Scotland

Like a Local in Glasgow’s West End

Words Iona Crawford

Photos Iona Crawford, Shutterstock

January 2016 from issue 45

Tags: bar, food, gallery, market, scotland, urbanites

Like a Local in Glasgow’s West End

Fashion designer Iona Crawford tours the city’s thriving parkside neighbourhood, where history and hipsters exist side by side.

Glasgow’s multifaceted and charmingly rugged West End has moved through an intriguing transition over the past decade. Prior to the recent explosion of hip independents and a burgeoning gastronomic scene, pockets of well-heeled affluence posed amid student clusters, social-housing blocks and culturally diverse districts. Now, while a plethora of cultures, tastes and classes exist independently, the rich milieu has softened around the edges, blending harmoniously and contributing to the vibrant atmosphere that makes Glasgow the city it is.

My mother tells wild tales of her days as a student nurse in the 1970s tearing up the West End in her grandmother’s mink fur coat and burgundy suede platform boots. I love to imagine the chaos caused and exactly how the many hotspots that featured in her paisley-printed escapades looked back then. A surprising number of Mum’s old haunts are still standing, albeit many under their second, third or umpteenth guise. There are shadows of Campus, her favourite Gibson Street dress shop, still visible in the quirky coffee shop Offshore Cafe, where laptops line the bustling window-ledge bar. When Mum visits Glasgow our fondness for a shared glass of wine near an open fire, a dog lazing by the hearth and the authenticity of a coat hook beneath the bar is shared perfectly at the Ubiquitous Chip, a Glasgow institution on Ashton Lane, established in 1971.

Naturally, a great deal has changed cosmetically since that era, although as long as the people of the West End remain, the feel of the neighbourhood will never diminish. For the locals are the true lifeblood of the area. Stretching from the M8 Motorway, which separates the west from Glasgow’s cosmopolitan city centre, the West End spans a relatively vast scale, all the way from Finnieston, perched on the edge of the River Clyde to the north, to Great Western Road where an array of ethnic cultures has settled. Here, it’s possible to sample Eastern cuisine and alternative therapies in the vicinity of many temples of worship. Precisely how far West Glasgow’s West End reaches is debatable. I imagine the boundary to sit where Hyndland’s leafy periphery meanders into Clydebank, a region renowned internationally for its shipbuilding and the one and only Billy Connolly.

Like many districts in the world’s finest cities, Glasgow’s West End is best explored on foot and, for me, this presents the perfect opportunity to venture out of the atelier where I work with a visiting friend, client or simply with my camera, sketchbook and the weekend papers.

Traversing a few blocks to Great Western Road, I like to take a leisurely Saturday morning stroll westward as Indian grocers lay out their wares for the day and a steady stream of weekend brunchers begins trickling into the cafes – including the Cottonrake Bakery – that dot the street all the way to the Botanic Gardens. When you reach the Kibble Palace, be sure to peer in on tangles of colourful plant life under the exquisite glass ceiling.

At George Mewes Cheese pause to breathe in the heady deliciousness and select a ripe little number, then head for an artisan brunch of coffee and eggs royale at Cafezique on Hyndland Street. Locally sourced seasonal produce and freshly baked breads, patisserie and cakes baked at sister eatery Delizique, just one door along, take centre stage here. If seats are few within the cafe, the deli boasts a selection of tables where guests can brunch, lunch or sip coffee among glistening stacks of focaccia, Portuguese tarts, raspberry brownies and monstrous meringues while gazing at the masterful chefs in their open-plan kitchen.

Suitably fuelled, trundle by the farmers’ market (held on the second and fourth Saturday of the month), where local producers present delicacies such as venison medallions, hot smoked salmon and delicious Scottish cheese truckles.

Only 10 minutes’ walk away is the majestic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, an otherworldly treasure trove of arts and fascinating exhibits (it also stocks signature scarves and interior pieces from our brand portfolio). Gazing at works by the Glasgow Boys – a group of artists, including George Henry and James Guthrie, who practised Impressionist and post-Impressionist painting in the 1880s and 90s – and Scottish Colourists is a joy I will never tire of. Posing for fun shots by the taxidermy exhibits and hopscotching over the impressive expanse of chequerboard floor evokes many cherished childhood memories – most poignantly, the moment I fell in love with painting on a high school art trip. Depart via the rear revolving doors – or perhaps they’re at the front, depending on how you interpret the famous story of the building’s planning history. Legend has it the Kelvingrove was built back to front, leading to the suicide of the architect at the helm.

Head along Kelvin Way, the tree-lined boulevard separating either side of Kelvingrove Park, then journey down Gibson Street under the gaze of the University of Glasgow cathedral, dazzling in the sunlight. Drop by Thistle Gallery on Park Road, which often hosts an exhibition launch on Saturday afternoon. It only opened in late 2014, but already the gallery has become a neighbourhood staple, and I’m honoured to have them represent me as an artist.

By this stage of the afternoon it’s time to wander back to the atelier (Iona Crawford Atelier) for what has become something of a Saturday afternoon ritual. After they’ve toured the garment and interiors showrooms, design studio and gallery space – pausing to try on garments in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirror or take measurements for a specially tailored piece – we serve our guests a champagne afternoon tea. Warm game pies, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, lemon drizzle cake and millionaire shortbread are all handmade and freshly baked, either within my father’s butcher shop and bakery or by my dear mother in the farmhouse kitchen where I grew up in the Stirlingshire countryside.

Worth exploring in the afternoon is Finnieston. Within the past five years or so, it has established itself as one of the hippest spots in the West End – indeed, in all of Glasgow. Contemporary bars, restaurants, cafes, chic blow-dry salons, vintage boutiques, independent design firms, art galleries and delicatessens continue to throw open their doors each month. The catalyst – in my eyes – was a restaurant named Crabshakk. Shunning the trend for overcomplicated, overpriced seafood served in stuffy, often dated surrounds, the ’Shakk took a pioneering approach. Whether a stool at their buzzing marble-top bar or around a cosy table on the bijou mezzanine level, every seat in the house is red hot. Guests can turn up, casual as you like, and order anything from moules marinière and mineral water to exquisite fruits de mer and a bottle of the restaurant’s elegant house champagne. Much to the delight of Glasgow’s ’Shakk loving aficionados and the ever expanding army of Finnieston foodie fanatics, Crabshakk launched a sibling in 2012 which, like the Cafezique/Delizique pairing, is situated only a skip and a jump along Argyle Street from the original. Serving small plates of seasonally sourced and exquisitely prepared seafood, Table 11 Oyster Bar is a great place to grab a quick plate and a glass of wine, or settle in for the evening, grazing the inviting menu until late-night pintxos (Spanish snacks) hit the bar. If an end-of-the-eve sing-along takes your fancy, the Ben Nevis is an amble across the road. Here, locals and visitors pile in, instruments in tow, jamming into the wee small hours and sipping malt from the impressive whisky gantry. Although when only cocktails can cut it, nothing beats the Kelvingrove Café’s speakeasy vibe or an exquisite Intermission martini at Porter & Rye.

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