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Friday, 5 February 2010

Hyndland Coffee

Nick's 168 Hyndland Road, Jelly Hill 195 Hyndland Road, Cafezique 66 Hyndland Street

Hyndland was a genteel part of Glasgow. A place where middle-class maiden aunts or members of the traditional professions resided, well clear of the industrial noise, smell and toil to the east. Inherited money or those on comfortable but not necessarily lavish incomes
Nowadays, new money has entered, 4X4s abound, the school run is legendary and the small number of boutiques, delis and hair salons are far more flash and high-end. One thing that hasn’t changed is that here you have a coffee rather than a beer.
Since late last year there is new place to tempt Hyndlanders. Situated over the road from the main row of shops on Hyndland Road, Nick’s occupies the site of a former hairdresser come café (yes, only in the west end!) named Eden. That unusual combination never really took hold, not even with a perm, or a drinks licence, leaving an opportunity for someone else.
Lawrence McManus of Antipasti and La Vallee Blanche fame was that someone. His experience of the west end made him realise the potential of the location and the fact that in this particular kind of affluent area a bar can’t stand alone, it has to be a restaurant also.
The venture’s full name is Nick’s Italian Kitchen & Bar and the use of Italian makes you wish for some authenticity and flair. Certainly more than Antipasti, which only offers a watered down version of La Dolce Vita, though this proves very popular in Byres Road. Says more about that street than anything else.
In Nick’s there is indeed more interesting fare. The Calamari I’ve tried is light, fresh, non-greasy and complemented with a fennel salad and tartar dip. The Umbrian sausage stew- the bowl presented on a charming carved wooden pallet- was packed with flavour and every last piece of bread was used to mop up the rich sauce. The real delight though is the cold veal and tuna, served in a creamy mushroom and caper sauce, Vitello Tonnato the name. I took a punt on it on the recommendation of the waitress, and it proved a highlight within a menu that thankfully places little emphasis on pizza and pasta.
We are of course interested more in the bar aspect to this place. It seems to have been intended as the centrepiece of the joint, and finished in walnut it is impressively framed by an enormous wine rack. Opposite the bar there are a few simple tables and chairs built against the exposed brick wall. You can eat from there or at the bar itself, though whether this is a comfortable option remains to be seen. On the occasions I have been in the staff are a little to quick to suggest a table but that may be ironed so they can achieve the right balance between restaurant goers, casual eaters and drinkers.
The bar food choice is simpler than the full menu, with options easier to eat in a more limited space. But it is the breakfast menu that reveals the kind of experience that Nick’s is aiming to provide. We have waffles with maple, pancakes with whatever, fresh O.J., you get the drift. From Scotland to Italy via New York. The owner admits to this, freely referring to an eatery in Manhattan, I Tre Merli.
What would help this recreation of Italian America is a better beer and spirits selection. The wine list is fine with an almost-old fashioned Europe-centric emphasis but the non-eaters are left feeling neglected again. In the States a neighbourhood bar grill like this would stock almost any drink you could think of and have the bar people to deliver it with confidence. With the staff here still appearing to be finding their feet you feel even a mainstream cocktail would stretch them too far. This preponderance of wine over other tipples though is probably the owners paying attention to demographics.
The place is beautifully finished and feels established despite it being only weeks old. Earthenware colours such as ochre and copper are warm and welcoming. In the restaurant area upstairs the look is darker, stylish without compromising on comfort. The claim is 70 diners could be seated her but that spoil the sense of ease that pervades. This is enhanced by the lighting, adjustable by remote it appears. Quite common these hi-tech days but what matters is how that control is used. I’ve lost count of the number of joints whose ambience is ruined by too bright lighting. On each occasion I’ve visited Nick’s the lights were set to perfection, lowered at just the right point in the evening, raised when the weather suddenly plunged one particularly dismal late afternoon.
