Perhaps it started to take the Edinburgh public for granted, or maybe it just didn’t move with the times quickly enough. Whatever the reason, The Villager on George IV Bridge lost its mojo.
A venue on the city’s pub scene since 2003, its popularity had dwindled in recent years. Now under new management and serving a revamped menu in a spruced up interior, hopes are high that it will re-establish itself.
The Villager is part of the Bruce Group, a 19 strong chain focused mainly in the city’s Old Town, which believes it can reverse a decline in pub estates by investing in a mix of traditional appeal and modern demands.
Group director Kevan Fullerton recently declared that this investment in refurbishing many of its properties was beginning to pay off with a number experiencing turnover growth of 20-40% annually. He has backed his plans for growth with the launch of a £20m bond.
The Villager is a case study in the sort of turnaround the group is seeking. There’s a new daily lunch offering, while a tapas-style menu has also been added to the dining options boasting the likes of tempura battered whitebait tiddlers (£6) and venison and red wine meatballs (£6).
Manager Caz Park said: “Many people will tell you The Villager was the place to be up until a few years ago but it then changed quite drastically over the past couple of years.
“Its reputation had gone a wee bit downhill. It was no longer the cosy pub with a passion for cocktails, and the regulars stopped coming.
“It just wasn’t what it used to be but I am hoping to bring some of that back as well as a fresh approach and this is where I want to reconnect with the public of Edinburgh.
“I feel like we have already started to do that. There are some regular faces starting to form and people I know from back in the day are popping back in which is ultimately where we want to be.
“Of course we get a regular tourist trade which is amazing but it’s so important to have locals coming in on a regular basis, too, as they are the core of a great hospitality venue.”
Key to that happening will be the food’s reputation and head chef Kenneth Hamilton has designed a varied menu to cater for all tastes, with a focus on vegan options.
This month also saw the launch of a weekend brunch for the first time, featuring the likes of eggs benedict with smoked salmon, chilli-and-lime smashed avocado toast and gluten-free kedgeree on offer.
“A quarter of Edinburgh people are now eating vegan diets and it is important to us to have something on offer for such a large percentage of locals,” said Caz.
“Rather than just altering dishes to suit these diets, we have items such as buffalo broccoli and sweet potato bravas, as well as daily specials, and not forgetting our vegan sticky toffee pudding.”
She added: “The kitchen does an amazing job of getting everything spot on with flavour and presentation. We make so many of our menu items fresh including our burger patties, meatballs, scotch eggs and one of the most delicious cullen skinks around!”
As well as revamping the food menu, The Villager has also shaken up its drinks list with a particular focus on showcasing local brands, and gins in particular.
“We’ve taken the time to select products which we really believe in,” said Caz. “A lot of our products are from smaller lesser-known companies, hailing from Scotland where possible. For example, included in our brunch drinks menu is an Arbikie chilli vodka bloody mary, hailing from Arbroath.
“Scotland has a booming food and drink industry and we are proud to be showcasing a selection of these. We are using Sweetdram’s Escubac in one of our cocktails – it is distilled in the same way as gin and sits happily on the gin shelf amongst the others but is marketed as Not a Gin! due to the absence of juniper.
“The guys at Sweetdram are based in Edinburgh and are always coming up with new things. It is these kind of companies who we support as they are our neighbours and are doing some really interesting stuff and thinking outside the box.
“We are also stocking gins from North Berwick, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and the Shetland Isles as well as all Scottish craft beers in our fridges and of course Thistly Cross cider is in there, too.”