Fish and the Chip

Simple Scottish food in a Seventies setting
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When I rang up friends and friends of friends in Glasgow, asking where to eat, a couple of people mentioned the Ubiquitous Chip. One put it nicely: "It's not quite the best food in the city, nor the restaurant with the most character, but assuming these two qualities are commensurate, and taking them as an aggregate, it scores higher than any of its rivals. It also has the best wine list in Glasgow." That, I should say, was a friend of a friend. I love my friends, but, they are just not that clever.

The Ubiquitous Chip was founded in 1971, the year of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rod Stewart's "Maggie May". Hot pants, pine furniture, and cheesecloth shirts were just beginning to hit the high street. Some things, clearly, have changed, but the appearance of the Ubiquitous Chip has not.

Situated in Glasgow's West End, the main dining room takes the form of large glass atrium with a cobbled floor. The waitresses, it is true, have forsaken their cheesecloth shirts, but the place is thick with pine tables, King Edward chairs, cheese plants and falling ivy; background is supplied by the percussive tinkle of a goldfish pond.

Our party included a couple of designers - "Well it isn't exactly up-to-the-minute is it, darling?" But to others the restaurant's backwardness is doubtless part of its charm. What is certain is that over the years "the Chip" has become a Glasgow institution. The wine list really is outstanding - wide-ranging, good value and unusually strong in German wines - and the place is a popular hang-out, if not with designers, then with Glasgow's political class. During the years that Roy Jenkins was MP for Hillhead, journalists and constituents knew that they could always find him here.

When the suitably named Ronald Clydesdale first opened the Chip, he ploughed a lonely furrow: "We had the field to ourselves." At a time when Scottish cuisine represented a contradiction in terms, his idea was to serve simple food, drawing on French traditions but using local ingredients. Clydesdale is still behind the stove and some of his recipes have barely changed, but the style of his cooking has fared better than his interiors. Nowadays everyone cares about genius loci - about tradition and place - and Cydesdale has all the kudos of a pioneer.

We had been warned that the Chip's working of the Auld Alliance could be a bit eccentric, but only one dish - a second course of shark, and something like pork satay, in a rich curried sauce - supplied any evidence of this. Otherwise, Clydesdale showed a nice feel for ingredients, and a clever way with the conventions of his native land.

Fish features largely in his menu, making its first appearance in an amuse-bouche of poached haddock and mashed potato with a lemony hollandaise. A salt-cod terrine looked especially pretty, and proved lovely to taste. A main course of Ayrshire cod, however, was still better. The fish, alabaster in tone, had been lightly cured and came on a bed of blanched leaks with a poached egg and olive tapenade - a simple but memorable dish. The wild-mushroom risotto was made, appropriately enough, from barley rather than rice: it was rich and moist, just as risotto should be. Vegetarian haggis provided another, though less successful, variation on a familiar theme.

Puddings proved universally good. The chocolate on a chocolate tart, so often spread thinner than on a chocolate McVitie, was here thick and slightly moussey. Passion- fruit creme brulee came in a little ramekin - Seventies in its way, but none the worse for that. Our meal had the odd trough as well as its peaks, but we liked it enough to recommend the Chip to my mother and stepfather, who were also in Glasgow for the weekend. They extolled the sauteed scallops, mushroom "custard" and roast pork. They also liked the place. But then I can remember my mother in hot pants

The Ubiquitous Chip, 12 Ashton Lane, Glasgow, G12 (0141-334 5007). Three- course set lunch is pounds 23.60. House wines start at pounds 10. Open for lunch and supper all week. All major cards. Wheelchair access.

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