Carina Contini is one of the leading figures in Scottish food. In 1996 Carina opened her first restaurant through her husband’s family business Valvona & Crolla, in Edinburgh. In 2003 Carina and her husband Victor, opened Centotre (rebranded Contini Ristorante in May 2014), which didn’t take long to turn heads. Winning both Restaurant of the Year in 2004 and The Judges Special Achievement Award from The List Eating & Drinking Guide in 2005, it was clear that this duo had a recipe for success. Contini Ristorante is a 150 cover restaurant serving fresh, simple southern Italian food. The menu uses a combination of premium Italian and Scottish produce.
In October 2009 they opened The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant at The Scottish National Gallery. The Scottish Cafe has a Scottish Menu, filling the restaurant with local goodies from over 60 artisan producers around Scotland.
We asked Carina what Edinburgh means to her:
When I hear the words ‘This Is Edinburgh’, the first thing that springs to mind is…
The Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. World Class arts festival that puts us on the world map every time.
What makes me particularly proud to work in the city is…
Part of the reason we pitched for the catering contract at The Scottish National Gallery was our love of the galleries. The Scottish Collection in particular has inspired our cooking over the last 5 years. If you have a few spare moments, take the time, as it's free entry, and savour the beauty of our Scottish paintings that capture the heritage of our food nature in a very unexpected way.
Why did you decide to open your first restaurant, Centotre in Edinburgh?
12 years ago when our first baby was born we knew it was time to do something on our own and leave the family business. Looking back it was a huge move but nature’s instinct to nurture your family took over. We remortaged our house and went for it. The building was so beautiful it captured our hearts. We've loved it ever since.
Edinburgh has more restaurants per head of population than any other British city, what makes Edinburgh such a gastronomic hub?
Scotland's capital city is blessed with access to the whole countries abundant natural larder. Fish from Peterhead, lamb from the Borders, Raspberries from Perth, Cheddar from Mull - it's all accessible within 24 hours and it's a joy to be able to showcase all the riches of our country and the capital does a very good job at showcasing it. Its access to so many international tourists also supports.
What’s your ideal Edinburgh culinary experience?
I was 18 and was allowed to go to Princes Street Gardens and watch the International Fireworks with my big brother and all his friends. Victor, my future husband happened to be in the party. We had a Gregory’s Girl moment - dancing while looking up at the fireworks. Very special but what made it even better was the picnic we'd brought earlier. Homemade soup in flasks, home boiled ham rolls and cakes. Picnic in Princes Street - can't think of anything better.
A perfect day in Edinburgh ends with…
A walk up to the top of Castle Hill, onto the Esplanade and watch the city below - sparkle.
As a local, my hidden gem that most visitors to Edinburgh may miss is…
Eddie's Seafood Market in Marchmont. Eddie is an old friend and always makes me feel welcome even if I've not seen him for ages. Fresh lobster from the tank or squid cleaned in front of your eyes straight off of local Scottish boats landed at Scottish harbours. Fresh and fabulous - my hidden gem every time.