No Sixteen closed suddenly in January. Now it’s back in business with some former employees at the helm. Donald Reid pays a visit
A few years back, Joel Pomfret worked front-of-house at No Sixteen on Byres Road for Margaret and Ronald Campbell, the couple who had established the bijou restaurant as one of the most fondly regarded bistros in Glasgow’s West End. Working alongside him was chef Gerry Mulholland, a fellow native of the island of Arran, and the pair got talking about running their own place together.
‘When we worked here we’d say that this was the perfect place to own, but we knew there was no way we’d ever get it,’ says Pomfret. ‘It was such a busy little restaurant, with such a good reputation. Then in January this year Gerry called me up to say, “You’ll never believe it but No Sixteen has closed down.” I phoned up straight away.’
Whatever the reason for any restaurant’s demise, many would argue that in a fast-moving industry such as the catering trade, nostalgia is dangerous whimsy. Better to take the opportunity of a clean break rather than rekindle doused embers.
But Pomfret was of the opinion that No Sixteen was so fondly thought of, and so individual in its nature, that the local demand for it wasn’t diminished. More importantly, he felt that he and Mulholland were sufficiently tuned into the spirit of the place.
‘We knew that we were probably the only people who could open it up again as No Sixteen, with the same staff, the same style of menu, and be able to keep the name, and keep the customers. Even on our first night [in mid-May] it was just as smooth as if we’d been doing it for years. We don’t have anyone here who hasn’t worked here before. Even Willie the kitchen porter is back.
No Sixteen made its name for two reasons. One, the bistro food was inventive but reassuring, well-priced and consistent. Two, it was so cosy, with two floors and 40 covers squeezed into a small shop space, that intimacy and buzz were almost unaviodable.
With Mulholland back at the stoves, the commitment to strong, imaginative cooking is evident. The menu is full of light, fresh, up-beat ingredients: fillet of coley on a warm salad of beans and citrus fruit, for example, or squid in a light batter with a Vietnamese-spiced dressing.
The menu changes each day and prices, particularly at lunch, pre-theatre and on the wine list, have been pulled back by 20-25 per cent. Getting folk to come back in is the key.
The reopening of No Sixteen co-incides with a clear upturn in outlook for the lower end of Byres Road. In recent months, near neighbours Ad Lib and Tony Macaroni have appeared, a new venture from the owners of Gibson Street’s the Left Bank, called the Two Figs, is due to open across the road next month, and there’s work going on at the former Byre.
‘I think we’ve come into this place at the very best time we could,’ Pomfret says.
Three stalwarts of the scene
12 Ashton Lane, 0141 334 5007, www.ubiquitouschip.co.uk
It’s not far off its 40th birthday and firmly embedded in the Byres Road scene, with its swirl of students, young professionals, cultural grandees and media types. Still doing proper food and stonking wines as well as anyone.
28 Westminster Terrace, Sauchiehall Street, 0141 221 1663, www.motherindia.co.uk
The first Glasgow curry house to champion made-to-order home-style cooking using whole spices and fresh ingredients. Monir Mohammed has since added three Wee Curry Shops, the Mother India Café concept and Dining In deli (another is planned for the West End).
447 Great Western Road, Kelvinbridge, 0141 334 0686, www.laparmigiana.co.uk
A proper, old-school Italian dining experience, with waiters in long starched aprons, a menu that showcases accomplished Italian cooking, and after 30 years on the Glasgow scene it has just regained its two AA rosettes.