery by the Castle, James Thomson has been Scotland’s most talked-about restaurateur. Along the way he’s had just about every restaurant award going and created some of Scotland’s most famous restaurants. The latest of those is Rhubarb.
James’ unique talent was to appreciate that whilst diners expect good food, what they really want is a great experience. He recognised that creating a great restaurant was getting the mix of food, service, great wines to work with a unique location and fantastic setting. It was the quality of the guest experience at the Witchery that made his reputation and have ensured his restaurants have each becoming destinations in their own right. Establishing the Witchery in the bleak days of 1979 he started the rescue of a near-derelict site and started to bring life and activity to Castlehill. Starting with a staff of just three (of which he was one) he now manages a hugely successful business with a staff of almost 200 generating his first year’s turnover daily.
After the success of the Witchery and Secret Garden he created Scotland’s first and finest rooftop restaurant, the Tower, an icon of simple glamour and soon to celebrate two decades as an Edinburgh institution. With the success of Prestonfield as Edinburgh’s highest-rated hotel and the sensation that the Witchery’s suites have created he’s become equally renowned as an hotelier too!
With Rhubarb the location within an A-listed 17th century mansion was truly unique. The building had been created by wealthy former owners to impress its guests, but James added comfort and warmth to the mix with masses of glamour, texture and rich colouring. The result; Rhubarb is a feast for the senses before morsel has arrived or a drop has been drunk. In Rhubarb he’s created the most amazing space to enjoy the great food and added a collection of adjacent bars, salons and hidden corners in which to enjoy drinks add to the experience.
James’ work as a vocal ambassador for Scotland’s Hospitality and Tourism industries has been recognised with an OBE, as well as many other awards, including UK Restaurateur of the Year and Scotland’s ultimate accolade, a Silver Thistle.
James is equally passionate about each of his restaurants and hotels. He can normally be seen at each one every day adding small details that keep them fresh and interesting for guests. Alongside his passion for restoring historic buildings (and finding new uses for them) James is closely involved with a range of hospitality and educational charities. As a Patron and Council Member of The Prince’s Trust he’s mentored a number of young people from The Trust’s programmes enabling them to forge new careers with the team at Rhubarb.
Rhubarb’s Prestonfield home is also the venue for his biggest charitable venture to date. Since 2009 his invitation-only “Lunch with an Old Bag” has raised almost £3 million for The Princes Trust and most diners at Rhubarb also leave a £1 on the Bill for The Princes trust too.