THE restaurant as a sanctuary from mayhem, with undemanding, but delicious food, and run with the inviolate discretion of a club finds little room in catering today. Instead we have show-off bustle a la Conran, or the self-regarding art of designer cuisine where customers squeal in ecstasy over the menu claptrap of pan-friend this or that. '' Pan-fried as to opposed to what? ''demands that palate custodian, Fay Maschler: ''butter-dish fried, saucer-fried?''

There are those, however, who remember when eating out was less concerned with air-dried swank and babel and more an occasion of decent appetite and napery. And once tapped on this subject Fausto Ferrari becomes a torrent of anecdotes, voice rising in the giddy swirl, arms wheeling in a semaphore of exclamation. Now in his 70th year, he is preparing to divide time between Glasgow, his adopted home, and Ludiano, the little Swiss-Italian village of his forebears, but in his stories about the grand days of his father's restaurant there is more than nostalgia.

Here is a slice of social history handed down by father Guido, a gentle man possessed by merry, shrewd acceptance of the human race, no matter its foibles. ''He hated snobbery, but didn't scorn the snobs, regarding everyone as a potential customer''.

Fausto, however, sought other career paths although his philosophy studies at Fribourg University in Switzerland, were interrupted by his father's ill health, and he was recalled temporarily to manage the business. A widower now, with seven daughters and one son, he later chose to focus on business and personnel management, then taught modern languages and finally computer skills.

''The great advantage of being bicultural is that I can see both sides of both sides'' he says. ''I like to think I've picked the best of two countries, but I must also acknowledge the worst. The Swiss, you know, are rather smug, with the highest per capita gold reserves in the world. I'm not disputing where some of those came from, although you should not blame the individual Swiss.''

And of the Scots? ''Well to some extent the opposite of smug applies. Always running ourselves down, never putting enough into the desire for independence. But certainly we are less insular today. We used to hate foreigners for eating garlic. Now, it's a miracle cure. Once we laughed at the French for having boucheries for fresh meat, charcuteries for cooked meat. They've had them from the 12th century, and now a wise professor in Aberdeen is finally saying we must have the same''.

But let us revert to the beginning of this particular tale. In 1881 Fortunato and Francesco Ferrari established themselves in Glasgow by opening a Swiss confectioners's in Partick.

The city, then, was full of trade magnificos although still untutored in sophisticated cooking. Gradually the brothers acquired other premises, sometimes working together, sometimes each striking out on his own, and always there was to-ing - and - fro-ing between Scotland and Ticino, their Italian-speaking canton and the only region in Switzerland entirely south of the Alps.

Francesco's son Guido was born there in 1902, but it wasn't until 1930 that he settled properly in Glasgow, buying into the restaurant partnership with relatives. His father had by then long retired to Ludiano because of asthma, but he was wealthy enough from his eventual fish'n'chippers to build a magnificent villa there. Today that has passed out of family hands to become a de-luxe German conference centre, but still the stable remains, a gift to Fausto from his grandfather.

''Guido, had wanted an academic career in classics, but when the banks went bust in 1913 his father lost a great deal of money and the son was forced to change his plans.'' No matter those hardships, Francesco still wanted the best for Guido and the best suddenly meant apprenticeship at the illustrious Lausanne Hotel School which even in the twenties included business management in its curriculum.

Thus wreathed in superior diplomas, Guido was loath to spend a lifetime condemning haddock to batter. He now had stints at the Ritz in London and hotels in Genoa and Florence among his credentials and in 1928 he became manager of the Excelsior in Florence which remains one of Italy's outstanding establishments.

But his first obligation was to protect his father's remaining financial interests in Glasgow by turning Ferrari's into one of the leading restaurants in Britain. And there was another spur to his leaving Italy : the rise of fascism and Mussolini.

So, finally in neon lights, No 10 Sauchiehall Street took on the family name. Individuality was nurtured subtly because the main aim was to satisfy as many palates as possible, but judiciously new dishes were introduced while traditional recipes were respectfully sharpened with cosmopolitan relish and attentive care.

