“Dear restaurateurs, I’d like to suggest a new prerequisite. Among your important menu selections, colour coordinates, design and staffing requirements, please insert the word ‘happy’. I’d like all restaurants to be happy. Thank you.”
In a favourite Edinburgh haunt recently, with two Californians in tow, our quite delicious dinner of hand dived scallops was all but spoiled by a waiter who was clearly in a bad mood. We all have a right to be miserable right now but, as was pointed out by my guests, bringing it to work in hospitality just isn’t on. “Fun” was clearly off that night.
According to the preternaturally handsome maitre’d it was all his own choice
By contrast, the following day, I was in one of the happiest little restaurants I’ve ever visited, Six by Nico, the latest addition to Glasgow’s burgeoning restaurant strip in the Finnieston district.
Nico Simeone became a serious local hero for his changing weekly menus at 111 by Nico, set in a converted nowheresville shop, but here in the city’s epicurean epicentre he’s added whimsy. The menu changes every six weeks (currently summer “Picnic”) a no choice six course tasting affair for a bargain £25, with wine matches for another £25. A special night out for two costs exactly £100. It’s packed, all day every day and, yes, people are rebooking every six weeks.
Millennial staff are bouncily cheery and the music that I rarely, if at all, enjoy while eating, is effervescent. According to the preternaturally handsome maitre’d it was all his own choice. Hmmm, I demurred, thinking The Parcels/Hard-Fi might be on his Spotify playlist, but the Monkees/Earth, Wind and Fire? “OK, my mum helped out” he fessed up.
The dishes are all creatively plated. An Instagram consultant was probably drafted in for “Picnic Blanket” a brightly coloured checkerboard of sharply cubed tuna, tofu, watermelon and Rose Harissa. And while this is all certainly a “concept”, there’s real skill in dishes like “BBQ” where succulent glazed pork belly is the star, supported by a cast of potato risotto and coal oil. It’s plate-lickingly good although TBH it’s simply modernised meat and potatoes. In the same way, the main ingredients of “Strawberries & Cream” are whizzed up to mousseline consistency, shaking hands with tonka beans, balsamic and black olives.
There’s youthful vigor here, but grounded in traditional ingredients – new-old at its best, with a side of happy.
Emerging into bright summery sunshine, positively elated, it’s easy to forget that Glasgow suffers the same urban blight as everywhere else. Giant gable-end murals on tenement buildings have brightened redundant walls for years, as three recent megaworks depicting the newly beknighted Sir Billy Connolly, Glaswegian comedy legend, illustrate perfectly. One is by artist/playwright John Byrne who, coincidentally, painted the very first gable-end mural 42 years ago. (#funfact)
It’s always been a happy place, where staff are looked after, trained, and made to feel necessary
Pity there wasn’t room for a fourth by Scotland’s answer to James Joyce, who at 83 still hangs around Byres Road, the city’s original bohemia/student quarter*. Alasdair Gray not only wrote the seminal Lanark but created his own ceramic mural inside the area’s Hillhead Subway Station. Round the corner, a grander fresco can be found inside The Ubiquitous Chip, a landmark restaurant that was so new forty years ago it’s still regarded as such by many. Old-new if you like.
Gray’s mural covers the restaurant’s main courtyard, once an undertaker’s stable, and legend has it he was advanced an agreed sum in credit to be spent at table. After some weeks had elapsed, as he was draining the last dregs of this sum, he was politely asked when he might be starting the mural. There’s a second work too, en route to the toilets, which depicts some of the more colourful customers and the original staff, including owner Ronnie Clydesdale who passed away a few years ago.
It’s always been a happy place, where staff are looked after, trained, and made to feel necessary, as Craig Ferguson and Kelly MacDonald attested on the Late, Late Show. The enthusiasm and knowledge of a bright young sommelier, Mark, informed our whole night. He was on fire, offering tastes of this and that, seducing us with glasses of German Tesch Riesling, Oregon Pinot Noir, and Fourchaume Chablis Premier Cru. The Chip has always been a dangerous place to explore the hidden alleyways of finer wine – it can suddenly be midnight and hilarity still fills the air.
There’s noise from the three adjoining bars, greenery and buzz fill the double height space, and while the a la carte still has staples that have been there for decades (venison/vegetarian haggis) the daily menu is full-on 2017. Years before anyone else thought of it, the Chip was promoting provenance, so our succulent Barra scallops arrived fresh from the beach, hand-picked Eyemouth crab towered above a puddle of cool vichyssoise and elderflower yoghurt. Fresh asparagus, fear not, is grown out at Inchinnan, and pearly white fillet of cod, hauled out the freezing waters off Shetland, is enlivened with a langoustine bisque and lemongrass. Do try to leave room for the Chip’s semi-legendary Caledonian ice-cream, infused with honey and oats. It will make you happy. Honest. C
*He was standing outside the fishmonger as I walked past.
Six by Nico, 1132 Argyle St, Finnieston, Glasgow G3 8TD, UK
(0141-334 5661; sixbynico.co.uk)
The Ubiquitous Chip, 12 Ashton Ln, Glasgow G12 8SJ, UK
(0141-334 5007; ubiquitouschip.co.uk)