When restaurateur Will Smith of Wild Honey and Arbutus left London, he chose Helensburgh as the base for his new restaurant, Sugar Boat, and brought head chef Scott Smith with him
Congratulations on winning Scottish Restaurant of the Year at the AA Awards. How does that feel after being open less than three years?
W: An amazing achievement by the whole team. This really puts Sugar Boat on the culinary map and brings attention to Helensburgh.
S: It was a real shock to me. After we opened the letter telling us we had won, it still took a while to sink in. We have been working hard since opening the doors, trying to produce good food and an all-round great experience at Sugar Boat so it feels really good to be acknowledged by a guide as big as the AA.
Will, you co-founded some of London’s best loved, Michelin-starred restaurants, including Arbutus and Wild Honey. Was it nostalgia for your early days working in Cameron House that brought you back to Argyll?
W: I felt the time was right to move out of London. I’ve had amazing success with my then-business partner, Anthony Demetre, but I really wanted to go it alone. Affordability was always going to be a factor in London. I’ve holidayed on the West Coast of Scotland since I worked here in the mid ‘90’s and felt there were great opportunities to be had. Add to that, it is a stunning part of the world and Helensburgh is a delightful coastal town – there were many reasons to move.
Scott, you worked with Will at many of his restaurants in London. How did he tempt you up North?
S: I knew Will used to work up here on the West Coast and that he still used to come up and visit regularly. We used to talk about it a lot. I was born in Alexandria near Loch Lomond and grew up in Oban, and when you come from a small town in Scotland, working in London seems worlds away. It was always nice to talk to someone that knows the area you come from. It also became pretty clear to me early on that Will and I share the same taste and style in food. It was a no brainer really.
What drew you to the restaurant business?
W: From my teenage years I worked in my local pub behind the bar and simply loved the chance to chat and engage with people. I soon realised that there was always plenty of work available, and to someone who worked hard, the chance of climbing the ladder at a young age and taking on responsibility was real. I love that I can make change, lead, motivate and drive people and a business – something with the only restrictions being myself (and the bank!)
S: I started washing pots in a small Hotel in Oban when I was still in school for a bit of pocket money and I never left. I loved the kitchen.
What is the philosophy behind Sugar Boat?
W: A warm, relaxed, friendly and hospitable environment. Great food inspired by the classics, great wines and beers and top notch coffee (oh, the coffee is very important). We really are a place where people come to sit, relax and enjoy the scenery. I’m very proud of my team who work hard, but most importantly are engaging and friendly with our guests, welcoming new visitors and regulars alike with great warmth and charm.
S: The philosophy behind the food is quite straightforward: keep it simple and keep it tasty, use flavours that everybody knows and is comfortable with but also try and do something a little different with them. I also really like to cook classic food that we don’t see too often anymore.
What is your favourite ingredient at the moment?
W: Scott and his ‘nduja – ha! It is fab though. Scott creates this most amazing potato and ox shin ‘boulangere’ which we serve with Scottish bavette steak. It’s sensational. Hot and melting inside with beautiful crunch on the outside. Savoury umami yumminess.
S: I love ‘nduja, it’s become a real problem in the kitchen, with me and the team trying to not think that ‘nduja improves every dish. We have to really hold back otherwise it would be in everything. But Scottish sea kale is coming into season which is exciting. I love it just roasted in a bit of brown butter with a pinch of sea salt.
What’s next for Sugar Boat?
W: We grow and we build. We adapt to our market and perfect what we do. We hope to open something new in Glasgow’s West End – a really exciting project for us to get our teeth into. Watch this space.
S: There are a couple of exciting things on the horizon for the coming year, but most importantly, to carry on cooking good food and making Sugar Boat a place that the locals can come visit, enjoy, and feel relaxed. We will continue to evolve the menu and have a bit of fun.
Sugar Boat, 30 Colquhoun Square, Helensburgh G84 8AQ