Indeed this was a place where the staff would spend 20 minutes beating mashed potato to a cream, using boiled milk and butter. And against much noisy Kirk opposition, Guido spent three years battling for a liquor licence, but when he won, the quality of his wine list was renowned. More than anything he wanted even his enemies to know that the fight had been worth it.

''There were people having a meal with Champagne and wine at one table, and beside them a Glasgow buddie with his wife, enjoying high tea, the man perhaps requesting a whisky with his food. Flexibility, that was the thing. Oysters next to fish and chips.''

Fausto's reference to a man and his wife is significant because Ferrari's was always more a family venue than an ''assignation'' sort of place. ''My father once hired a waitress from Rogano, and on her first day she was up at the entrance of Ferrari's which was always full of people milling about. Suddenly I saw this man arriving with his spouse, but as he walked in all colour drained from his face. I was too busy looking at him to realise why, but this waitress had never known he had a wife, yet she knew him very well indeed.''

But usually restaurant staff have far more savvy than any errant customer suspects, and Fausto recalls one incident larded with delicious sabotage. An elderly gentleman, respectable and rich, turned up one particular evening, with a well-known call girl on his arm. He had reserved his Ferrari table so it was presumed that he would be dining with his wife, and at the sight of his now besotted presence the staff were consumed with rage. They treated the couple courteously enough, but ensured that the woman's dress was ruined by one of the waiters ''accidentally'' dropping food on it.

''Of course, we apologised and paid for the dry cleaning, and really it was a dreadful situation. My father was horrified. It hadn't been his idea at all, but the staff were just not having it. In their view if this old bounder wanted to escort the girl on the town he should have left Ferrari's out of it, and taken her to the Malmaison.''

Charlie Chaplin ate at Ferrari's though not as often as Charlie Oakley of the Scottish Office, and author of The Second City. Eric Fitzpayne, the big wheel in Glasgow transport - and the man with the best known name in the city since it was slapped on the side of every bus - held his press conferences there, and the comedian, Jimmy Logan practically took up resident's rights. But the crowd, like the food, was eclectic: doctors, lawyers, industrialists, professors and civil servants upstairs, and downstairs a tidal flow of Italian, Irish and Jewish traders. With a brigade of seven chefs - three Protestants, three Catholics and a card-carrying Communist - the kitchen moved like clockwork, every employee on an individual contract and giving the utmost loyalty to a proprietor who was known to pay the best catering wages in Glasgow.

''My father wanted a two-star restaurant that nobody could match. He had no ambitions for a three-star because, during the Depression, he saw that the Malmaison was empty.

''On Hope Street trade unionists would stand outside that restaurant to make sure the bosses didn't dare to enter. In fact, the top brass, from Motherwell Steel to John Brown's shipyard, and all the naval hotshots had already shifted to Ferrari's. And if, after the war, they returned to the Malmaison my father didn't mind because by then a new middle class was streaming through his door.''

Guido died in 1968 after selling Ferrari's six-years earlier to the Scots Italian, Dino Baldi. Now, almost 30 years later, Fausto, whose name translates as happy-go-lucky, will return to the family's native roots, spending time in his little Alpine chalet converted from the stable.

However, there are still more tales to recount before he goes and one which adds special flavour to the legend: In his grandfather's day a waiter once broke a couple of plates, and old man Francesco, the most fiery of the tribe, responded by picking up a pile of nearby crockery, kicking open the door to Sauchiehall Street and chucking the lot on to the pavement: ''If you want to break plates,'' he roared, ''that's the way to do it.''

And of Fortunato, Francesco's brother? He returned to Ludiano, too, only to be killed by a falling tree in his orchard. A major branch struck him in the chest and he collapsed, then rose from the ground, walked into the house, sat in a chair, and died.

''The doctor said he had expired the moment that branch hit him; the rest was reflex action.''

As to how a dead man's reflexes might lead him to an armchair rather than a favourite garden seat, well, who are we to quibble with the grand stuff of village fables? But that was the Ferraris anyhow, so full of bravura they never entirely let it go.