Nick’s will be popular with the locals and others popping by for a nibble and maybe a tipple. They have researched their market very well, providing a family-friendly location also with a genuine bambino menu, quite a rarity.
And I have to mention the backcourt. We had a window seat on our first visit and it is the tidiest I’ve seen in this city. If Nick’s are responsible I applaud their attention to detail and conscientiousness.
These qualities have declined at Nick’s nearest rival Jelly Hill across the road. The first of the new breed of coffee houses in this area – if you discount the wee space in the back of Peckhams, and I do tend to discount chains- Jelly Hill thrived under the careful, committed ownership of the late Gordon Mackay. Standards have slipped since he sold up in spring 2008 after six years in charge.
The service has lost its attentiveness: cups and saucers are left on tables, staff at the counter are keener chatting to each other than customers, and there seems to be no leadership.
The driftwood furniture once so hip now looks tired and tatty and even the drinks menu chalked on the huge blackboard seems lazy now. The coffee, too, tastes as if it may now be a cheaper brand.
I don’t know if Jelly Hill still attracts girls’ nights out – I once saw what may have been the beginnings of a hen night up at the back of this establishment. The wine flows on these occasions and the money spent was probably a just reward for this place also being well aware of the characteristics of its clientele. Prosperous ladies keen on having a good time with their closest friends, eager to spend heavily but in a place well away from the brighter, younger lights of the city centre.
Meanwhile the men of Hyndland seem to be having their serious fun elsewhere. Maybe they’re in the nearby Cottiers’ or The Rock, or further afield in the drinking stakes.
If they have walked past these two uninspiring pubs it is a good choice. We will do likewise and head off Hyndland Road and down Hyndland Road to reach another contender in the coffee/alcohol/eats battle of Hyndland.
Technically, Cafezique, is probably more Partickhill or Partick itself but in spirit it is probably of the more expensive precinct. Anyway, these demarcations are very fluid and not worth spoiling my point.
Cafezique was born of its adjoining relative Delizique, a delicattessen operating here for nearly a decade. Delizique was founded in the boom times, an era when consumers thought nothing of paying good – make that absurd – money for larder items, delicious though they were.
Delizique continued that policy when it opened two or three years ago. £15 for cod or a cheap pork cut was one particular blackboard offer I recall.
Since then prices have been modified in line with the times. It remains as popular as before for a coffee, a light bite or something stronger. You can sit at the bar with the papers, on cushions in a window seat – bit draughty – or on the mezzanine level. (A measure of the place’s popularity is that I’ve never managed to get a seat up there).
The mezzanine, the large windows, and the peeling paint exterior with frontage peeled back to the original shop signage, all give the place an effortless chic. But you know that effortless in anything often creates irritation rather than admiration. That’s the problem here; the place doesn’t endear itself to you, making you feel an outsider, almost as if your suitability is being judged. And sad to say, recent feedback on the service is not good, laid-back bordering on disinterested being the consensus.
Much of the food seems to be prepared from the deli next door, which can slow things down. The quality of produce can’t be faulted, but the execution is inconsistent. Our most recent visit was a case in point. Pea and ham soup: vivid in colour and flavour but little ham and too thin. Cullen skink: creamy enough but the chunks of haddock were far too big. Raspberry and lemon tart: a revelation, a smooth sweet and acidic sensation.
On the liquid front they fully utilise their deli’s variety of sourcing. Samuel Smith’s beer and various speciality lemonades in oversize bottles notable inclusions.
Contenders here that show there is more to Hyndland hospitality than a skinny latte or the occasional Pinot Grigio. In their own small way, service problems withstanding, they may be the kind of influences that shape the next stage in the evolution of this area.

1 comment:

  1. I went into the Cafe Zique for some Eggs Benedict and a couple of pints of Bitter & Twisted last week for breakfast. Lovely relaxed atmosphere. I thought the Cullen Skink was pretty good and the Crab Linguine is not too shabby either.