RANALD Macdonald opened the Boisdale in Belgravia in 1988 and has been serving a combination Scottish food, Whisky, jazz and fine cigars there ever since. Ahead of Burns Night he talks poetry, Cuban bagpipes and haggis with Taste Club editor, Joe Warwick.
[Joe] So Burns Night - is it just an excuse for drinking?
Undoubtedly it’s partly that - yes. All celebrations are an excuse for those that wish to dull their senses and relax to a point of inebriation. But Burns night is also a time, as you grow older, to consider and re-evaluate life. Being Scottish is about so much more than being English… or French.
Do you think it a more popular celebration than it used to be?
It's certainly not as commercialised as say Halloween… Nor will it ever be - not that I would ever want it to be. That said it's a lot more up there than it used to be and compared with 22 years ago when we opened Boisdale - I didn’t go to the lengths that we go to now to satisfy peoples requirements - in that we served haggis everyday and people could just do what they wanted. In those days it was a more private event and a less structured event than we have now: four pipers on the premises for the best part of two weeks.
So the haggis is always piped in?
Always… It's like Piccadilly Circus at times with four haggises being piped in at once. We also have a trio of Scottish actors in 18th century garb who recite Ode to a Haggis to the table, with polish and flair, and we have several Burns Night menus. Twenty-two years ago we didn't do any of that because it wasn't required. But the world has changed and people quite rightly want to celebrate the occasion according to their perceptions of how it should be done - which means we now do thing more formally.
Auld Lang Syne aside - what’s your favourite bit of Burns' poetry?
Probably Ode to a Haggis because it's witty and light and easily understood and I don't really read poetry frankly. I suggested to a great friend of mine who is a contemporary Scottish poet, Benjie Fraser, that he write a modern version of Ode to a Haggis, which was published three years ago. That made me study the original again in a way I haven't the rest of Burns' work.
You're also into your jazz - is there any crossover between bagpipes and jazz?
We brought a piper out to Cuba in 2001 and had him play with a Cuban jazz band... The pipes can work in any band but you need to make sure you get the volume and acoustics right. Pipes are designed for making a lot of noise outdoors.
Three of your greatest passions are jazz, whisky and cigars. If you could only keep one - which would it be?
If jazz was music and Whisky was all booze and cigars stood for tobacco in all its forms… I think I'd lose tobacco first, music second and booze last.
Which whisky do you turn too most often?
I’m very keen on the Glenfarclas 10 year old, it's a classic sherry cask conditioned Speyside malt with citrus notes; it's quite light and it's got a bit of complexity and intensity without being difficult and it relatively inexpensive. I also - on an everyday basis - like Johnny Walker Black.
What's your smoke of choice?
And the piece of jazz that gets you like no other?
I like the mid to late 30s/early 40s and I think my favourite musician is Jack Teagarden, particularly A Hundred Years from Today.