WHEN it was the occasional haunt of international celebrities famous enough to be known by their first name – Kylie, Britney, Justin, Gwyneth and Whitney – there was a time when One Devonshire Gardens was undeniably flash, and indisputably the most fashionable place to stay and to eat in Scotland.
One Devonshire Gardens
Bistro du Vin, One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow G12 0UX (084473 64256, www.hotelduvin.com/locations/glasgow)
Starters £10.50-£13.95 Main courses £16.50-£26.50 (chateaubriand £75 for two)
Puddings £9 (cheeseboard £14.95)
WHEN it was the occasional haunt of international celebrities famous enough to be known by their first name – Kylie, Britney, Justin, Gwyneth and Whitney – there was a time when One Devonshire Gardens was undeniably flash, and indisputably the most fashionable place to stay and to eat in Scotland. Back in the late Eighties and Nineties, under its original owner, Ken McCulloch, Glasgow’s luxury boutique hotel was sprinkled with enough stardust for some to remain to this day.
Its culinary reputation was also firmly established in those early years, its zenith coming when Andrew Fairlie won its first Michelin star, a feat emulated by Gordon Ramsay with his in-hotel restaurant, the superb Amaryllis. That, however, was a short-lived gastronomic high point, with the TV chef closing his Glaswegian showcase in 2004. Ramsay’s parting shot was to suggest that Amaryllis was too sophisticated for the residents of the Dear Green Place, musing that his home city wasn’t receptive to the sort of classically French fine dining restaurant that he had attempted to give it. That was Glasgow’s last Michelin star, a constant source of annoyance to its restaurateurs and bemusement to its foodies.
Since those halcyon days and Ramsay’s regrettable departure, One Devonshire Gardens has struggled to maintain its culinary mojo, especially during the period when the restaurant was renamed Room. However, since the five imposing townhouses just off the Great Western Road that make up the 50-bedroomed hotel were bought in 2006 by the Hotel du Vin group, there has at least been a steady hand on the tiller, albeit one more generally associated with the solid middle-ground of bistros and brasserie dining.
Nevertheless, despite Ramsay’s misgivings and the hotel restaurant’s name of the Bistro, the food at One Devonshire Gardens has been pitched firmly at the fine dining end of the spectrum, although the recent loss of highly-rated head chef and Fairlie/Ramsay protégé Darin Campbell, who has decamped to join Albert Roux as head chef at Andy Murray’s new venture Cromlix in Dunblane, has undeniably been a setback for the hotel.
There has, however, been a degree of continuity, with his successor Barry Duff, who has worked for many years in the One Devonshire Gardens kitchens, being promoted from his role as sous chef under Campbell to take the reins.
That continuity extends to the menu, which includes classic starters such as veloute of Jerusalem artichoke and truffle salad, plus interesting main courses with flourishes like venison with beetroot fondant and monkfish with garlic risotto nero. If the breathtakingly chunky prices (it would be cheaper to eat at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred Savoy Grill) aren’t enough to reveal where the restaurant is pitched, the environment remains completely unchanged too, with the hotel’s grand scale leaving you in no doubt that this is at the luxury end of the food chain. Black Watch tartan carpets, sotto voce lighting and wood panelling give a sense of cosseted opulence, although the effect was severely compromised by overly loud, piped pop music.
I started with the ravioli of wild mushroom with a Parmesan cream, while Bea went for the pan-fried scallop with squid ink noodles, Cornish oysters, cucumber and caviar, which came in at a whopping £13.95. My ravioli was a well-conceived dish that was beautifully presented, but let down by being on the parsimonious side, and by being lukewarm. After a lengthy rant from Bea about using Cornish oysters in a Scottish restaurant – my better half was born and bred on the isle of Cumbrae off Largs, which she doggedly maintains is the source of the best oysters in the world – she weighed into her starter, which turned out to be a delight. The fishiness of the caviar and the squid ink noodles meshed wonderfully with the subtle tones of the scallop, yet never quite managed to overwhelm the star of the show. She was less taken with the oysters, even if by now we’d established that she was irretrievably biased on that front.
Our main courses also suffered from being a bit spartan and a tad on the small side. My perfectly cooked fillet of Mull halibut apparently came with crab-crushed potatoes, surf and razor clams, and mussels in a wonderfully creamy shellfish broth, and although I could find no evidence of razor clams, this was otherwise a well-conceived and solidly executed dish.
Bea, on the other hand, was a little perplexed by her daube of pulled beef with a dollop of foie gras and wild mushrooms. The main attraction of soft, succulent strands of beef was excellent, and she was happy to report they came from Cairnhill farm in Ayrshire, but she could find no discernible traces of mushrooms and there were no carbs or vegetables accompanying the dish, which made for a rather protein-laden experience. We later realised that the bistro combines two of my least favourite restaurant-industry cheap shots – having to buy “sides” at the extra cost of £3.75 in order to have a fully-rounded main course, and the automatic (they say it’s “discretionary”, although that implies choice) addition of a 10% service charge to the menu. Grrr.
Bea rounded off with a serviceable but unexceptional red velvet cake with pecan crunch and cheesecake ice cream, while I dived into a scrumptious Amarena cherry soufflé with Valrhona chocolate and kirsch ice cream that I could happily order every day from here to eternity.
I was left feeling mildly conflicted. Despite a slightly muted ambience, the environment remains inviting and comfortable without being intimidating, while the waiting staff are efficient without being intrusive. For such whopping prices, however, One Devonshire Gardens needs to offer slightly more if it is to retain the lustre of this extraordinarily successful brand. It was, we decided, good but not quite good enough. n