1114 Argyle Street, Glasgow

0141 334 6127

Lunch/Dinner: £16-£80

Food rating: 8/10

IT was Crabshakk, with its promise of solid, honest, simple seafood handled with care and imagination, that laid the keystone of public confidence in Finnieston as the city’s cooler than cool restaurant scene. The notable thing about Crabshakk, the thing that distinguished it from other aspiring eateries in the area, was its assured fit-out. By rights its premises are tricky: a frontage too easy to walk past, internal dimensions that are too narrow, too vertical. But clever design made a virtue out of necessity by creating the restaurant equivalent of permaculture. It uses the full height of the space to stack diners above diners by creating an upper level while squeezing in below a smart steel bar reminiscent of the Parisian brasseries of the 1930s, and a small kitchen to complement food prep in the basement. Net result? A restaurant that always seems busy, perpetually animated and fun to be in. We all know what an appealing formula that is.

I have never managed to get a good table at Crabshakk. I suppose there must be some, but I don’t bear a grudge because I’m happy to add my body mass to the traffic around the bar. And once I have clambered onto my rotating leather and chrome bar stool, which reminds me how I’ve always wished my legs were three inches longer, and stashed my handbag and coat where they’re not going to trip up some unsuspecting passer-by, I have surrendered to the Crabshakk mood: the flickers of flame, sputtering protein-meets-hot-fat sounds from the kitchen, the staff, who are as raucous as market traders.

We start with a couple of oysters, the tiniest, least meaty specimens I’ve ever seen. For £7, they ought to have thrown in another one, we think. The woman next to me is telling her dining partner why she always sticks to the fish and chips here. They do it well – I subsequently see what she means, the portions are humungous, the fish impeccably fresh. But her point is that if you’re not careful at Crabshakk, it’s easy to rack up a rather large bill. She’s dead right, although to be fair, that’s a hazard of any seafood restaurant. A catch of top quality shells and fish never comes cheap, with the exception of mussels and the lesser-know fish species.

Three crab cakes for £9.95 aren’t a steal, but more manageable than £58 for a lobster, and because they’re all white meat that speaks with a slightly Thai accent, we’re not complaining. The seared scallops are crusty and succulent on their smoking-hot iron skillet; the kitchen seems to be set to furnace temperature. Their bubbling nut-brown anchovy butter (£9.25) is too wonderful to miss, so we mop up every drop with sourdough bread.

After the fried and grilled tastes, we revel in the smorrebrod, two silky, silver herring fillets pickled in a light, not excessively vinegary Scandinavian style, spiked perhaps with a hint of clove, set on rye bread spread with smoky taramasalata under a tangle of crunchy pickled red cabbage, pea shoots, radishes, carrot Julienne, and crisp lettuce innards. The order of dishes at Crabshakk is controlled by the chef, which means you eat dishes in an order that, in the final analysis, doesn’t make sense.

Now the kedgeree (£8.95) tips up, pleasant enough in a stodgy way but the rice is mushy, and there’s not enough fish.

Monkfish cheek scampi have a likeably bouncy, athletic tone that suggests monkfish exercise their ugly mugs rather a lot. There’s too much breadcrumb cladding for me. I’m defeated but feel obliged to eat them since they cost £15. The Crabshakk bisque, trailing in perversely as the final savoury, has a remarkably sweet, pungent carbolic taste, as if the shells had been burnt and someone had tried to correct that with cooking sherry. It’s inedible. Our tastebuds come out of shock again with the clean astringency of slightly crisp pink rhubarb in floral citrus juices that tops warm rice pudding.

We leave not unhappy, but with mixed feelings, and a bill rather larger than we’d imagined.