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Alumni Stories > Alumni Stories > Certified Michelin: Craig Lappin-Smith (2013 Cohort)

Certified Michelin: Craig Lappin-Smith (2013 Cohort)

Durham’s newest restaurant in town and helmed by one of our Tanglin alumni – Craig Lappin-Smith (2013 Cohort) – and his business partners.


Love food in all its delicious variety? Then you mustn’t miss out on Coarse, Durham’s newest restaurant in town and helmed by one of our Tanglin alumni – Craig Lappin-Smith (2013 Cohort) – and his business partners.

The restaurant is the city’s first tasting menu experience and since its opening, it has won rave reviews and a coveted spot on The Michelin Guide's Favourite New Restaurants. How did Craig arrive at this incredible milestone? Let’s start from the beginning. 

What’s your Tanglin story?

I moved to Tanglin in Year 3 (2003) for what was supposed to be a three-year secondment for Dad, but we ended up staying 10 years altogether. It was still during the SARS period when we were greeted with daily temperature checks and armed Ghurkhas at every gate. I loved Tanglin immediately, not because of the temperature checks and Ghurkhas, but because of its warm and supportive community. I stayed at Tanglin all the way till my GCSEs and IB, except for a brief stint in Sydney from Year 7 to 10. I returned to Tanglin halfway through Year 10. 

What are some of your fondest memories?

Some of my fondest memories were of school trips we went on all over the world, the Christmas Pantomime by the Class of 2013 as well as Mr Graves, my maths teacher and an absolute legend. He treated us schoolkids like adults even though we didn’t always deserve it and he always said things as they were. We also created the Tony Cup — a multi-disciplined, annual sporting Olympiad for teams of Year 12 and 13 students — which I’m reportedly told (and proud to hear) continues to this day.


Who were the people who inspired you in school and why?

Aside from Mr Graves, other teachers whom I remember fondly to this day included my Year 4 teacher Mr Cater (if you are reading this, Mr Cater, the Writer's Workshop was a stroke of genius!) and Mr Coughlin, who was a hilarious, genuine, and no-nonsense type of guy. 


What did you do after graduating from Tanglin?

I attended Durham University via the Clearing process and enrolled in the Business & Management programme. During my time there, I started UniBulkBuy – a business selling toilet rolls in bulk to student houses nationwide – and ran it for two years. I also worked full-time at Bistro 21, a restaurant where I met two of my current business partners. 

After I graduated from Durham, I sold UniBulkBuy for a nominal sum and got a wonderful job at GSK. It took me all over the world and I absolutely loved it. I later moved to BCG (Boston Consulting Group) to try out consulting but eventually decided that it wasn’t for me, so I moved into product management at Beacon Targeted Therapies. It was a smaller company, but I really enjoyed the role. I went on to work for a couple of start-ups after that and I eventually landed my current role as the Head of Growth at August, a real estate company. I also started Coarse on the side.


Tell us about Coarse, your taster restaurant. How did it come about?

I met Ruari (head chef who became very good friends with me) and Gemma (restaurant manager) in 2014 when I was working at Bistro 21. I left Durham in 2016 but didn’t keep in touch with them for four years until the pandemic lockdown happened. I decided to reach out to them on a whim and asked if they wanted to start their own business. At that time, Bistro 21 had closed due to manpower issues and since then, I always thought that Durham lacked decent restaurants. One thing led to another, and I started looking for premises for our restaurant – which we planned to be Durham’s first tasting restaurant. It took me two years, but I finally found a suitable location at Silver Street. We also launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £100,000 but we only managed to raise £50,000 and kept none of it because we didn't hit the target. 

That didn’t deter us though, we looked around and found a cheaper location. Initially, we tried to get a loan from the Durham County Council but was rejected so we decided to self-fund our business on a shoestring budget and renovate the place ourselves. Then finally after a long and challenging journey, we opened our restaurant at North Road in September 2022 along with Niall Watson as our sous chef. 

How did your restaurant get listed on The Michelin Guide's Favourite New Restaurants?

It was honestly good timing really. Seven weeks after our restaurant opened, the Michelin inspectors came to town. Our restaurant has been getting good reviews because of the affordable six-course menu we created. It changes every four to six weeks, and our diners can get to enjoy seasonal local produce for just £40 in a casual setting. The Michelin Guide added us to their list in January 2023 and the rest is history.  


How would you advise someone who wants to set up their own restaurant?

If possible, try not to do it in when the cost of living is high AND in the middle of an energy crisis. You absolutely MUST start with and base everything around the chef - if you try and open a restaurant without a chef on board, you will fail. Start small - focus on the food first, the decor and everything else can come later. Build a following and create a concept that regular customers will want to return frequently to - they will be your biggest advocates. We have spent £0 on marketing; everything is by word of mouth.


What are your future plans – for the restaurant as well as yourself?

We might open a brunch spot in Durham or expand into an area above the restaurant to add private dining space. We are also starting food and drink lines based around the restaurant, and we hope to scale some of these beyond Durham. We have made our own beers with a local brewery, worked with a local distillery to create our own Durham Gin and launched a cookbook with everyone’s favourite courses from our first year of menus. We are also starting a brand in the UK to make chicken salt – a popular Australian product – more well-known here.


As for me, I will continue working in my day job. 


Tanglin Trust School Singapore has a long tradition of providing British-based learning with an international perspective. At Tanglin we strive to make every individual feel valued, happy and successful.

Find us at 95 Portsdown Road, Singapore 139299

Tanglin Trust School Ltd
Registration number : 196100114C
Registration period : 7 June 2023 to 6 June 2029

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