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Friday, 9 April 2010

Ronnie Clydesdale R.I.P.

Ronnie Clydesdale, the co-founder of the Ubiquitous Chip died early this week aged 74. He had been ill since a fall eighteen months ago. Next year is the restaurant’s 40th anniversary.
Leaving aside his considerable culinary achievements as chef patron of the first high-end Scottish restaurant in Glasgow, he pushed the same standards as a publican. The ethos is simple: the best food and drink allied to good service.
Ashton Lane was a quieter place when I first sampled the Chip. We tended to head along to The Cul De Sac, then one of the first style bars, and more likely to attract the young women we liked to admire. The Chip was known for its Furstenberg: The German lager with almost mythical strength. Six of that was too much for anyone we were told. It was also the kind of place favoured by lecturers rather than students. Sports jackets with leather elbow patches and all that. We heard there were women in there too but the rumour was they were the groupies of the professors and the other academics.
Of course, being an inquisitive one, I had to try the place eventually. First impressions were that it was a little bit down-at-heel, there was too much wood and too many regulars catching the eye of the bar staff before me. Maybe my slight alienation was because I felt too young for the place- and, yes, I still think that today.
Youth also explains my non-appreciation of the range of beers and wines on offer at the Chip. Mostly continental beers but had the resurgence of Scottish independent brewers happened back then I reckon the Chip would have spearheaded the discovery of Brewdog, Innis & Gunn, Cairngorm and their brethren.
All would have been lost on my palate though. Fizzy and golden was what mattered. An interest in anything else, even IPA, marked you out as a real-ale bore.
Yet there was still an allure in the mysteries of good food and drink that the Chip helped foster. A glimpse of satisfied diners leaving the restaurant or the chatter and aromas coming from the upstairs bistro were enough to make me wish I were richer or just a bit more adventurous. Even to inquire about the origins of a guest-ale would have been progress.
After a few years frequenting other parts of town I began to return more often to the west end. Perhaps it was maturity, perhaps an aim to impress dates, but I began ordering a glass of red occasionally. Fittingly, the first wine I could actually distinguish one from another was sampled in the Chip – the newly founded Wee bar round the corner – a Marques De Riscal, an excellent Rioja by the way.
By this time Ronnie’s son Colin had established the Stravaigin restaurant, the bar in the Gibson Street outlet one of the best straightforward bars in the west, with knowledgeable staff and a refusal – learned from his father no doubt – to charge a west end premium. The Liquid Ship continued the expansion of Clydesdale junior’s mini-empire.
The Chip too has expanded in recent years. The restaurant received a facelift while the wine shop became the aforementioned Wee Pub. Informal cosiness and a great spot to watch the crowds enter Ashton Lane are its attractions.
Round the corner in Ashton Lane proper, a downstairs bar sits where the toilets used to be. This is a slightly more sophisticated space than the original bar, which is still upstairs. Added also is a small well-designed smoking terrace high up to the back the premises giving a fresh view over towards Byres Road. Having the lane outside for smoking would have been enough for most establishments but the Chip chose to develop an extra feature for the benefit of its customers.
And this sums up the attitude that has served the place well for almost forty years. And contrary to my early impressions, the surroundings do work. Not design for its own sake, rather an environment solely designed to complement the fare provided.
As Glasgow continues to tout itself as a city of high quality drink and food it owes a great debt to one of its pioneers in hospitality, Ronnie Clydesdale.

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