Restaurateur Interview: Carina Contini, Edinburgh (March 2024)

Posted on: March 30th, 2024 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Carina Contini has long been a stalwart of the Scottish hospitality industry. Her achievements as a cook, food and cookbook writer, food broadcaster, Food Ambassador and Food Personality have won accolades that crown her glittering career. As co-owner of three successful restaurants in Edinburgh, she continues to achieve excellence in a highly competitive market. Fine Dining Guide was fortunate enough to gain a short interview which focuses on this aspect of her work.



What inspired you to become a restaurateur?

Food is in her blood. Her grandfather, a rural farmer without land, escaped the poverty of post-First World War Italy by migrating to Scotland, (Cockenzie and Port Seton). He became successful in the ice cream, fish and chip shop and Italian delicatessen sector. This connection has continued through the generations into restaurants which she owns with her husband, Victor.

How do you decide if a venue will work?

Location is a vital aspect, but so is a brilliant, hard-working team which delivers good food and service consistently. Guests like to feel at home but also want to be excited by the offering. Each of her three restaurants achieves this in different ways.

Cannonball, at the top of the Royal Mile and adjacent to Edinburgh Castle, celebrates location and history.  In monthly changing menus, chef Tommy Crosby – who oversees the food in all three restaurants – demonstrates his classical skills and virtuosity in dishes using the finest produce.

Contini in George Street focuses more on Italian dishes which, as in Italy, have been adapted through the years. Nevertheless, classics such as spaghetti carbonara, executed in the traditional way, can still be enjoyed. All meat and fish are Scottish, whereas cheeses, oils and vegetables are imported from Italy.

The Scottish Café and Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery, along Princes Street in the heart of the city, has a menu which showcases Scottish produce in dishes such as Cullen Skink. As a day venue it also offers afternoon tea

How do you account for the success of your restaurants?

Nothing is taken for granted as the whole team strives to do better. Our Training Academy helps staff retention which was problematic before Covid, but intensified with the epidemic. Given 120-160 employees across three restaurants, they have made use of external assessors to coach and mentor the front-of-house, kitchen and administration teams. Promising results have been seen in its mental and physical support. The programme, which allows staff to participate in as much as they as much as they wish, results in a healthy team which promotes a healthy business.

What is Victor’s role in your husband and wife team?

Victor, dubbed “Mr Culture” has pioneered the “Victor Handshake” in his focus on Front of House training. He is also the principal buyer from our Italian suppliers and oversees our one-acre kitchen garden two to four mornings a week. Besides growing staples such as parsley, kale, chard and rhubarb, honey from seven bee hives is harvested, sometimes twice a day.

What are your proudest achievements?

“We have survived after 20 years!” Admittedly, her three children, now 23,22 and 18, had to share in the pressures associated with the hospitality industry.

This year, she has paid off of the business loan and next year sees the end of repaying the Covid loan.

 What is your view of the Edinburgh dining scene?

The Edinburgh scene now is very dynamic, with many small independent restaurants opening.  Good values in hospitality are important to a discerning foodie public when making choices about where to eat. This keeps all of us on our toes in a fabulous city with a strong business community.

What are you aims for the future?

Victor’s replanting our herb garden which was lost during seven years’ redevelopment of the National Gallery site, is to be welcomed. We aim to pay off the Covid loan in 2025. More excitingly, since stabilising after Covid, we are looking for a new opening, something the whole team wants. The future is very positive.