In this first Words With… interview of 2018, we’re delighted to be talking to Graham Blaikie who owns the Mercat Grill at Whitecraig in East Lothian…
Whatâ€™s your connection to the Lothians?
I was born and bred here, Iâ€™ve lived in Penicuik all my life except for a five year stint in the USA. I spent my first three years of school at Heriots â€“ and Iâ€™ll never forget the feeling of going to school in shorts in winter!
What are your strongest childhood memories?
One of my earliest strong memories isnâ€™t really about Edinburgh at all. My mum and dad brought me into town one Christmas Eve to go to the panto; Iâ€™ve no recollection what the show was, all I remember is we found some money on the street â€“ a Â£5 and then a Â£10. It was a huge amount of money then and I couldnâ€™t believe how someone could possibly have dropped it. When I was older, probably about 11, Iâ€™ve happy memories of being in the schoolboysâ€™ enclosure at Murrayfield, and older again, of playing rugby and then hitting Champagne Charlies in Castle Street (now the Tonic Bar) and having a burger and a Coke â€“ that probably helped shape where I am today.
Have you a favourite place to visit locally?
My wife is also local to East Lothian, she comes from MacMerry, and one of our favourite things to do on a day off is go to Haddington. Weâ€™ll take a wander around the town and stop off in a bar or a restaurant for drinks and something to eat. I also have a nephew and niece, and if weâ€™re looking for something fun and educational, thereâ€™s the Museum of Flight, and the Seabird Centre at North Berwick. One of the best things about the Lothians, is that there is so much to explore and investigate.
Are you a â€˜gloomy-fog-over-the-castleâ€™Â or a â€˜summer-on-Princes Street-gardensâ€™ type?
Honestly? Iâ€™d have to hedge my bets and say both. I love the castle, and after living in the USA, I appreciate it even more. For a time I worked at The Standing Order on George Street, which meant an early start. At 6am on a summerâ€™s morning, Iâ€™d stand on Princes Street and look back at the castle framed in the light â€“ sun or rain. Thereâ€™s nothing like it.
How would you introduce us to your career?
I started out working with people with special needs, and my plan was to join the police service. My â€˜time outâ€™ in the States was initially to gain some life experience. Having spent my student life working in the bar trade in Edinburgh, I naturally gravitated to that over there. Then, after a mess-up (not mine) with my Green Card, I came home but stayed in the hospitality arena. I spent four years with Wetherspoons for training, and my own first pub was the Sportsmanâ€™s Bar in Musselburgh. I also had the lease of the Mercat at Haymarket before purchasing the Dolphin Inn at Whitecraig, East Lothian, in 2011. Four years ago, we rebranded it as the Mercat Grill â€“ and thatâ€™s where I am now.
Is there a typical day?Â What does it involve?
The licensed trade can be quite intense, so a few times a week I start the day with a visit to the gym. After that, I head straight over to the Mercat and thatâ€™s me for the rest of the day. Iâ€™m not an office person, I like to be hands-on, so Iâ€™ll work with the Head Chef on our menus, or Iâ€™ll be with the front-of-house staff, making sure that everything is going well there. Weâ€™re always busy, and Iâ€™ve long term plans to expand â€“ bedrooms and more facilities for guests â€“ so thereâ€™s always something to do.
My businesses, collectively. Everything Iâ€™ve done has led to where I am now, and Iâ€™m really pleased with what my whole team has achieved with the Mercat Grill over the last few years. Weâ€™ve won several awards â€“ the Edinburgh Evening News Pub of the Year, and a Food Award for East Lothian, for example â€“ and weâ€™ll just keep going with all our future plans.
And when youâ€™re not working?Â
Sometimes it feels like Iâ€™m always working â€“ but usually in a good way! However, it means that when I have time off I do just like to disappear; it neednâ€™t be somewhere dramatic, just a change of scenery and a chance to relaxâ€¦
You can find out more about the Mercat Grill at www.mercatgrill.com or follow Grahamâ€™s progress on Twitter @mercatgrill