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VIDEO: Highs and lows of Tayside and Fife chefs revealed as they hand over daily diaries

Graeme Pallister and Craig Millar return to work in their restaurants.
Graeme Pallister and Craig Millar return to work in their restaurants.

Following a successful week of restaurants across much of Scotland being able to reopen and serve alcohol indoors again, we got the diaries from two local chefs to find out how their first three days of being back in the kitchen went.

After four painful months of lockdown seeing their premises closed, many of Scotland’s chefs have been able to get back to cooking for their customers in recent weeks, with the restriction of not being able to drink alcohol indoors lifting only just last week.

As many of the country’s fine dining restaurants rely a lot on their wine lists to complement their meals, several businesses didn’t open until the middle of the week.

With their immediate reaction to being open again, Graeme Pallister of 63 Tay Street in Perth and Craig Millar of 16 West End in St Monans handed us their diaries so we could take a peek at what being back in the restaurant was like for the chefs.

Day one

Graeme Pallister

“So that’s the end of the first night and I think it’s been a marathon, really. It’s been 12 hours but really it’s been three months in the making, for me personally with doing the restaurant up and getting everything ready. It was lovely to see the first table come in and to have that human interaction again.

“Like many in the industry, we have mostly brand new staff and everybody was gelling. At the start we were calling each other our full names to start with then, by the end of the night, Christopher became “C” and Graeme became “G” etc. It was quite funny.

“It was good and customers were reasonably happy and, yes it was stressful trying to get everybody’s brain in gear again, and putting up with that pressure when your body and mind are just screaming that they don’t really want to back out the way it came in.

“I am happy, I am glad the day’s over, that everyone enjoyed their meal and we’re going again tomorrow morning. I’m just loving being back in the restaurant and loving doing what we do because at the end of a service we have the buzz.”

Craig Millar

“After 30 lunches, 30 dinners, the culmination of the last couple of weeks of menu planning, trying to remember suppliers’ phone numbers, trying to find everything in the kitchen again, tonight was the first service after 187 days. My feet are sore, knees and back have gone the same way the six-month ‘let’s get back into shape’ plan went!

“We decided to move things around a bit while we were shut (regretting this decision now as I can’t find anything) but also frantically trying to buy a new fish fridge as the current one has clearly decided to stay on furlough (latest delivery date June 21). Now, we are slimming down the menu to fit in what is left of the fridges.

“In between lunch and dinner service, I was interviewing for the post of restaurant manager as the present incumbent is leaving for pastures new (I wonder if I’d be able to swap him for a new fish fridge).

Craig Millar is back in his kitchen.

“One of the differences I’ve noticed coming back after the latest lockdown is the fruit and vegetables seem to be much better quality. I’m patiently waiting for the Scottish asparagus season to kick off and having to source Wye Valley at the moment, which is good, but isn’t a patch on the beautiful spears from Lunan Bay Farm.

“This is one of my favourite times of the year for produce and one in which we missed out entirely last year, which is something that seems to go unnoticed – when hospitality was shut down suppliers were left in the lurch and didn’t receive much if any government help.

“Orders have now been placed for tomorrow, prep lists written, menus tweaked. Now contemplating running a bath to ease the body, lost count of how many times I uttered the words ‘too old for this s**t’ to my clearly younger colleagues.”

Day two

Graeme Pallister

“Everyone arrived back on Friday morning a little bit sore after the Thursday, but all-in-all, it was a great day. The service was a lot easier, obviously we’re in routine now so we gelled a lot better even just after one day.

“It’s reallly buzzed up, customers were really happy and you can just sense that everyone is having a fantastic time being out.

“Having alcohol with your meal is actually great. We’re all about the wine as well as we are about the food. So to bring the two together in the way that we do is great and people who were loving it before are loving it even more now and to have someone looking after them for a change.

Graeme Pallister.

“Everyone has been eating indoors and eating on their own or cooking for themselves, and I’m a bit jealous, actually. I was saying that to a few regulars yesterday – I just can’t wait myself to get out and be fed.

“It’s our first Saturday back tomorrow and the last day as we are closed Sunday to Tuesday. It will be good to get the guys some sleep and some rest because it’s been 14 or 15 hour days for some of them.

“The only concern I have for the moment is the table reduction that’s still in place. We usually have 12 tables but we’re still at eight and the government funding has all ended. I can’t afford to maintain our business with two-thirds of income, it’s impossible and it’s hard enough being a small, family-run restaurant.

“So, just now is great though I am a little worried about what’s going to be coming up in the next few weeks. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that the Scottish Government will allow full-blown indoor eating again, which would be great. But I had a good day today and I can’t have the mindspace to worry about the future like this just now, so right now it’s time for sleep and to crack on tomorrow and continuing what we do and love.”

