I like the European notion of urban hotels as public space where people can meet, eat, gather, pass through, or spend some time, but hotels like this are harder to find in the UK. We’re inundated with ‘bargain’ hotels, utilitarian chains that have standardised everything down to the nth degree. I last stayed in one in Sheffield. At 11.15pm there was a self-serve snacks area and only one member of staff, a receptionist- I doubt she was earning a living wage- looking after 56 rooms. Even “security” was off-site. Or there’s the exclusive, posh jobs, where unless you’re booked in or look rich, you’re instantly met by some official asking faintly suspiciously if she or he can help you. Guests walking in from the street? Nope, they’re not encouraged.

So I continue to value Blythswood Square in Glasgow. It has a democratic, live-and-let-live feel, an urban sophistication that’s open-minded about anyone who was through the door, but with good service, neither obsequious nor harassed. It seems to feel good in its own skin, which is not economically modern nor country house trad. Its decor, still the same after its radical refurbishment in 2009, has lasted well, that touch of theatricality with black, gold and carmine lampshades that resemble giant tea caddies, mirror tiles glittering like disco balls, a towering wall of velvet curtains, Harris tweed that works counterintuitively well with that hint of nightclub loucheness.

Our waiter sounds convincingly like a man who knows and tastes what the chef is cooking up, and the menu suggests that someone somewhere is trying to make a point about the lengths to which the kitchen goes. Caraway loaf is “hand-kneaded”, “focaccia is hand shaped”. Our waiter tells us, unsolicited, that the chefs come in early to make the focaccia, so it’s not like Italian restaurant focaccia. “Everything is made here” he says. He doesn’t bat an eyelid when we order a mere 375cl carafe of wine, in fact he asks if we’d like to taste it first. This is the sort of service that earns loyalty. Up-front revenue takes second place to building a long-term relationship.

He’s right that the focaccia isn’t Italian. Instead it’s scone-like, fruity with red pepper and has an almost orange flavour that’s bit unusual if not unpleasant. It comes with an odd dip, a bit like olive tapenade crossed with marmite. With the grilled octopus, rusty-hued, amphibian, and studded, like some Alexander McQueen creation, we begin to acknowledge the skill that’s in the kitchen. The cephalopod, which actually has taste for a change, sits on its bed of ajo blanco (puréed bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil) topped by grape halves and toasted hazelnuts. Next, soft goat cheese, gently softened by heat and topped with well oiled pine nuts, sits prettily on thin, crisp croutons that are encircled by chunks of green-centred heritage tomatoes, which bucking the trend, do actually have a better than average flavour, and flaccid rocket. Why bother?

Our seaweed butter brill, roasted to a T, comes with fried gnocchi made with waxy La Ratte potatoes, which gives them the endearing stickiness of potato scone. A mouth-caressing pea velouté, stiff with painstakingly podded broad beans finishes the dish off elegantly.

Strozzapreti are hand-rolled- quite a feat!- and bravely al dente for uk palates. They loll about in a creamy soup that’s lent body by the addition of Pecorino cheese, making eyes at an abundance of fresh girolles and boletus. This dish has a very faint truffle presence and pleasing 50/50 pasta/fungi ratio. It’s an unusually polished vegetarian option.

Desserts are afflicted by a common ailment: too many fussy elements. Lemon posset, amiably sharp, comes in a white chocolate ‘glass’ on a sablée base. Its cheroot-shaped meringues and random cress selection are overkill. Valrhona chocolate cheesecake is of the gelatinous sort, a clean, curdy, lemony taste with the junket-like texture you find in many Asian desserts. It really doesn’t need all that flavour-of-the-moment honeycomb, more honeycomb ice cream, the

itsy-bitsy cresses and blobs of coulis.

Still, overall, the food keeps up a high standard here, it’s a fun place to be, and the people who look after you have style. So Blythswood Square is a reliable old friend, really.

Blythswood Square, 11 Blythswood Square, Glasgow 0141 248 8888

Food: 8/10

Atmosphere: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Value for money: 8 and a half/10

Joanna Blythman is the Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018