James Haldane is the chef proprietor at The Cabin on Dumbarton Road. On and off, the premises have been used as a restaurant since 1890 which makes The Cabin one of Glasgow’s oldest surviving restaurants.
Despite a period of lying empty back in the Eighties, The Cabin enjoyed a new lease of life in the Nineties after being revamped by ex-plumber Dennis Dwyar and Mo Abdullah who had a background in electronics. There is an informative piece (dating back to 1995!) on the Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s website which details more of The Cabin’s story during that period.
In its comparatively recent history, The Cabin was partly famous for the operatic prowess of Wilma the singing waitress. Wilma passed on in 2009 but she was something of a sensation in her day. In the Nineties, she caught the attention of a TV producer and was flown to Vegas where she was serenaded by Tony Bennett, got chummy with Engelbert Humperdink and chatted to Debbie Reynolds. The Evening Times covers the story here.
Wilma may be gone but the singing continues in the form of Martin Docherty. A friend of chef Haldane and waiter at The Cabin, Martin is also an actor who you may recognise from appearances in Still Game, Rab C. Nesbit, Gary Tank Commander and River City.
Aside from singing at The Cabin, his most recent performance saw him take a role in Cloud Atlas, the Hollywood adaptation of the David Mitchell novel starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant.
Not averse to a spot of singing, chef Haldane has worked at The Cabin for nine years, having bought the business two years ago.
A chef for 23 years, here he discusses squat lobsters, Korean cooking and big bad Pierre Marco White.
If you like what you read then keep an eye on the 5pm Big Deal site. Tomorrow, Big Deal will be running a fantastic value offer on dinner for two with live entertainment at The Cabin.
Tell us about The Cabin?
JH: It’s a bit like sitting in your granny’s living room. It’s a small restaurant seating 46 at the max. We use the best ingredients and a lot of it is local. People like MacCallums of Troon supply us with our fish and our menus are Scottish with a European twist.
Who eats at The Cabin?
JH: All sorts. We’ve had footballers, hen parties, lots of birthdays, retirement bashes.
How did the singing start?
JH: The singing started with Wilma. She passed away a couple of years ago but Martin has picked up the baton. He sings things like The Beatles, U2, The Killers, anything and everything really. He is the singing waiter but sometimes the customers also get me, the singing chef. Sometimes, I’ll do a bit of waiting as well as sing a couple of songs.
What got you into cooking?
JH: I fancied being a chef when I left school and that was it. I did my training in Mitchell’s Restaurant in Charing X. Over the years, I worked in places like Rogano and The Ubiquitous Chip. The problem was that I didn’t like other chefs telling me what to do so I did agency work and travelled all over Scotland.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with?
JH: I like everything. I’ve got quails in today along with some squat lobsters. I love working with seafood and game. I like keeping fish simple; no fish should be messed about with.
What do you like eat on a night off?
JH: I like eating Japanese and Korean food although it’s not always easy to get really good stuff in Glasgow these days. I go to Shilla a lot, nearly every Monday. For Japanese, there’s a place at the Charing X end of Sauchiehall Street whose name I can’t remember.
What kitchen utensil couldn’t you live without?
JH: I don’t have one here but I love cooking on an Aga. It’s the best thing a chef could work with.
You can have any chef cook you a meal. Who is going to rattle your pans?
JH: Marco Pierre White. He’s my favourite chef and he was a big inspiration when I was younger. He made cooking sexy.
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
JH: It’s cooking for people seeing people enjoying their food. Like every chef, I also like being told that they have enjoyed it. Although that’s perhaps because I’m out there serving them sometimes – they’ve got to say they liked it.
What’s been your daftest customer complaint?
JH: I served a cheese board and a customer complained that one of the cheeses just tasted of butter. Of course, they had eaten the butter.