Jo Radford & James Murray of Timberyard
Timberyard, the pioneering family run restaurant in Edinburgh, is set in a 19th century timber merchants with a kitchen garden and one of the deepest wine cellars in the country. We catch up with good friend and owner Jo Radford, and his new Head Chef James Murray to find out why nurturing people and direct trade with suppliers make them the best match.
Jo - tell us a bit about your background and how you originally got into hospitality?
My parents have run restaurants in Edinburgh since the early 90s. We were brought up surrounded by good food & drink. I started working for my parents from a young age during school holidays and whilst studying. I ended up reading Psychology (mainly focusing on criminal psychology) at Glasgow University and was pretty determined not to follow in my parents’ footsteps. What was supposed to be a short trip to visit an old family friend in Australia turned into a 2 year visit where I really started to enjoy the fine art of good service and quality produce. Returning from this trip I was given the opportunity to help open & run Timberyard with my parents, brother & sister.
What’s your role at Timberyard?
I primarily take care of all things front of house. From looking after the team through to the drinks program. Timberyard was one of the first restaurants outside of London to really fly the flag for wine made with respect for land & grape. We now have one of the deepest cellars in the whole of the UK. Everything we do at Timberyard is done to the highest possible level right down to the soft drinks which we make in house. It is very important for us to work with the right suppliers & producers. We, as front of house staff, then became ambassadors for them to carry their messages & stories onto our guests.
What’s it like working with family?
To be totally honest, it is very difficult. There are a lot of positives, of course, but it has become very difficult to find proper family time now. I couldn’t ask for better business partners though.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
We are constantly trying to better the experience we are offering with an end goal of happy guests & happy staff. So much behind the scenes effort is put into the finished product and when it all starts working like clockwork it’s a wonderful sight. To see guests & staff members genuinely enjoying their time with us is very special.
What’s the values at Timberyard?
In the privileged position we have found ourselves in, it is so important to look after our staff & guests and create a culture which is both a joy to work in and also inspiring and nurturing. Honesty and transparency are at the heart of all that we do.
What’s your vision for the business?
We hope to grow the business to a level where we have a few sites all with a similar ethos & passion for quality produce & service. I was speaking to a close friend in the industry recently and we were talking about the difference between good restaurants and important restaurants. I feel Timberyard has the potential to truly be an important restaurant and carry a message which many will aspire to follow.
Tell us about your church conversion?
About 18 months ago my partner & I had an offer accepted on the most beautiful old church in rural East Lothian. The idea is to convert it into a spacious home whilst retaining the volume which makes the building so special. It is simply the most peaceful and serene space. It will make a wonderful home, and one which my son Teddy is very excited about. Planning permission is taking a while but I feel we are just about to make some headway. I cannot wait.
James you have recently been brought on as head chef at Timberyard. Tell us a bit about your background.
I’ve worked in Lyle’s of London, Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, and Nur in Hong Kong. I finally returned to Scotland and moved, for the first time, to Edinburgh in 2018 to take up the position of head chef at the Edinburgh Food Studio. During COVID I set up JARRED and Jimmy’s Fried Chicken. Both of which saw great success in a tough time for the industry. I took up my latest position of head chef at Timberyard in September 2021.
What was the seismic dish of your career so far and why is it so important to you?
There is no one dish that is of importance to me if I'm honest. But, I guess there was a lightbulb moment when I was putting menus together at the Edinburgh Food Studio and I looked at the components of the dish and realised that I personally knew everyone that had farmed the meat or grown the vegetables or picked the herbs on the plate. That was when I realised that harnessing great relationships with people who are as passionate as I am about food in their chosen fields was going to be key to accessing the best produce from Scotland and the UK and make my job of making tasty food that little bit easier. It is still my ethos now and it makes the most sense to me as a chef.
What’s your ambitions for Timberyard?
My ambitions for Timberyard are to be an exciting progressive Scottish Restaurant that can stand among any of the top restaurants in the UK. Our industry has been full of bad press recently with stories of bullying in the workplace and much worse. So, most important to me is that we run one of the very best restaurants in the country with a team who feel nurtured, valued and safe. Because I absolutely feel you can be the best at what you do without the primitive behaviour. It’s so important to me personally that we make changes in this industry and that has to come from the ones who have a voice.I also look forward to working closely with Jo to simply make Timberyard the very best version of itself.
What’s your thoughts on the Scottish food scene, what’s exciting you at the moment. The food scene is thriving in Scotland?
I feel like the produce and the chefs are now so well matched. We really do have a world class larder and in the past that was maybe not always realised or exploited fully. Places exciting me at the moment are Kinneuchar inn, The Palmerston, 287 Bakery.
Jo - What is your relationship with Kestin and the brand?
I have known Kestin for some time both as a friend and as a guest at Timberyard. Many years ago I was asked to help out with some very memorable shoots and I have been a longtime fan of the clean & timeless design of the brand. It’s been really special watching the brand grow and evolve over the years.
What have you enjoyed about working with Kestin over the years?
I have always been interested in fashion & design so it has been really inspiring being so closely involved in a brand at the top of their game. A lot of Kestin’s ethos and drive can be transferred into what we do at Timberyard on a daily basis. The memories of the shoot at Gourock outdoor swimming pool will always be with me. What a day.
What do you think modern Scottish design looks like?
After such a difficult few years it is an exciting time for design and the arts. There seems to be a pent up energy that is finally getting released. So many projects that were conceived during lockdown are finally emerging and the public are thirsty to soak it all in. This seems to be across the board too; everyone is striving to be their best: clothing, pottery, painting, weaving, architecture, distilling, brewing, farming; the list goes on. It’s a very exciting time and wonderful to be a part of it.
Along with Kestin; Jono Smart (pottery), and the team at Fed & Watered (curated design for all things food & drink) are ones to watch. Scotland is the perfect breeding ground for inspiration, particularly with design. The landscape is inspiring.