Tomás Gormley on going it alone with Cardinal

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: Stephen Lister
Picture credit: Stephen Lister

Related tags Tomás Gormley Edinburgh Fine dining Restaurant Sam Yorke Scotland Cardinal

The Edinburgh-based chef on opening his debut solo restaurant and why it was time for him to go it alone.

Tomás Gormley has had a busy few years. Back in 2021, he joined forces with fellow chef Sam Yorke to open neighbourhood-style fine dining restaurant Heron in Edinburgh’s port district of Leith. The restaurant was a hit, and not just with the locals. In 2023, Heron received a Michelin star, with the guide applauding the restaurant for its ‘skilful cooking’ that’s ‘founded on fine Scottish produce’.

Around the same time, Gormley and Yorke launched their second restaurant together, this time in the Stockbridge area of the Scottish capital. Called Skua – named after the brown seabird – the restaurant was positioned as a more casual counterpoint to Heron, serving a menu of punchy, well-balanced small plates.

Fast forward a year and Gormley and Yorke have chosen to go their separate ways. Yorke continues to lead Heron, while Gormley retains Skua. Alongside that, Gormley now has another restaurant under his belt, Cardinal, which launched earlier this month on Eyre Place in Edinburgh. It’s Gormley third restaurant opening in four years and, as his debut solo venture, arguably the most significant.

Why was now the time to go it alone?
Initially my plan after me and Sam parted ways was to turn Skua into what Cardinal is now, which was more based on me assessing what resources I had available to me. As a chef, the food I want to do is more refined and a little more theatrical than what we do at Skua. Then another site came up on the same street as Skua, and we thought it would be great to have more space. It wasn’t right, but by that point I was already planning out my idea for a new restaurant, so I carried on looking around to see what else was out there. And then this site came along.

Describe Cardinal
It’s casual fine dining, which I know is a phrase that can get thrown around a lot. For me, it means your service is of the highest standard and the technicalities are still 100% professional, but there’s a greater connection with a guest that makes them feel like it’s for them. We’re there to give them a good time, not have them feel like they’re not worthy of the space. It’s a more contemporary approach. There’s a lot of interaction between the chefs and guests, as well as with the front of house team.

Inside Cardinal

What can you tell us about the menu?
It’s something I’ve been working on for a while. We’re serving a 13-course tasting menu and it’s going to be very seasonal. We have some fantastic local suppliers we’re working with like The Free Company and Belhaven Lobster. It’s the suppliers we use at Skua, but because we have a slightly higher price point at Cardinal, we’re able to use the very best ingredients and the produce we’re getting is superb. We have this wood fired barbecue in the restaurant; open fire cooking is a relativity new interest for me as a chef, and it’s really enjoyable. That flavour you get when cooking over fire is incredible.

How does theatre come into the dishes?
We have this one dish I’ve been working on where we’re using Dexter retired dairy cows. The fat on them is amazing, so we’re rendering that down, infusing it with aromatic herbs and spices and then setting it into candle moulds. The idea is that we set down this candle and light it early on in the meal, and then by the time the guest gets to the beef course we’ll be able to pick up the melted candle fat and use it to help make the sauce tableside. It’s interesting, theatricality in dining can be hard to get right. You need to make sure it’s not naff. I think our approach, combined with the service style and music, means we can pull it off.

With Cardinal taking up much of your focus, what’s happening with Skua?
My current sous chef James [Aikman] is going to be taking it on in a head chef role. We’ve worked together for a long time and there’s no one I trust more to take it on and lead it in the right direction.

Smoked lobster - part of Cardinal's 13-course tasting menu

Edinburgh’s dining scene is going from strength to strength right now. Do you think it’s reaching its pinnacle?
I think it can still get bigger. It’s a small city, but the industry is well connected and competitive, which means we’re always lifting each other up. The higher the collective standard is, the better it is for the city and for our guests. It means that as an employer you must keep yourself super competitive. People come here for the chef jobs, so you have to stay on it and make sure you’re fulfilling their needs and what they want. Otherwise, they can easily jump ship and go somewhere else.

You’ve had success with Michelin in the past. Is a star something you’re aiming for at Cardinal?
I don’t define myself as aiming for it, but what I say is I want us to be pushing for that standard. Whatever happens, happens. We’re not cooking for Michelin, we’re cooking for our guests, and for ourselves. And if we can be pushing to maintain the quality and standard that they’re looking for, then I’m happy.

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