New look at The Barniken

Stuart in carvery
Stuart in carvery

IT remains a work in progress, but the new owner of what used to be known as the Barniken House Hotel in Duns is satisfied that all is going according to plan after investing £30,000 renovating and redecorating the old building. If a facelift was needed to the decor, he hopes the new variety and quality on offer on his menu will be the real selling point for potential new customers.

“Our menu offers real, fresh food, not frozen stuff microwaved out of a poly bag,” says Stuart Perkins. “I’m a real chef.”

Stuart has indeed done the rounds as a chef. He was part of Gordon Ramsay’s team ten years ago when the TV star opened the Amaryllis restaurant in Glasgow. It became Glasgow’s only Michelin-starred restaurant before closing in 2004. Perkins has worked with some of the top names in the UK, latterly spending his time as a relief chef throughout Scotland. His most recent port of call was the George Hotel in Edinburgh.

Now, as he ventures out on his own for the first time, he has a chance to really make his mark. Since taking over from Shirley Gill three months ago, the new proprietor has set about making a raft of exciting new changes. Refurbished from head to toe, the 18th century building has been given a complete makeover.

For starters, there’s a new name. What was the Barniken is now known as Hotel Stuart Duns. It is, he confesses, part of a marketing strategy that caters for internet surfers. “If you search online for a hotel in Duns, mine should come up first,” says Stuart.

The marketing doesn’t stop there. The restaurant has been branded Chef Stuart, while Stuart’s Cafebar caters for families and serves fast food. No need to guess the name of the owner and head chef then. “In one place you go to eat. In the other, you go to be fed,” he explains.

Plans to build an orangery are already at the planning stage and discussions with a local marquee company to make the venue suitable for weddings are at an advanced stage. Couples have already been making enquiries.

“It’s a completely new tiptoe through the tulips for me,” Stuart says of his new project. “The hotel was just lying there doing nothing and I felt it was such a beautiful building. It had the ambience and the feeling, but it just didn’t have the structure. So I decided to speak to the proprietor. She decided that she’d had enough and I took over. It was quite a simple transaction.”

It may still be only a work in progress, but given the size of the transformation envisaged by this ambitious new owner much has already been accomplished. The interior has been reupholstered and replastered. Ceilings and the hallways have been completely redecorated.

“It’s absolutely wonderful and we’ve done all the work ourselves,” adds Stuart. “There used to be grants available for this sort of thing, but public money is tight and there doesn’t seem to be any help on offer for hotels any more. So I’ve had to use my own resources to fund this project.

“Stuart’s Cafebar is more of a bar, but it has a new floor. It’s been redecorated and refurbished. You just go to be fed at the cafebar. What I mean is that it caters for young people and serves burgers, paninis and the like.

“We’ve completely and utterly changed the restaurant. It’s been completely redesigned. It’s designed for food. There are no children allowed in there. It’s where you take your lady for a nice meal and you take your time with it. Duns has nowhere for families and thirtysomethings. There are plenty of places for other clientele, but we want to cater for families and we want to be a boutique hotel where you can bring your lady.”

As for his restaurant menu, traditional Scottish fare is order of the day for the ladies Stuart wants to attract. There is plenty of variety on offer too. “We have pheasant, venison and good Scottish steaks of course,” says Stuart. “I specialise in seafood as well. We have seven vegetarian dishes on, all cooked to order. It’s whole food. I make all my own soups, my own sauces, my own pates, everything. I’m going to be the chef myself, but I am going to train youngsters too. I have one young lad who wants to learn to be a chef and I’ve got two others. So I’ve taken on three apprentices so far.”

If the apprentices can match the master for enthusiasm, they’ll be simmering in no time.