IT may not have alcohol in it, yet but Glasgow businessman Alan Tomkins says his glass is most definitely "half full".

Despite opening under the most difficult conditions ever experienced by the hospitality industry, the bar and restaurant boss is feeling optimistic about his transformation of a Glasgow institution.

He has invested more than £600,000 on a complete re-design of city centre venue Urban Bar & Brasserie, which he has has run for the past 15 years, latterly with the help of his daughter Emma in a historic building that was once home to the Scottish HQ of the Bank of England.

The family will open their new venue Ralph and Finns to customers this Friday under strict Tier 3 restrictions, covering the central belt, which will mean a 6pm closing time and an alcohol ban. They are also aware the usual money spinner of office Christmas parties is unlikely to be on this year's menu.


Yes, Mr Tomkins says he would have loved to be able to stay open slightly later ( 'I've got a moan version of this story', he jokes) but right now they are laser focussed on making the best of a bad situation with alcohol-free Cava and cocktails and a menu overseen by operations manager Andy MacSween, formerly of Ox and Finch and Ka Pao, which they hope will tempt new diners in alongside loyal customers.

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"I suppose in many respects it's not the ideal time to launch a new restaurant but we are working on a positive spin," said Mr Tomkins, acknowledging that the Scottish Government has had a very tough job on its hands balancing public health and the welfare of the economy.

"My motto to everyone is, the glass is half-full and we make the best of it. If I had a magic wand we wouldn't want to be restricted to 6pm, it would be so much better for our staff and our customers if they allowed us to stay open to 8pm  for an early evening meal. 


"When the first restriction for 10pm closing came in, that probably was an error of judgement - everyone being thrown out of bars and restaurants at the same time. 

"I can't speak for pubs but it would be nice for customers even to be able to have one glass of wine, for many people that's part of their dining experience, having one solitary drink but it is what it is.

"But we do think that people will be so keen to get out that they will adapt. The restrictions won't go on for ever. We've got to park that, we've got to be really positive.

"If we are only allowed six hours a day of fun, let's go for it."

The pair drafted in award-winning Mark Brunjes of CM Design, known in Glasgow for his work in Paesano, Hutchesons and BrewDog bars and the darker tones and leather sofas of Urban Brasserie have been replaced by lush greenery and floral artworks with an inviting bright circular bar and quirky touches by Glasgow designers Timorous Beasties.

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"There wasn't a lot wrong with Urban Brasserie, it has been highly successful but this had been on our minds for a while," said Mr Tomkins.

"We are really excited because we think we have a really, stunning place and the food is going to be tip top.

"Nobody likes using the word opportunity but it (lockdown) was the ideal time to do the refurbishment. Emma had a vision for and that's where we have arrived at."

"As much as we kept on top of our look, I think we just felt we needed a new look." added his daughter, who has been in the industry for 10 years running south side's Ollie’s Bistro, Vroni’s wine bar.


"A lot of it has come from travelling, from places like Bali and Singapore where they have the most amazing bars and restaurants. We wanted to create a very open, airy feeling because it was quite dark and moody before."

Diners can expect dishes including beef carpaccio starter with charred artichokes and scallops with curried cauliflower  while retaining a few 'brasserie' favourites from Urban Grill including its signature fish soup, laced with crab, ginger and coriander and served with prawn dumplings.

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As well as having socially-distanced space for 100 diners, the venue also boasts a private dining area for up to 32 people, named ‘The Boardroom’ in a nod to the building’s history. 

They have also invested a "serious amount" of money in a state-of-the-art air change and extract system and hope that in time to come, the venue will exceed the success of its predecessor helped by a 1am license and dedicated whisky room.

Mr Tomkins opened his first business, Lautrec's Wine Bar & Brasserie opened in Glasgow in 1982, later adding Vroni's Wine Bar, Ollie’s in Pollokshields and Gamba Seafood Restaurant to his portfolio. He was also one of the original founder members of Glasgow Restaurateurs Association.

"I've been in the business for more than 40 years and I know that you have to refresh all the time. Yes, there's been ups and downs, not least the bank crash in 2008 which had a big impact. 


"There has been a glut of restaurants opening up from 2010 to 2015 and the market was becoming a bit saturated but competition is good for the customer, you get a better product because everyone sharpens up their act.

"We are right up for this. I've had great support from the banks, they have been really supportive and the landlord has been really supportive.

"We are not investing in this for the next ten weeks or months, this is for the next ten years. 

"Hopefully life will become a wee bit different as we move into Spring of next year and we can just develop the business and grow."