A Hebridean architect has made the shift from designing restaurants to running his own, with delicious and impressively minimal results. Steven Dick checks out Glasgow’s Crabshakk
Nestled between the brightly coloured Kelvingrove café and a launderette, Crabshakk’s exterior exudes a calm, grown up sophistication. Painted in battleship grey, and lacking any signage, it puts one in mind of a word of mouth club or private members’ haunt. Thankfully the reality is not nearly so pretentious. The simple truth is the above-door sign is still in the owner’s car boot waiting for the builders to attach it. It barely seems necessary as in the short time I enjoyed lunch at the bar, the phone never stopped ringing with bookings and before long, the two floors began to rapidly fill to capacity.
Owned by Lynne Jones and her partner, Hebridean architect John Macleod, Crabshakk might feel familiar to Glasgow diners. That’s because Macleod has designed many of their favourite restaurants. After his pleas to various restaurateur mates to open an informal shellfish restaurant fell on deaf ears he thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll do it myself.’ Seamus ‘Gandolfi’ MacInnes must be kicking himself.
Opened in February, Macleod has incorporated many of the best loved features from his previous designs within the compact space. There’s the relaxed vibe from Cafezique, with stools around the bar offering full view into the small open kitchen. Tiny tables made from reclaimed scaffolding planks recall the natural wood from Cafe Gandolfi. And there’s the sleek chrome edge from Gandolfi Fish, with metallic lobster candle holders that look straight out of Scrapheap Challenge.
Macleod and Jones are passionate advocates of Scottish seafood, but they’re equally passionate about serving it an an accessible atmosphere – where the pompous or pretentious has no place. ‘It’s a political mission with a small p to get local people eating this amazing produce and to enjoy what is on their doorstep,’ explains Macleod. The message is clearly getting through, as you’re just as likely to see well dressed ladies-who-lunch ordering champagne and oysters as you are guys at the bar inhaling fish and chips.
The short menu is focussed – almost ruthless – relying on the freshness of ingredients, and eschewing fancy sauces or elaborate preparations. At most, there might be an anchovy butter or lemon mayo. Langoustines are simply grilled with garlic butter, served with a creamy mayo and thin crisps of toasted bread. Squid is roasted, scallops are seared, crab claws are cracked, and crab cakes are so beautiful they wouldn’t look out of place in a French patisserie window. Add to that ample chunks of Arbroath Smokie, hot smoked salmon and classic smoked salmon slices, the three of which make up a delicious fish plate, and it’s pescatorian heaven.
If you stumbled upon this place in Paris, Amsterdam or Bruges it would be one of the reasons you’d return to the city. Let’s be proud it’s in Glasgow.
Take Three: Poor Spelling, Good Food
91 Montgomery Street, Edinburgh,
0131 556 0432, www.renroc.co.uk
Corner spelt backwards, Renroc is the perfect snug for those looking for a quick snack or a more leisurely read of the papers, boasting as they do a good cuppa and an ample light bite and sweets menu. The more pampered soul can take full advantage of the complementary health studio below.
The Liquid Ship
171 Great Western Road, Glasgow,
0141 331 1901, www.stravaigin.com
Fatherly love abounds in this quirky eatery run by Colin Clydesdale; the name is a tribute to his dad’s place, The Ubiquitous Chip, and the folk that got the name wrong. Decorated with an array of clocks and nautical trinkets, it boasts a compact menu of well-sourced ingredients including mediterranean snacks and tapas.
16 Drummond Street, Edinburgh,
0131 556 6040, www.best-restaurant.co.uk
It’s the, well, best. See what they did there? A successful enterprise just off South Bridge, this chirpy hangout is popular with all sorts from lively groups to snuggled up couples; better still it won’t melt the credit card with good set menus and bargain pre-theatre deals.