Fennel Restaurant is one of Inverurie’s best spots to enjoy local produce with a touch of class.
Owned by William Bird since opening in 2006, over the years the restaurant has evolved with changes in perceptions of modern dining.
Fennel elevates classic dishes and ingredients to a higher plateau whilst maintaining a homely, informal feel in its restaurant.
From locally caught haddock and chips to scallops with leek ash, Fennel’s chefs bring a modern twist to local produce throughout their menu.
Adapting to Covid-19 has also been key for the restaurant. It’s now open five days a week and has staff working four-day weeks, which William says has boosted the team’s productivity and morale.
Now, William is eager to reconnect with the restaurant’s loyal customer base after what’s been a torrid time for the hospitality industry.
We talked to William to find out more about Fennel Restaurant.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Inverness but have lived in Aberdeenshire, just outside Insch, my whole life. I studied at RGU in electrical and electronic engineering because my folks wanted me to go for a college education, but it never really gelled for me. I’m a keen photographer, which I also run as a bit on the side of the business. I have some local nature photographs that I’ve taken on the walls of the restaurant as well as local landscapes and landmarks. I’ve also gotten into drone photography more recently.
Have you always had an interest in working in hospitality?
I got into this industry working part-time weekends at The Gordon Arms in Inverurie, which is now Edward’s. That was the first job I ever had aged 14 and I was absolutely addicted to it – I loved the buzz, the camaraderie and the team.
There was one particular occasion when a young couple came in in the middle of an afternoon asking if they could see the wedding package and the function hall. But with no manager around at the time, I improvised, gave them my version and told them how it all worked. Luckily, they ended up booking. But during the speeches, they called me up in front of 250 guests and said, “we’d booked tonight because of this young lad’s enthusiasm for the whole thing… we just want to say thank you.” At that age, to have a whole room of people clapping and saying thank you for your hospitality was pretty awesome. I was destined for a career in hospitality after that!
How did you end up at Fennel restaurant?
I’ve worked in a number of restaurants and hotels – from Glengarry Castle on the west coast to the Olive Tree in the west end of Aberdeen. It was always my ambition to have my own place and Inverurie was where I wanted to come to. We built the restaurant from scratch; the building was an empty shell when we first looked at it, which was 17 years ago now. But I had a vision of what I wanted to do with it and I could see the space working. The whole process took two years until we opened, which was back in October 2006.
How have things changed at Fennel since then? What challenges have you encountered?
The dining scene has evolved a lot and we have evolved a lot as well. Back in the mid-2000s, you either had pubs or fine dining, but that started to delineate over time. Moonfish in Aberdeen is a great example of this: The food is Michelin recommended, but approachable – and why shouldn’t it be? You should be able to jump out in jeans and a T-shirt and have absolutely stunning food. So, when we first opened, we were all about tablecloths and a slightly more formal feel. But now, we’ve evolved away from that.
The impact of the last few years has been very profound. But Covid encouraged us to look at different ways of doing things at the restaurant and we now have a much more streamlined business. We decided to stick to reduced hours and are now only open five days a week. On top of that, we’re also moving all of our full-time employees onto a four-day working week from now on. Everything that I’ve seen as a small business owner over the last two years is that the value of family life and people having the chance to see their kids growing up and to be there for their partners is immeasurable.
Tell us all about the food at Fennel Restaurant
Ethan Forsyth, our head chef, has won a number of cooking awards in his career. The whole team of young chefs are very ambitious and I’d say our menu has a modern influence on local produce. We hold onto a lot of classics, but we believe that they’re done well. You can have haddock and chips made with local beer batter, or you could have lamb with anchovy, which sounds quite out there but works superbly well. You could have Cullen skink or soup of the day, or you could have langoustine tails with buttermilk or scallops with leek ash.
I think if I was coming here for dinner or a late lunch, I would probably have a few starters as a meal with a glass of wine, which is something that we encourage. We have specials on every day. There’s a strong variety of vegan options and the management team are very aware of dietary requirements for people who may be coeliac or require gluten-free alternatives.
What about the drinks selection?
Foghouse whisky shop is right next door to us and the owner of Twice Buried Rum lives here in Inverurie – they’re both great. We have local beers like Fierce Beer and Six Degrees North and there’s an extensive gin list as well. But cocktails are probably what we’re known for most. Our cocktail trees are hugely popular. They hold nine drinks and there’s a range of options to choose from including pornstar martinis, French martinis, one of our new drinks the mudslide as well.
What does the future hold for Fennel Restaurant?
A busy summer hopefully! We’ve been nominated for restaurant of the year in Scotland’s Business Awards this year. It’d be nice for the team if we won and also provide us with an opportunity to draw the line under the last few years and move forward.
But the main thing right now is just being allowed to get on with things. There’s been a lot of stops and starts, so we’re aiming for steady, smooth sailing rather than anything else at the minute. We want to get out and reconnect with our client base – who have all been fabulously loyal.