Choosing the right champagne to accompany chicken nuggets and chips isn't the sort of question many books on restaurant etiquette are likely to address. Should one go for the Cristal at £150 a bottle, say, or settle for a Bollinger at £60? And which will go best with the beans on toast or jelly and ice cream?
It's thorny issues such as these that face diners at Room in Glasgow as they peruse a menu that seems to owe more to a 1970s pub than a new restaurant in one of the most prestigious hotels in Scotland. Since opening last September, Room has been offering its Scotch eggs and prawn cocktails to Glaswegians at One Devonshire Gardens, a listed Victorian hotel in the city's affluent West End. What makes it all the more remarkable is that the restaurant was formerly Amaryllis, the Scottish flagship of Gordon Ramsay, which closed last January.
The Glasgow Room shares the same basic concept - albeit with a few nods to the grand setting - as its sister restaurant in Leeds, which opened two years ago. That was the first outing as restaurateurs for John Pallagi and co-owner and business partner Simon Wright and they were as surprised as anyone when the owners of One Devonshire Gardens approached them after Amaryllis's closure and invited them to open a second Room at the hotel. "It was very much a compliment, but at the time I'd never heard of it," says Pallagi, who readily admits to his lack of restaurant pedigree.
Following in the footsteps of one of the nation's favourite chefs might be a case of angels fearing to tread at the best of times, but to do so serving what, at first glance, appears to be pub grub? However, there's more to the Room menu than meets the eye. Its dishes may be retro, but they're carried out with a knowing contemporary twist. In the Room universe, Scotch egg is a quail's egg coated in Japanese breadcrumbs on a bed of white and black pudding; chicken nuggets becomes breast of chicken filled with black olives and sundried tomato, wrapped in Parma ham and deep fried. There's even a separate vegetarian menu, offering such intriguing possibilities as vegetable gâteau and "custard".
"What we try to do is bring a wow factor to the dishes, in that what people are expecting is not what they're going to get," says Pallagi. Rather than any aspirations of Michelin-starred fine dining, he describes the restaurant as an upmarket neighbourhood brasserie. "Our concept is different to what Gordon Ramsay does. We want to make it as different as possible."
While the standards remain unimpeachably high, there's nevertheless an informal simplicity about Room's approach. With its claret colour-scheme, the restaurant combines classic hotel styling - wood panelling, moulded ceilings, big fireplaces - with contemporary design elements such as oversized lampshades and plastic chairs.
Head chef at the Glasgow Room is Chris Draper, whose prior experience included four-star hotels in Edinburgh. But the actual ideas for the menu (which is changed every three months) start with Pallagi and Wright. "Both Simon and I were born in 1968, and remember the dark days of the 1970s, with candles and electricity strikes. But there were also lots of fond memories. I remember getting in from school and having chicken nuggets and chips, or Scotch eggs and chips," says Pallagi. "So we thought, let's not try to reproduce these dishes but reinvent them."
Some of the dishes are not so much reinvented as deconstructed - fish pie consists of portions of sea bass, scallop, fresh mussels and potato served with a square of puff pastry; baked chocolate fondant and a shot glass of cherry mousse and syrup, and chantilly cream.
But Room is about more than just food, Pallagi insists. It is, he says, the overall experience, from the stylish, separate bar and laid-back music to the film dialogue played in the toilets. And although the menu might hark back to the days of The Professionals and Ford Capris, he denies what they're doing is gimmicky. "It's fun more than a gimmick. People go to a restaurant to enjoy themselves."
Predictably, attempting to replace Gordon Ramsay's fine-dining vision with a concept restaurant has met with an indignant reception from more conservative quarters. But that hasn't stopped Room from averaging 550 covers a week, with demand at weekends such that they have to take over two extra rooms from the hotel. Guests have already included celebs such as Andrew Neil, Angus Deayton and Jamie Oliver, who apparently showed great interest in the chicken nuggets. The appetite for nostalgia-inspired cuisine seems to be growing, and with Pallagi and Wright looking to open a third UK Room next year, the 1970s could soon be coming to a restaurant near you.
Room Glasgow, One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, tel: 0141 341 0000, www.roomrestaurants.comReuse content