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There’s a new restaurant that’s causing a bit of a stir in Crail.

The Shoregate opened last month, and has been drawing in diners with its beautiful pared back interior, as well as the contemporary menu, created by head chef Craig McAllister, formerly of Prestonfield House Hotel and featuring dishes including shellfish bisque and East Neuk crab dumplings.

Later in the year, you’ll be able to roll upstairs after sampling it, as they’ll be adding four bedrooms.

We spoke to Nicholas Frost, 53, who owns this place with husband and business partner, Damon Reynolds, 54, about their project.

Tell us more

The Shoregate opened at the beginning of May after a 30 month refurbishment. Damon and I bought the old East Neuk Hotel back in September 2019 and planned a staged refurbishment, with the restaurant and bar up and running in around 6 to 9 months, followed by the bedrooms three to four months later. It didn’t turn out quite as planned.

My background is in project and programme management for various international development organisations based in the UK and the Americas. Damon has run a successful brand and web design consultancy for the last 20 years. The step across to hospitality was made knowing we’d need to get a talented kitchen and front of house team on board so we could increase our knowledge - not the other way round.

And the food?

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Our restaurant menu focuses on seasonal flavours and local ingredients. We’ll be evolving continuously but always with the focus on uncomplicated and confident dishes, beautifully presented. The lunchtime bar menu aims to offer an alternative to the standard pub fare. We wanted to make sure that The Shoregate’s offering complemented what was already available in the village. If all three bars/restaurants had the same offer, we’d all struggle. Crail is already well served by The Golf Hotel – among Scotland’s oldest continuously licensed establishments - for pub food, and we are looking forward to Balcomie Links Hotel reopening later this year after a refurbishment that has been as ambitious as ours.

Why Crail?

Damon’s grandparents owned 17 Shoregate, and he had all his summer holidays here as a child. I’m a more recent incomer having only got to know the area after we bought a house here in 2016. Crail is unique in many ways – there are few places left in Britain that can still boast of a wide variety of independent retailers: a baker, a greengrocer, a butcher, two potters, a wholefood store, a fish and chip shop, three cafes, two gift shops, and three bars. People say that once you’re here, you never need to leave. That’s not too far from the truth.

How does the restaurant fit in?

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There are villages in other parts of Britain that play second fiddle to the restaurants or restaurateurs that have taken them over. We very much see Crail as the destination in itself, and we are part of the patchwork of small independent businesses. We hope that The Shoregate will provide another reason to stay in Crail, helping to boost the local economy, and ensuring it continues to thrive.

As time goes on, we are very much hoping to get still more involved in local life. We were too late to commit to be part of the Crail Food Festival in June or the Crail Summer Festival in July but we’re looking forward to next year.

We’ve tried hard to recruit from within the village, and use local suppliers such as the village butcher JB Penman, Green’s the grocer, the Crail Pottery, and further afield, with the Kingsbarns Distillery, David Lowry and Sons fish, and the East Neuk Kiln House.

Was taking on the building a challenge?

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Operating as an inn, pub, and guesthouse since at least 1890, the 18th century C-listed building had suffered from many years of under-investment. When we were able to work in earnest in the autumn of 2020, it was clear that a major restoration would be needed to return her to her past glory. As is typical of many commercial buildings, where a period of closure means costs and debt piling up, repairs and improvements had been done piecemeal over 120 years.

Our architects advised that it might make sense to do as much as possible in one go, so we got full permission to renovate. We were set to appoint contractors in the spring of 2020 when Covid hit.

In addition to new plumbing and electrics, we had to replace the majority of the floors downstairs and ceilings upstairs, re-slate the roof, remove the damaged pre-war cement and water damaged stonework, and re-point and harl the walls with traditional lime mortar.

However, we were able to spend much more time reflecting on our priorities. We realised the key to our success would not be limited to great food and drink, but also building a team whose members would benefit personally from the success of The Shoregate. The refurbishment has been expertly carried out by local contractors, many of whom now come back to eat or drink in the bar and can say, we hope, proudly, ‘I built this’. 

What’s next?

We are starting to plan handing over the business. Our general manager, David Fussell, and head chef, Craig McAllister have both come in as directors and will start to build up a share in the business, and eventually take it over completely. Our success will be their success. We are trying to get a sensible work/life balance for the team and ensure all the team members are paid a living wage and can work flexible hours. The hospitality industry has a bad reputation for fair employment and must evolve over the next few years post-Covid. If the staff don’t want to be there, why would the customers?

67 High Street North, Crail

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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