Although Highlands won’t be flying Scotland’s flag when it opens in two weeks, the so-called contemporary Scottish gastropub will do for the country’s image what the Scottish Tourist Board could only dream of accomplishing. Under the watchful eyes of a team that includes fellow Glaswegians and AvroKO alums Brian McGrory and Mary Wan, the 60-seat restaurant and bar, located in the former Batch and P*ong spaces, will be a showcase for Scottish cuisine and design.
Though “British cuisine” ceased to be an oxymoron around the time that the Spotted Pig hit town, the mention of Scottish food still tends to conjure what McGrory terms “the fried Mars Bar for dinner kind of philosophy.” And that’s unfortunate, since a new generation of chefs has for the past several years been transforming the country’s menus with a combination of classical technique and local ingredients. “There’s a lot going on in Scotland that no one knows about,” McGrory says. “We want to change people’s perceptions about what Scottish food and drink is.”
To that end, Highlands will focus on “the artisanal side” of things, importing Blackwood’s gin from the Shetland Islands and seafood from the North Sea. “Scotland has the best seafood because the water is so cold,” McGrory says. “We export a lot of it to Europe; a lot of Scots don’t know they have it right on their doorstep.”
McGrory’s also importing Scottish design: Douglas Gordon, a Turner Prize winner and one of Highlands’s investors, may create a piece for the restaurant, and Gerard Burns, a Glasgow-born painter, is doing a painting that will hang over its fireplace. Modern tartans will be provided by ANTA, an architecture and design firm, while the Glasgow design studio Timorous Beasties is supplying textiles.
One thing McGrory hasn’t been able to import? Haggis. It’s been illegal to bring the stuffed sheep’s stomachs to the U.S. since the UK’s mad cow disease outbreak in 1989, and the canned stuff, McGrory says, “is horrible.”
But there’s hope. Andrew Hamilton, the founder of the import company Scottish Wild Harvest, recently announced he’s going to start making his own. So “we will be having haggis — our own local version of it,” McGrory says. “We’re thinking of something like haggis ravioli, not just a staple haggis with neeps and tatties.” In the meantime, he’s had some surprisingly good vegetarian haggis. So will that be on the menu? “Maybe,” he hedges. “But haggis for definite.” As Robbie Burns might say, “Oh what a glorious sight!”