A short walk from Stirling train station takes you to the city’s Victorian arcade and a charming collection of independent retailers. There you will find Oscar’s, a wine and cocktail bar that is bringing a new atmosphere to the historic mall. It is a family business run by Nicky O’Neill and her husband David.

Nicky’s friend had owned the bar in a previous incarnation and she had worked here while running a clothes shop and saving up for her wedding. “I always thought about this place and it had this big open atrium in front that I thought would be a fantastic terrace. When we had the opportunity, we decided to go for it.”

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They opened in June last year. “The wine was the starting point, we wanted to open a place you could go for a really nice glass of wine in Stirling, everything has built from there,” Nicky said. The tables outside under a glass ceiling brought a sunny disposition to the first summer months. Oscar’s soon had visitors from beyond the confines of Stirling. 

“I’ve been surprised by the amount of people who come in and tell us they have travelled from different parts of Scotland to visit us. I suppose that’s to do with the fact people can see what we do on social media. It was quieter for tourists last year but all the support that we’ve had from local people that has carried us through. That really has been so encouraging.”

As we start the year considering what travel will be like in 2022, Nicky thinks there are signs that the trends towards exploring Scotland will continue.

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“I do think that people are more conscious of what they have around them. We might have a couple that come in from Glasgow and they are staying in a local hotel and that’s their holiday. Or it might be someone who lives even closer than that and they are just looking for a weekend away. It’s an escape. We find people are looking for a night out, somewhere a bit different but they don’t have to travel that far to get home.”

Stirling has always had a strong tourist appeal but being seen as a food and drink destination is garnering attention. “We can see new hospitality places open in Stirling and in Bridge of Allan and that gives everyone a lift and helps add to the local offering and welcome people back to the city,” Nicky says.

The reaction, particularly from locals, had encouraged the kitchen team to introduce a new menu this month with more small plate options. “With the menu, everything is made from scratch and we look for simple winning taste profiles. Sharing small plates is a relaxed and sociable way to enjoy your food with wine. That’s how I like to eat, have lots of wee bits of different things.

“We wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere.

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“We have a wine preservation system so you can order from different bottles by the glass. It encourages more conversations and trying more adventurous choices on the menu. We want everyone to feel comfortable here.”

Plates will include haggis croquettes with whisky dipping sauce; pigeon breast, beetroot aioli, pickled chicory and pan jus; pan seared mackerel, fennel slaw, lemon and dill emulsion and a quirky version of fish and chips with curry sauce – scallops, potato rosti and coconut curry sauce.

You can see the attention to detail across all elements of the design in the dining room, the glassware, the way dishes are presented, the lighting. “Everything you see in Oscar’s was made with love,” Nicky says.