IN THE continuing homogenisation of the high street, and the cloning of our food culture, it’s fair to say that Glasgow’s Willow Tea Rooms is a bit of an anomaly. For despite being surrounded by well-known UK and US corporate chains selling mass-produced muffins, brownies, cup-cakes and cappuccinos, the Willow Tea Rooms quietly holds its own in this highly crowded city centre market.

Last month, for example, almost 1000 homemade meringues and almost 3000 homemade scones were devoured by customers served by waitresses at its Art Nouveau-style tearooms in Buchanan Street and at Watt Bros, the last remaining original department store in Sauchiehall Street. That computes to some 100 scones a day and 200 on a Saturday, not to mention the gallons of tea served alongside them.

Which may be small potatoes to the corporate giants of this world, but it suggests there’s still room for tradition in the modern world – which is no mean achievement for Anne Mulhern. Next year marks 35 continuous years of the Willow Tea Rooms which she founded on the original Sauchiehall Street site of Miss Cranston’s Lunch and Tea Rooms, gaining a MBE for services to tourism as a result.

READ MORE: Cheese and Chive Scones by Kirsty Wark

Deciding to mark the milestone early, Mulhern has published a book that tells the story of how, in 1983, she realised her dream of recreating the famous tea rooms which are the only surviving ones to have been designed inside and out in 1903 by the city’s most famous architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The publication of the book sweetly steals a march on the launch next month of the city’s programme of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth in June 2018.

Mulhern moved her business to the top floor of Watt Brothers department store in 2014, when the original Mackintosh building was sold. The historically and culturally significant building is now owned by the Willow Tea Rooms Trust, and is undergoing a Heritage Lottery-funded restoration. It’s set to re-open as an interactive visitor/exhibition centre next year.

Mulhern’s impatience to publish is understandable, for her story is one of triumph against the odds. Having left school in the city’s east end at age 15 and taken redundancy from the Wills cigarette factory in order to “do her own thing” at age 27, Mulhern – a lifelong fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – persuaded the owners of Hendersons the jewellers, which occupied the ground floor of the building at 217 Sauchiehall Street, to let her open the tea room in what had originally been Mackintosh’s Room de Luxe in the building. This was in the early 1980s, when Mackintosh and his connection to Glasgow was not as well known and certainly not as celebrated as it is now. She was quick to track down and trademark the image of the Lady and the Rose created by Margaret MacDonald, Mackintosh’s wife, for the menu card of Miss Cranston’s White Cockade Tea Room at the 1911 Glasgow International Exhibition. Many of the original fittings were intact and she campaigned for the return of the original Mackintosh internal doors from storage.

“When customers came into 217 Sauchiehall Street and came up to the Room de Luxe, they’d look around and gasp,” she writes. “They couldn’t believe what they were walking in to. They had no idea such a brilliant gem was so close. We’d get architects from all over the world, and tourists, who knew what to expect, but Glaswegians didn’t know what they had on their doorstep.”

In 1997 she opened a second Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan Street, close to the site of another Miss Cranston’s original Tea Rooms. Both are a paeon to Kate Cranston and to Mackintosh.

Her book is more than a record of her many hard-won achievements, though. It contains 40 recipes for the “perfect afternoon tea”, including contributions from a “baker’s dozen” of well-known names such as chef Andrew Fairlie, broadcaster Kirsty Wark, artist Archie Forrest, restaurateurs Giovanna Eusebi and Seumas MacInnes, farmer AJ Morris, Masterchef The Professionals titleholder Gary Maclean, and Deacon Blue vocalist Lorraine McIntosh.

READ MORE: Cheese and Chive Scones by Kirsty Wark

Stem ginger cake, smoked salmon blinis, orange thyme and polenta cake, chocolate fondant cake, choux buns with chicken liver pate and apple tarte tatin are just some of the celebrity offerings. There are also recipes for the all-time favourite meringues, plus crab cakes, Cullen Skink, lentil pate and oatcakes, and lemon meringue pie.

I join Mulhern in Kirsty Wark’s kitchen at her home in the west end of Glasgow while the broadcaster is putting the final touches to a batch of her cheese and chive scones, before returning to London for a week of presenting Newsnight on BBC2

She made this traditional treat for the BBC’s 2013 Great Comic Relief Bake Off and they are featured in the book.

Her top scone secret is to use cheese. “It’s good to use some grated, some cubed, so the scone becomes more like a savoury brownie,” says Wark, well-known as a foodie who was also a finalist on Celebrity MasterChef.

“And it’s best to use a really good quality cheddar like Barwheys because it makes a massive difference to the flavour.”

As she and Mulhern, friends for over 25 years, pose for the camera, the conversation soon turns to why home baking has come back into fashion.

“It’s such a Scottish tradition, and the Great British Bake Off has had a huge impact,” says Mulhern. “We find that customers are much more knowledgeable now. They recognise what’s in the cake cabinet more readily and know what they want.

“But tradition doesn’t have to mean old-fashioned. It can be very modern. Seumas’ chocolate cake is so easy, and Giovanna’s polenta cake is bang on-trend.”

Wark agrees. “I wanted to contribute to Anne’s book firstly because it’s important to emphasise she was the first to recognise the significance of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to the city; Anne was at the vanguard of the big Charles Rennie Mackintosh revival.

"Also, though, because I believe people think home-baking is time-consuming. It’s not. It’s cheaper than buying from a shop. And you get fresher flavours. Anne’s baking her scones every single day.

“There’s joy in baking, especially in this world where everything’s automated and online and hi-tech,” she adds.

“There’s no difference in the way I make a scone and the way my mum baked a scone and the way my grandmother baked a scone. It represents a really precious and enduring cultural link.”

“Yes, we tend to say Betty’s cake, Jean’s meringues, Amy’s scones,” agrees Mulhern, who is now training three female staff bakers to help her meet demand.

If home baking and its consumption is still more popular with women than men – despite the best efforts of Great British Bake-Off and its like to redress the gender balance – it is perhaps because it is rooted in the fact that the grand Tea Rooms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided an alternative to male-dominated pubs and inns.

Acknowledging this important female market Kate Cranston, whose uncle founded the Waverley Temperance Hotels in Edinburgh and helped his niece establish her four Glasgow tea rooms – put increasing emphasis on the interior design of her establishments, recognising this was an important point of difference in what even then was a competitive marketplace.

“It was she who was responsible for nurturing the extraordinary genius of Mackintosh, a talent of global significance,” writes Mulhern.

On top of that, Glasgow has always had an affinity with tea, not least because some of the finest tea clippers were built on the Clyde and that the city was the birthplace of Thomas Lipton, one of the most successful tea exporters and importers.

READ MORE: Cheese and Chive Scones by Kirsty Wark

All the more reason to celebrate Anne Mulhern’s enduring success, and raise a cup to the second career she wouldn’t give up for all the tea in China.

The Willow Tea Rooms Recipe Book is published by Wild Harbour tomorrow, at £9.99.