Getting Ziggy With It!
Anna Maria and Phil warmly welcomed me to a lunch-time interview at Ziggy’s, for an insight into their rock and pop-themed, family-run restaurant. Entering Ziggy’s is like walking into a rock and pop collector’s treasure trove. What started out as a fun past-time, collecting Beatle’s memorabilia, has developed into a passion that has slowly shaped and evolved the beloved restaurant that we know as Ziggy’s.
Victoria: “Can you give me a little history of the restaurant?”
Anna-Maria: “It was my husband who first started it, along with a partner called Chris Winter. Chris started the very first ‘Baked Potato Shop’ ever in Princes Street in Edinburgh. That’s where Phil met Chris and there was a tiny little restaurant called the ‘New York Steam Packet’ which was just off Rose Street…They had this great open kitchen and all they did was steaks. We thought ‘That’s such a brilliant concept’”.
The pair eventually moved up to St Andrews and opened up the ‘Baked Potato Shop’ and it was in the back storeroom where all the potatoes were once stored that Ziggy’s was established. That was on South Street back in 1983. However, in 1986, the pair decided to move the restaurant to its current location and have remained there ever since; making it one of the longest running restaurants in town.
Controversially, the name Ziggy’s does not originate from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, as most would expect. Phil clued me in on the origination of the name.
Phil: “Everyone knows us by ‘Ziggy’s’. But it didn’t originate with Ziggy Stardust… Ziggy’s was a short, sharp name that we had to begin with. But over the past thirty odd years it has evolved into what we do now.”
Their American client-based would send them strips of a newspaper cartoon also named ‘Ziggy’s’. Evidently the confusing connotations of the name were transcontinental! However, the couple’s growing rock and pop memorabilia collection which decorated the walls lent itself to the evolution of the theme that is such a prevalent part of the restaurants identity.
Anna Maria: “The actual music itself didn’t start until probably, we moved down here…A friend of ours [Norman], used to do a lot of charity work and he would get all these signed autographs and whatnot and he said to us would we like them to put on the walls and we sa
id, alright, yes, brilliant”.
The couple started going to auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London, as well as Beatle conventions and LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). And pretty soon the interest turned into a ‘complete obsession’
Anna Maria: “It got to the stage where we were actually getting invited.
They even got a hand-delivered invitation from Sienna Miller for some Beatle’s memorabilia that had never been seen before. Sadly, with only three days warning for the preview in London and the auction being held later on in New York; this was an auction that Anna Maria and Phil had to miss. Their collection however, is extraordinary.
Anna Maria: “We do have some quite rare Beatles’ memorabilia…The one in the middle here [Second to the left on the bottom line in the image below], has the original drummer rather than Ringo. That is actually the old-fashioned metal print, the old-fashioned negative of that photograph…We actually had that signed by Pete Best when we were at the auction”.
I strongly advise asking about the items of the wall when you dine there – They have some wonderful stories! The guitar that is on the front of the menus they had especially designed and made, and now hangs proudly above the bar.
Anna Maria explained to me that the menu has changed very little over the past thirty years, consistently serving steaks, burgers, ribs and chicken as their core ingredients. When they first moved to St Andrews, most restaurants served Scottish-themed food and thus they identified a gap in the market. Although the range of restaurants in town has expanded over the years, the originality of their concept keeps them abreast of the competition. The couple are particularly proud of their loyal customers.
Victoria: “Do you have a loyal client base?”
Anna Maria: “Yes from all over the world. We have Americans who come in year-in and year-out. They come religiously every year…We do have such a loyal clientele. We have customers that come every week. Religiously. We can tell at 6 o’clock on Friday night who’s going to be sitting in the restaurant.”
In a town where restaurant turnover in the past year as proved exceptionally high I was comforted to hear that restaurants like Ziggy’s are so well supported by locals and tourists alike.
Victoria: “Would you say that you are very much rooted in St Andrews?”
Anna Maria: “Yes… We did have a look at a couple of places, literally just at the start of this year in Dundee…but nothing came of it. So, whether we will still move, I’m not sure. We have put it on hold for a while. We had another restaurant called Route 66 which was a complete American diner with hot dogs and burgers and pizza. And that was where Jahangir is. But trying to run two is impossible because you cannot be in two places at once. Even if it’s Phil there, and me here. It’s still impossible because customers expect to see you when they come in.”
