Restaurant Review: Ubiquitous Chip, Glasgow

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When Ronnie Clydesdale started the Ubiquitous Chip 40 years ago, Idi Amin had just seized power in Uganda, Britain was gagging for an opportunity to join the Common Market and the war in Vietnam was reaching its bloody zenith.

Closer to home, David Tennant, David Coulthard and Ewan McGregor were all born within weeks of the Glasgow restaurant opening its doors in January 1971.

If all of that is literally a lifetime ago, the restaurant born that year has done its formidable best to be an unswerving bastion of style, joie de vivre and culinary excellence ever since. Over the past 40 years since Clydesdale changed the face of fine dining in Glasgow, replacing pretentious French haute cuisine with simple Scottish fare, and not only sourcing all of his produce locally but being the first Glasgow restaurateur to loudly proclaim this virtue, the values that underpin this landmark restaurant have hardly changed.

That dedication to good food (the name is a none-too-subtle reference to the fact that chips came as standard at every other Glasgow restaurant in the early 1970s) and sheer consistency have been its prime strengths, and the major reason for the restaurant being named 2010 Good Food Guide restaurant of the year.

But the ambience created by the famously charismatic Clydesdale, who died last April but went to the grave believing the West End of Glasgow remains the first bit of genuine sophistication you hit heading north from London, has been equally important. If the Chip still does its best to keep faith with its former owner's culinary credo, it also retains a faintly louche, bohemian atmosphere, which is helped by the bistro and bar upstairs.

For anyone visiting for the first time, Ashton Lane provides a memorable preamble to the experience. A cobbled mews that is the most vibrant spot in the sparkiest part of town, even on the Monday night we visited it was a hubbub of noisy activity.

Once inside the Chip, which since 1976 has been housed in a voluminous former undertaker's stables, you find yourself in a large, wide open cobbled space with plants everywhere and the most relaxed atmosphere you're ever likely to encounter in a fine dining environment.

In tribute to its 40th birthday, the Chip entered its fifth decade with a nice retro flourish, offering a "four decades lunch" throughout January that included a dish from each decade. Although no equivalent was available at night, the offerings have changed so little down the years that all four of the lunchtime offerings were on the dinner menu. After our very fine amuse bouche of celeriac veloute, Fiona started with the soused Oban-landed squid and Ayrshire bacon sippet salad with monkfish tempura, which featured on the 1971 menu (although back then Clydesdale used conger eel instead of monkfish).

This is still on the menu because it's a classic, incredibly simple fish dish that relies on quality produce, and the squid could scarcely have been more fresh had it wriggled on to the plate, while the crisp monkfish tempura was spot-on. My starter of grilled monkfish, smoked pancetta and haricot beans with fennel and almond sauce and pea shoot tempura was equally impressive, with the only drawback to a dizzyingly nuanced dish the fact that the small chunk of monkfish was a little overdone.

It was somehow comforting that the provenance of each major ingredient from our main courses was meticulously spelt out, so not only did I know my Perthshire pigeon breast came with mushroom and pearl barley risotto, mushroom cream and game sauce, but that it was wrapped in bacon from Ramsay's of Carluke.

Similarly , Fiona was told her haunch of roe venison, with confit garlic, beetroot and a Drambuie and peppercorn sauce, was from Moscow (the one in Ayrshire). In a nod to Clydesdale's reverence for traditional Scottish dishes, it was accompanied by a croquette of the potato and cabbage dish kailkenny (as it is known in Aberdeenshire; while in the Borders it goes by the name of rumbledethumps and on the west coast by its Irish name of colcannon).

Both the pigeon and venison were very good without coming close to being the best either of us have had, but the overall effect was outstanding. Drambuie and peppercorn isn't a combination I'd usually choose to accompany roe deer venison, but the flavours were just muted enough for the whole ensemble to work beautifully, while the strident game sauce and the soft, rich tones of the mushroom were the perfect complement for the trenchant flavours of the pigeon breasts.

Fiona rounded off with a sublime dish from the 1980s, a Hebridean carrageen (a seaweed traditionally used as a natural, vegetarian gelatine) pudding given a neat edge by a combination of Grand Marnier and toasted almonds. It was as good as my salted caramel pannacotta was insipid and forgettable.

The quality of the Ubiquitous Chip's service has recently come in for some criticism, and our experience was variable: some slick, friendly service one moment and Fawlty-esque segues the next, with the one constant an apparently pathological determination to give my food to Fiona and vice versa. None of which was more than a minor irritant, and there was a definite desire to help: when they realised we were uncomfortably cold thanks to whirring ceiling fans in January, they were immediately turned off.

All in all, the good far outweighs the mediocre, even if it's not exactly a cheap night out. It's just a pity Ronnie Clydesdale isn't still around to see his good ship go sailing so serenely on. After 40 years it's up to the rest of us to enjoy his legacy, and that's what we did. n

Ubiquitous Chip 12 Ashton Lane, Glasgow (0141-334 5007, www.ubiquitouschip.co.uk)

Bill please: Three courses 39.95 (lunch 29.95)

Rating: * * * *

• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on January 30, 2011