Michael Robertson in McPhabbs.
McPhabbs in Glasgow’s Charing Cross has long been a popular spot for a drink and a bite to eat. Over the last few months, the cosy bar has been under the watchful eye of Michael Robertson.
Having worked at 29, The Living Room and Tiger Tiger, McPhabbs is Michael’s first solo venture.
In this Chewin’ the Fat interview, Michael tells the 5pm Dining blog of his plans to extend the bar’s appeal by making it serve the local community.
What are your plans for McPhabbs?
MR: In the past, McPhabbs was very sports-led and also had a lot of people coming in after work. Lots of people seemed to have great memories of Friday nights in here. We still very much want that business but I also want McPhabbs to be a neighbourhood bar. I want to give it back to the community.
That may sound very high brow but I think we can be part of a triangle with Finnieston, Chinaski’s and The Black Sparrow. All those bars and areas are close enough for people to walk between but we all offer enough differences for people to want to bar hop between them.
McPhabbs is about the people who live and work in the area bordered by the Great Western Road and The Hydro and from Kelvinhall to Charing Cross. We do bar platters to accommodate the after work crowd and we also want people dropping by on a Tuesday night because they don’t want to cook. We offer good quality, freshly made food in a good environment and want people to come and enjoy that experience.
Lasagne: cheesy delight.
Have you introduced new menus?
MR: When I first came here the food menu was long - three, double-sided pages. I needed to hone it down and make it faster. We’ve invested in a new combination oven so steak pies can be cooked on site along with lasagne and macaroni cheese. It’s freshly done and served quickly.
The burgers are proving popular. When I arrived, they were served in a white flour bun which is fine but I’ve introduced a brioche bun. Also, we now serve the chips in a little tin bucket with greaseproof paper. These are small things but they enhance the presentation.
We want to make it the best neighbourhood dining that it can be. We are not fine dining. We have to recognise what people who live and work around here want and then deliver that to the best of our abilities.
We’ll change the menu quarterly. At the moment, it is quite comfort food oriented. Come April, as the weather hopefully improves, then the menu will become lighter. Around that time of year, people start thinking about fitting into their swimming cossies and asking for more salads. We’ve got great outdoor spaces at the front and back and a lighter menu will encourage people to use those spaces.
How did you start in hospitality?
MR: I’d worked for fifteen years in the Benefits Agency and then I got a job as cabin crew with British Midlands. So, my introduction to hospitality was at 36,000 feet with one hour for service while sitting on five tonnes of aviation fuel. I loved it.
I’ve never looked back and have since worked in Tiger Tiger, The Living Room and 29. From the admin skills of the Benefits Agency to working in various positions in different sorts of units, I have learned all these different aspects of the business and this felt the right time to have my own project.
What’s the best selling dish at McPhabbs?
MR: The mac ‘n’ cheese goes well as does the burger. The steak pie is a signature dish and that sells a lot. My own personal favourite is probably the steak pie.
The McPhabbs burger has many admirers.
You have been involved in Glasgow’s restaurant scene for a long time. What has been the biggest change over the last five to ten years?
MR: The expectation levels of the customers. They have gone up thanks to the influence of TV chefs, and celeb chefs. The Internet means that people are more empowered to respond to the experiences they have in bars and restaurants. Possibly in the past, if people didn’t like something then they just wouldn’t come back. Now they are much more comfortable giving customer feedback. That puts good pressure on good operators to deliver over and over again. The increased customer expectation means that we have to raise our game.
You have a rare night off. Where are you going?
MR: It depends what mood I’m in. If I’ve had a hard day then I’ll probably just want a quick bite to eat so somewhere local that does good food. At other times, I might want a big special night so I would go to Two Fat Ladies or Rogano or The Grill Room.
What has been your most memorable meal?
MR: I had dinner in The View, the revolving rooftop restaurant at the Marriott in New York City. With the Manhattan skyline seemingly floating around you, there was a real sense of occasion about that meal. What also made it memorable was that all the desserts were themed around the shows that were running on Broadway at the time so they had swans on them or legs sticking out. You don’t forget that in a hurry.
McPhabbs: a Charing Cross legend.