The couple evidently understand what their customers look for in a restaurant: personal service and consistently great food. It’s not difficult to see how Ziggy’s has stood the test of time. With such a perfect formula, I wondered whether the couple did every try new ideas on their menu.
Anna Maria: “The sides and [size of] the burgers have changed over the years. Over the years it was always a four ounce, now it’s a six ounce. I don’t know whether it’s because people’s appetites are bigger or people expect more. I have to say the portions are huge and we have actually cut them back…But we still get “Oh my god, there’s just so much food”. But that’s maybe a good thing – They’ll get doggy bags to take away.”
A little complimentary plagiarism was also evident in the menu’s development. Phil and Anna Maria would frequently go down to London to see what the trends were in the newest steak and burger establishments, bringing them back up to St Andrews for Ziggy’s’ annual menu change. However, they weren’t the only ones copying each other’s ideas.
Anna Maria: “There was a guy who owned a hotel in the town…and he would literally wait for us to put the menu outside and he would come along with a dictaphone and copy the menu. I would sneak out our side door with a menu…and say “It’s OK – just have a menu… We found it quite funny. It didn’t upset us, otherwise we never would have given him the menu.”
So there was always a little local competition, now perhaps more prevalent in the Grill House than any other establishment in town. But what else sets Ziggy’s apart from other restaurants in the bubble?
Anna Maria: “We’ve dealt with the same butcher for our beef since we opened [the Scott Brothers in Dundee, run by the sons of the original owner]. We get all our beef from within Fife. So when we get our beef in we get it literally saying what farm it’s come from, right down to the number of the cow. So we know exactly where everything’s from. And they’re brilliant – Exactly the same as their father. Nothing’s too much. Even if we want a box of chickens. They’ll send them over. And everything is delivered fresh every day. Nothing is pre-packed. All our steaks we buy in the whole side and everything’s cut to order. So if someone comes in – During the summer you’ll get Americans saying “Can I get a 24-ounce”, and we say yes. We are the only place in town that can do that… Everyone else buys all their steaks in cut and vacuum- packed, whereas I’ll stand for an hour in the afternoon trimming it all ready for the night; just for the chefs to be able to cut it and put it on the grill and send it to the customer. So we’re quite proud of that.”
Although their burgers are no longer made on site, because of the time it takes to mince the meat and make each individual patty; Penman’s in Crail make burgers for Ziggy’s every day to Anna Maria and Phil’s original recipe.
Anna Maria: “We phone them up in the morning and tell them how many we need and by lunch time we have them delivered.”
Besides dry stock, everything in the restaurant is brought in fresh on a daily basis. The kitchen is not big enough to store more and Anna Maria is the first to say that this is not a bad thing.
Anna Maria: “It’s nice to know it’s all completely fresh…Everything is cooked to order, nothing’s held. It’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Having discussed the menu in such depth, I had to ask what her favourite item was at Ziggy’s.
Anna Maria: “It would have to be the fillet. I’m quite torn actually because there are three things that I absolutely love. But I have to say the fillet steak. Only because it’s so tender. You don’t have to chew it. Honestly…Its just to die for. But the fajitas are just – amazing. They are so so nice. The flavours that are within them are just great… And the ribs. The ribs are really good as well. They get delivered, slow-cooked for 4-6 hours depending on the size of them. Every day. So yes. We’re quite chuffed.”
(Taking her advice, I tried to chicken fajitas myself and cheekily asked whether she would share a hint with me about the recipes secret ingredient. “I can’t tell you!”, she responded with a smile. I’m sorry everyone – It seems you will just have to go try them for yourself).
And for the vegetarians I hear you ask?
Anna Maria: “The vegetarian lasagne [which they sometimes put it on as a special]…We do vegetable burritos which are filled with ratatouille and re-friend beans. The ratatouille we make ourselves as well. I have to say they are really nice.”
Anna Maria and Phil’s son was working in the kitchen on the day of my visit having finished five years at catering college. Although Anna Maria expressed her desire for him to work in a different environment to gain more experience, I thought it was wonderful to hear that the restaurant would continue to be very much a family-run business for forthcoming years.
Anna Maria: “We’re here, not going anywhere any time soon. And we’ll hopefully be here for another 30 years.”
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