Bilson Eleven: 'a skilled chef is spreading his wings, flashing inventive culinary nods and winks'
An 1850s townhouse in the East End of Glasgow is the setting for the small but ambitious and distinctive new restaurant Bilson Eleven
Head into the East End from High Street and, if you're prepared to look, history is all around. Cross the largely unseen Molendinar Burn, around which the city was born, catch glimpses of the Cathedral and Necropolis, and onwards past Drygate, an area for brewing since the 16th century. It's fitting then to enter the 1850s townhouse – one of the first in the area – containing Bilson Eleven, where subdued tartan, rich deep colours and early Victorian features signal an extensive renovation by chef-proprietor Nick Reitz.
Dennistoun resident Reitz brings experience from the Two Fat Ladies group (as do most of the staff), so little surprise his compact and accessible menu is half fish. Curried skink is an enticing take on Cullen skink's constituents – pepper and mustard haddock, charred leek and potato curry, with a cumin velouté. It's a dish that epitomises Bilson Eleven, where Scottish flavours and favourites are delivered with skill, imagination and enough flair to charm.
Haggis and kale appear with cod – haggis in a dreamy pureé, the kale crispy, while whisky comes in a panacotta, cleverly picking out elements of Talisker (smoky apple and pepper biscuit) and whisky itself (barley sauce and malted cream). From the land, an intriguing amuse-bouche version of Scotch broth features potted lamb and homemade tagliatelli combined with the earthy flavours of Ayrshire ham and mushrooms, and a waterbathed and indoor-barbecued rib-eye is bolstered by a brash barbecue sauce.
Intended to have eleven tables of two – hence the name ('Bilson' is manufactured from Reitz's children Billy and Sonny), it's now eight tables with a couple of fours. But the name stuck, and so has the feeling of intimacy, which is well regulated by a maximum of four diners every half hour – all marshalled by a front of house that has evident pedigree, from complimentary drinks in the small separate lounge to the swirling of sauces at the table. There's a sense, too, that a skilled chef is spreading his wings, flashing inventive culinary nods and winks, all the while respecting the heritage of an often overlooked yet important part of town.
+ A well-deserving destination restaurant for the East End
- A little unlived in, but time and impending alcohol licence will help
Average price of a two-course dinner: £26