Paul Sloan has fast become a household name among Oban foodies as he expands his restaurant empire in Oban, widening the variety of cuisine choices available. He hails from a Glasgow family with a strong tradition in the restaurant business. In addition to several restaurants there, he owns Cuan Mor, Waterfront Fishouse, YuWu and Maatchi in Oban. He recently opened The Ranald, a boutique Parisian-style hotel, and his next project is renovating and reopening the Oban Inn. OLTA’s blogger Michelle McAnally spoke with Paul about the inspirations behind his restaurant creations.
You have a family background in the restaurant business. Did this inspire you to get into the business yourself?
Yes, I did grow up in the business, from a young age we all started. As an Italian family, it was normal to work after school and weekends in the restaurants. Combined as a family, we have in excess of 30 restaurants in Scotland. The inspiration for me was always in the food- I loved cooking from a young age and still find great joy in cooking for everyone.
You lived in America for many years. Did this influence your choices when you started opening restaurants in Scotland?
I lived in the U.S. for 20 years, it most definitely influenced my ability to run restaurants, and had a dramatic impact on my education in operating multi-culinary type operations.
How did you come to open several businesses in Oban, did you see a niche for something different here?
I moved back from the U.S., and came to Oban to visit a close friend who lived in Oban. He recommended I buy Mondo's, which, consequently, is now Cuan Mor. The town was so busy and I felt it really needed a great assortment of restaurant offerings. Oban as a whole is a very busy tourist destination and it was important that continuous growth of good restaurants continue. Visitors now come to Oban for a dining experience that offers unique and diverse choices. Next on our opening list is to bring the Oban Inn back to its glory with a contemporary Cotswaldian feel to it. The upstairs restaurant will offer small plates focusing on Scottish dishes, allowing guests to have a much wider choice of dishes. The downstairs bar will be a cosy, chic little Highland bar, offering a great selection of whisky, beer and wines.
Can you comment on the approach to the food and atmosphere in each of your four eateries in Oban?
Maatchi - Southern Indian specialising in fish dishes, Maatchi is the Hindi word for Fishmarket. The approach was to have more in an Indonesian type feeling- inviting, but certainly not indicative of anything in Scotland.
Cuan Mor - Cuan has always been kept on a tight leash with its approach to affordable dining, with everything home cooked in a very Scottish type of interior. It’s a consistently well run restaurant that has built a strong reputation, something we hold on to very dearly.
Waterfront Fishouse - As our higher end unit, we placed great emphasis on the design being casual, but elegant, similar to the food we prepare and serve. Quality is paramount in what we do here and all our units, but The Fishouse demands that extra work to deliver an excellent experience.
YuWu - A Cantonese/Peking focus on our food is the approach here, but in a classic, yet elegant interior, it was designed with the approach that it would not ask anything of you, allowing every type of diner to enjoy the atmosphere and décor, along with fresh quality Chinese cooking.
All of your restaurants have become very successful- award-winning and well-reviewed. To what do you attribute this success across the board?
Yes all of our units are successful, including our six city units. I believe the success comes from three things. One is our management and staff- without them we would be nothing. They believe in the same ethos as myself, strive for excellence. We may not always achieve it but it’s about progress, not perfection. Second, we put a huge emphasis on the food and continuously strive to keep it excellent, it’s why we go out to eat!! Third, the environment you dine in is as important as the food and service. If you get all three right, success comes on its own. In order of priority, to be successful in restaurants you must prioritise in the following order: 1. Employees 2. Suppliers 3. Customers 4. Investors.
What role does local produce play in your menus?
Everything we purchase is local based unless we cannot get it supplied. Alex Needham (Executive Chef of the group), believes in supporting the community, along with the sheer luxury of having some of the best produce in the country, from ‘Gordon the Prawn,’ who is our langoustine fisherman, to Brecks, our produce company and Garry Milk, our milk and dairy man, they all strive to bring us what we are looking for at all times. We smoke our own salmon, pork and cheese now, and make our own beers and cakes in some of the units. The Oban Inn will be our biggest showcase of local and surrounding area food and products.
Care to share your favourite dish?
My favourite dish is the pork belly and salt and chili spiced squid that is served in the Fishouse. If it’s a local dish, it has to be char grilled scallops, either at the Fishouse or at Cuan Mor.