Etive Restaurant's Story
Taste of Place Trails Stories
David Lapsley and his business partner John set up Etive restaurant with the aim of creating a different dining experience, where the sommelier’s wine selection was as integral to their offering as the chef’s food menu. The pair work together as a team, with John’s passion for local produce pairing with David’s knowledge of small independent vineyards and lesser known wines.
On a quest to discover more
David’s passion for wine was sparked when he was working behind the bar in a hotel, where he took part in a wine tasting as training. He realised it was something he wanted to explore more, and took part in a course which solidified his interest in the world of wine. It’s curiosity that drives David’s quest to discover and share new and interesting wines, he says he didn’t do well in school but when he discovered wine he realised how transformative a passion for the subject could be: “you then go into studying wine and all of a sudden you’re studying the vines, you’re studying soil types, you’re studying weather, you’re studying climate, you’re studying history, chemistry to an extent … through the medium of wine you’re studying it and it all clicks.”
David believes that his enthusiasm for wine, and the way he and John combine their two areas of expertise, is what sets Etive restaurant apart; “I don’t think there’s a restaurant where the chef and the person leading front of house, or leading the drinks programme, are so in tune.” David works with Scottish wine merchants to curate a selection of wines which perfectly compliment John’s cooking, which celebrates fresh, local produce as much as possible. David likes to share his knowledge of the drinks menu with customers, visiting each table and telling them a bit about what they’re drinking and where it comes from. He says people have told him it’s the most unaffected explanation they’ve heard from a sommelier, with his knowledge and passion being at the forefront of his delivery – “a lot of people say that it feels very natural, it feels very honest.”
Creating an experience to enjoy time and time again
David describes the restaurant as “very intimate”, and loves that they have regular customers who come back to visit them time and time again, even if they don’t live locally. Its small stature and intimate atmosphere means that the restaurant feels like something of a hidden gem, with a lot of people even in Oban itself unaware of it. David enjoys seeing people eat their first meal at Etive, saying “when they do come in for the first time they do get blown away and go wow, that was amazing.” It has a loyal following, though, with a lot of couples who, David says, will eat with them several times a year, and some who travel to Oban annually and always make time to fit in a visit to Etive.
Local produce for every season
Having their restaurant based in Argyll is integral to the dishes that John creates at the restaurant, though David says “the access to so many small, independent producers is on one side amazing but on the other frustrating”, as sometimes the most delicious seasonal produce is only available in very limited quantities or for a very short period. For example, David says, sometimes they’ll have an opportunity to order in lamb from a croft in Taynuilt and serve it in the restaurant for a few days, “then we maybe can’t get it again for up to a year”. That can also be a benefit, though, as it means their menu is constantly adapting and people are eating only the freshest and most seasonal produce, getting a real flavour of Argyll with every dish.
Authentic menu, from start to finish
Etive’s drinks menu is as concerned with local producers as its food offering, with even soft drinks coming from Paisley Drinks Company rather than a big international corporation – “in Scotland if we can find an alternative then we do that”. David aims to champion small-scale Scottish drinks producers wherever possible, he says “there is a love for whisky” with independent whiskies favoured over some of the better known distilleries. At the heart of everything he does, David says, is “passion and knowledge and an understanding of the producer.”