How The Palmerston became an instant hit with Edinburgh locals

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Photo credit: James Porteous
Photo credit: James Porteous

Related tags The Palmerston James Snowdon Lloyd Morse Restaurant Edinburgh Bistro Chef

Since launching 18 months ago, James Snowdon and Lloyd Morse’s Edinburgh bistro The Palmerston has made waves with critics and diners thanks to its hearty cooking and competitive price point.

There are arguably few restaurants that have connected so well with both critics and diners in recent years as The Palmerston. Launched by former The Harwood Arms general manager James Snowdon and Spring chef Lloyd Morse in Edinburgh’s West End in the summer of 2021, it became an instant hit with locals thanks to its classic Parisian bistro aesthetic; hearty, calorie-ignoring dishes; and broadly accessible price point. Within a year, it secured a place on the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards top 100 list​, coming in at number 97.

Reviewing The Palmerston last summer, The Observer​ food critic Jay Rayner described Morse’s cooking​ as “solid, comforting and beautifully executed and puts satisfaction a little way ahead of drop-dead gorgeousness”. The menu champions provenance and sustainability and is centred around the concept of whole-animal cooking. Dishes change almost daily and can include the likes of crispy pig's head with cornichons and gribiche; hogget faggot with mash, onions and hispi cabbage; and fried ox liver with chips, roast shallots, parsley and sherry.


Neither Snowdon or Morse knew The Palmerston would reap such success so soon after opening, and with a new year dawning, their focus is now on the future. That includes making sure The Palmerston remains relevant in an ever-changing restaurant market, and opening a bakery in the coming months in partnership with pastry chef Darcie Maher. With 2023 now upon us, the pair sat down to discuss their plans for the year ahead and to reflect on the one that's just passed.

What were your expectations for The Palmerston?
James Snowdon: ​I had very little expectations. I used to live in London, and it always used to feel like the dining scene in Edinburgh was about 10 years behind. But places like Timberyard and The Little Chartroom have really brought it forward with their more progressive and forward-thinking approach; and we thought The Palmerston would fit well within that landscape.
Lloyd Morse: ​I’m originally from Sydney, Australia, and my wife and I have lived in the UK for about a decade and always loved Edinburgh. But it always felt like it was missing a restaurant like this; the sort of relaxed bistro concept that you can find almost anywhere in London. I’m not sure, really, what expectations I had for it, but it has definitely exceeded them.

How has the first year or so been?
JS: ​It’s been busy, but now it’s fucking busy. Our busiest months ever have been the last three. It's mental. We got our first good review about six to eight weeks after we opened, and it grew from there through the summer with the golf and then the Edinburgh Festival. Then we were reviewed in The Observer by Jay Rayner and from there it just went off. After Covid, it feels like the city is back to normal now. We’re still doing at least 50 to 60 covers daily, just at lunchtime. We have a very good set menu that’s only £19 for three courses and it gets people in, but we’re also still very busy in the evenings too.


Why do you think The Palmerston has resonated so well with diners in Edinburgh?
LM: ​One of the biggest things when we opened The Palmerston was we didn't want it to be just an occasion restaurant. We want it to be the restaurant that you could come at any time; you can have lunch by yourself, but you could also have your nan’s 90th​ birthday here. It’s fun and super relaxed, but always busy and bustling. Anyone can come at any time and they’re going to feel welcome and get fed well.

Prices at The Palmerston have remained broadly consistent since it opened; has your approach to sourcing and whole animal butchery helped mitigate the impact of food price inflation?
LM: ​ Yes. They have gone up a little because inflation is through the roof, but we’ve kept the set lunch at the same price. We do our own butchery and make stocks and sauces from a whole animal and there's always a lot of trim left over. We make our own ragu, our own sausages and faggots, and the mince for our mince on toast, and then we use the trim to develop the dishes for the set lunch. That's how I like to cook. Doing tiny things like can just save a little bit of money and keep things affordable for our guests, which means we can offer a set lunch at £19. We don’t make much money on that, but I prefer to just have a full restaurant. At the end of the day, we're 18 months in now, our staff are well paid, our suppliers are paid on time, the restaurant is full, and we have money in the bank, so we’ve got to be doing something right.


You’ve also introduced a bakery wholesale element to the business. Tell us about that
JS: ​It wasn’t part of the plan originally. Darcie [Maher] joined the team when we launched, and she’s done incredible things with the bakery programme at the restaurant. Our bread has been very popular with diners and we’re now supplying other restaurants in the city. It's still quite small scale, but it’s allowed us to move into wholesale very organically and we're planning to really push it out in the new year.

The sector is facing huge challenges related to energy costs and staffing. What do envisage being the biggest threat to your business in the year ahead?
JS: ​For us it’s about staying as busy as we are and staying relevant. The energy costs don’t concern us that much. They were already high when we opened, so it’s already worked into our business plan. And with staffing, we work hard to ensure we pay well. We have people approaching us who want to work for us because they know we put our staff first. They’re our biggest asset and without them we wouldn’t have a successful business.


Given the restaurant’s success, is there any appetite to open a second site in Edinburgh?
LM: ​We’ll never open another restaurant like The Palmerston, but we’ll definitely open something else.
JS: ​Edinburgh is such a small city that you wouldn’t need another Palmerston. But we’ve managed to harbour a lot of really talented people, and we’re going to invest in them. Darcie is going to open a bakery and we’re funding half of it. It’s not a business we know, but we’re investing in her skillset. It’s a similar approach to that taken by JKS in its early days. If we have the infrastructure to open places that are different, then why not? We can open a wine bar, a bakery, maybe even a pasta bar. I never want to do the same thing over and over again, because that’s just boring.

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