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December 22, 2014

With Scotland gearing up to host the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, April to June were busy old months on the restaurant frontline.

The Taste O'Tartan vending machines never really caught on.
The Taste O’Tartan vending machines never really caught on.

On April 1st, 5pm got off to a flying start by announcing that we were going to install 5pm Taste O’Tartan vending machines around Glasgow city centre.

Aimed at visitors to the Games, the machines dispensed whisky, haggis and See You Jimmy hats.


On a more sensible note, there was a flurry of new openings in Glasgow.

One of the most noticeable trends was a big increase in the number of new Spanish, Latin and Mexican places opening.

On Hope Street, La Boca started delivering Spanish tapas made from Spanish ingredients and cooked by Spanish chefs. On Gibson Street, El Gusto’s offer is similarly authentic.

They joined a couple of new Mexican restaurants such as Juan Chihuahua, the Pinto restaurants and the Latin American Las Iguanas.

Arguably, Topolobamba, the St Vincent Street Mexican from the Di Maggio group made the biggest splash of them all.

Glasgow’s great burger hunger continued apace in 2014. In fact, three of the big burger chains opened within 50 yards of each other in the centre of town the week before this blog was written.

Some of the city’s native restaurateurs came up with ideas that rode the burger wave but also expanded the market beyond beef in a bun.

In Princes Square, NY American Grill looked beyond the burger to offer all sorts of American goodies from Florida-style coconut shrimp to Philly steak subs and New York strip loin steaks.

‘American NY Grill is far removed from the typical burger bars you can find in any city across the world,’ said owner Alan Dexter, when the restaurant launched. ‘We have spent time carefully designing a wide-ranging menu representing the real America; from the comfort food of the Deep South to classic east coast cuisine. Add that to the distinctive flame-grilled flavour from the Josper Grill, and we hope to have developed a winning formula.’

Finnieston: Glasgow’s hippest neighbourhood?

Finnieston continued its bid to be Glasgow’s coolest neighbourhood when Ox & Finch opened. The brain child of Jonathan MacDonald, formerly a chef for F1’s McLaren team, the Sauchiehall Street venture has quickly won lots of plaudits for its innovative, on-trend cooking.

Writing in The Sunday Herald, the influential Joanna Blythman reckoned:

‘In the Ox and Finch we have a polished model for thoughtfully-sourced, well-cooked, flexible, affordable food, and if my visit was anything to go by – diners were streaming in – it looks like being a rip-roaring success.

The restaurant space at the Alston Bar and Beef.
The restaurant space at the Alston Bar and Beef.

Alston Bar and Beef is another newcomer which has made a lot of friends since launching. As the name implies, carefully sourced, Scottish steak is at the heart of the menu. Other attractions include a vast array of gins on the gantry and the restaurant’s intriguing location in vaults underneath Central Station. Going underground has seldom been so tasty.

Sticking with the theme of unconventional settings, Drygate opened in Wellpark in Glasgow’s East End. Billed as the ‘UK’s first experiential craft brewery’, it is an independent joint venture between C&C Group, the owner of Tennent’s, and Williams Bros. Brewing Co, one of Scotland’s most successful craft brewers.

As well as producing their own range of beers, Drygate offers amateur brewers the chance to hire their equipment and make their own brews.

Vintage Craft Beer Bar & Kitchen provides the food along with 24 rotating beer taps, 200 different bottled beers and panoramic views of the brewhouse.

Ambitious Glasgow launches

Hutchesons was one of the year’s most ambitious openings in Glasgow this year. Set over three beautifully restored floors and boasting a Grand Hall brasserie, an exclusive private dining room, and a classic café bar at street level, Hutchesons was originally built in the 19th century.

Known as Hutchesons’ Hall, it had lain empty for a few years before James Rusk – owner of The Butchershop Bar & Grill and vice chairman of the Glasgow Restaurant Association – refurbished it. The project took more than two years and cost £1.4 million.

James wanted the project to be a landmark on Glasgow’s restaurant scene and one which future generations will enjoy. We’re not going to go all Mystic Meg on you and predict that Hutchesons will have the staying power of, say, Rogano but it certainly looks impressive and has garnered plenty of plaudits.

The Cafe Bar is part of the stunning Hutchesons refurbishment..
The Cafe Bar is part of the stunning Hutchesons refurbishment..

Edinburgh openings

Edinburgh also saw some significant openings as spring turned into summer. One of the most intriguing was Aizle.

The St Leonard’s Street bistro is co-owned by husband and wife team Stuart Ralston and Krystal Goff. Stuart cooks while Krystal is front of house and makes a mean cocktail.

The duo have a background in high end restaurants and bars around the world including stints in New York, Barbados and working with a certain Mr Ramsay.

The idea behind Aizle is to have no menu. Or at least not in a conventional sense. Instead, diners are presented with a list of potential ingredients and asked to cross off any they don’t like. Stuart then takes each list and prepares a four course dinner for £35.

It’s a system which has definite benefits. Stuart gets to create dishes with the best produce that his suppliers can provide on the day and adventurous diners get a surprise with every course.

In Stockbridge, The Raeburn Hotel re-opened having lain empty for donkey’s years. Originally built in 1832 as a Georgian home, the Stockie landmark has been given a new lease of life as a boutique hotel with bar, restaurant, library, private dining, conference room and outside terraced area.

The Evening News ran a decent piece about the building’s chequered history here.

We also swung by the official launch of Clerk’s Bar in Newington.

Formerly the Dragon Way Chinese restaurant, the South Clerk Street bar has been completely renovated by Maclay Inns and turned into a craft ale and bbq bar.

Clerk’s Bar is the latest in a string of acquisitions for Maclay Inns. The group currently has around 30 venues and is looking to double in size over the next twelve months or so.

The opening of Clerk’s Bar follows hot on the heels of the nearby Southsider being given a new look earlier this year.

Other Maclay venues include Munro’s, The Hope and the Lansdowne Bar and Kitchen in Glasgow.

Tony Singh springs back

This year also saw chef Tony Singh bounce back with The Old Bake House, a new venture in West Linton. The restaurant launched at the same time as his new book, Tasty.

Tony is getting Tasty.
Tony is getting Tasty.

Back in the city centre, Craig Hart took up the position of Executive Chef at The Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa earlier this year.

In some ways, it was a return home for Craig who had previously worked at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa as a Chef de Partie. Since then, his career has seen him take roles at the Golf Hotel in St Andrews, as well as the renowned Champany Inn near Linlithgow.

As part of 5pm’s new Piece of My City campaign, the 5pm Dining blog had a very agreeable morning at One Square, the hotel’s restaurant and bar. You can see what we got up to here.

The 5pm Dining blog also raised a glass in welcome to Heads & Tales. A new gin lounge bar, Heads & Tales is located in the basement of The Rutland Hotel on Rutland Place.

As well as the bar, run by Bruce Hamilton, the development is a new home for The Edinburgh Gin Distillery which makes gin on the premises with their Flora and Caledonia stills.

Visitors will be able sip on a G ‘n’ T, or indeed something more exotic, while watching the gin being made.

Commenting on the launch, Alex Nicol, managing director at Spencerfield Spirit, the makers of Edinburgh Gin, said:

‘Edinburgh has a special relationship with gin stretching back centuries. To this day, more gin is drunk here per head of the population than in any other UK city. With our new visitor centre and distillery coupled with the Heads & Tales gin emporium, Edinburgh’s great tradition for distilling looks set to be revived’.