Craig Millar

“For the first time for more than six months I was woken by my alarm clock and tentatively got out of bed realising that the pain from the neck down was still evident. Quick shower, cup of Yorkshire’s finest then began the one-minute commute to work.

“Some deliveries were here, already stacked up against the kitchen door. It’s obviously heavy stuff which had to be moved to get into the kitchen, reminding me my back was still sore.

Craig Millar outside his restaurant in the East Neuk.

“Lights on, dishwasher on, coffee machine on and we’re good to go. Rest of the suppliers and staff started arriving, I had a quick text exchange with my fruit and veg guy about an orange that was either very ripe or had been run over!

“Next job was shucking the hand-dived scallops that arrived late the previous night less than 24 hours out of the cleaner west coast waters (a fantastic product that I haven’t seen for almost eight months).

“Another 30 lunches, plus a bonus table for two who said they had a reservation. Service was relatively uneventful and also felt a lot smoother than the previous days. Managed to get an hour upstairs for a short break and some sort of mince and pitta bread concoction that the wife found in the fridge, then it was back downstairs before dinner service began.

Craig Millar.

“Again, dinner service was much smoother than the previous night, so much so that I was able to keep half an eye on the Dundee v Kilmarnock match.

“Generally, the customers are all delighted to be back eating and drinking indoors and are very understanding with the current restrictions. Last customers left just before the ridiculous 10.30pm curfew, which is when I assume Covid either wakes up or the fleet of local taxis turn back into pumpkins.

“Orders done for following day, latest prep lists written and now back upstairs eating some not very fine dining food with paracetamol and ibuprofen and then bed.”

Day 3

Graeme Pallister

“It’s 10pm on Saturday night and we are still clearing down, dishes are on the go and the Eurovision Song Contest is on in the background.

“It was another good night, the staff are slightly more tired now but it was good. We had a nervy start with a table of six being about 15-20 minutes late and we couldn’t get a hold of them. When that’s one third of your capacity, it was a bit nerve-racking, but it was fine in the end and they eventually came in.

“Everyone’s been really happy again, just with that feeling of being out and a lot of customers talking about how they were getting takeaways that were restaurant quality but just not getting that interaction you get inside a restaurant. So they’ve been really enjoying it and really loving it and what’s been nice is that everyone’s been splashing out!

Graeme Pallister.

“It’s just a shame that we can’t fill the restaurant just now but we are hoping to be able to secure our futures and hopefully we’ll hear soon, in the next few weeks and months. But there’s lots to celebrate today – obviously St Johnstone won the cup in Perth, which is also amazing, though I don’t think we’re going to have the same outcome at Eurovision.

“All in all, it’s been a fantastic week and we are closed for the next couple of days, so really tomorrow will be my first day off in about a month. I am knackered and I’m looking forward to just lying in bed past 6.15am. But can’t complain as it’s just great to be back and in the swing of things and physically tired but mentally strong.

Craig Millar

“Slightly easier to get up this morning as the body is finally coming to terms that it’s back working again.

“I’m beaten into work by one of my chefs so I have a cup of tea waiting for me but unfortunately none of my orders have turned up yet which is another problem we have now since Brexit and Covid – delivery drivers seem to have become quite scarce which has seen a knock-on effect of late deliveries.

“After some phone calls it has become apparent that I’ll have to change the lunch menu as components of the planned menu are still winging their way along the M8 and not due to arrive until 12.30pm.

“Another phone call has revealed that the fridge repair man won’t be out until next week as he’s had so many calls after hospitality opened en masse. Turns out the expected 12.30pm delivery was a touch ambitious and ended up here at 2.30pm. Customers have no idea that all this happens behind the scenes.

Craig Millar.

“Starting to receive quite a few late cancellations as some of our customers are just starting to realise that they live in Glasgow and are therefore unable to travel through to Fife due to local restrictions, although the phone is still ringing with replacement customers.

“Tomorrow’s fish prices have come through and it seems turbot has shot up £4 per kilo in three days and halibut up £3 per kilo – the highest prices I have seen in my 30-plus years in the industry. No explanation for this so we’ll blame Brexit and once again tweak the menus.

“Quiet-ish night tonight but it was still as full as we are allowed. Lots of tables of twos, which reduces the capacity almost like Valentine’s night. I keep threatening to advertise in a swingers magazine to at least get some three and fours but unsure of the current government restrictions on this!

“Orders placed for the weekend, unsure when they will arrive and if we even have refrigeration space available for them, off to bed.”

For more information or to book, visit 63 Tay Street and Craig Millar at 16 West End

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