Bilson Eleven


TO Glasgow’s East End then for a family dinner at Bilson Eleven, this being fourth time lucky in the booking stakes having tried and failed three times before.

It’s two years since my last visit, Google Maps rather unsettlingly tells me, and we can tell much has changed as we walk in and take our seats in the townhouse’s dining room. Not least is that it seems to be a lot less tweedy and plaid, the twirly moustache and super formal service toned down. A shame because I quite liked that hoots mon tattie scone Scottish kitsch, especially in a world of endless culinary blandness.

But, of course, since then Bilson has been metaphorically kicked up and down nearby Duke Street by a metropolitan food critic who labelled it “arse clenchingly pretentious”.


This would be a tad awkward were it not for the fact that the review itself sneering magnificently over, apparently unfashionable, misos and froths and foams was in itself unwittingly arse-clenchingly pretentious. Hey ho. There’s nothing like the pantomime side of restaurant reviewing to put a place on the map. And we are all prone to a touch of the Alan Partridge.

Anyway Bilson is now on the map, but what about the food? Frankly? We oggled and goggled a little when the scallop arrived. Pretty, yes. Nasturtium leaf, speckled, freckled pool around it, tiny capers with them but the scallop itself? Unfashionable pale. Not seared. Hoots mon. This looks a bit scary. In fact it’s deliciously tender, full of flavour and with a sharp, sweet, light and refreshing combination round it: excellent.

Perthshire wood pigeon then. Once again the plate looks beautiful. Once again a little bit left field. A seared, sliced to pink, perfectly presented piece of breast but with bright purple fermented bramble (whatever that is) and pop grains (whatever they are).

Here’s my take on this tomfoolery. I’m not blown away by the bramble, slightly entertained by the popping, and the pigeon is perfectly seasoned and therefore good.

It’s certainly Scottish this meal. Spectacularly so. And yes venison is next. Looking like it's straight from the pages of a culinary magazine: rolled, caramelised on the edges, gently changing to a very pink in the middle. Superbly seasoned again, very tender. But here’s the good bit: served with a curried potato salad that’s zingy and spicy and smacking of cumin. We like. A lot.

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OK, at this point the record needs to stop playing, the pause button needs pressed simply to address the issue of the service. Let’s be clear: it’s flawless. Apart from, er, one flaw. They do like to stand at the table and list what’s in the dish. Don’t get me wrong they do this everywhere. I had about 26 courses of it at El Cellar in Spain a few months ago. About eight at another Michelin Star in Copenhagen. I get it. It’s a bit of show.

But there are two problems.

1) Nobody can remember a single word that was said a single second later. At our table time tonight it’s all: Did he say wood ash? What’s that there? And it feels a bit dumb calling the staff back.

2) It’s kind of boring. My suggestion, for what it's worth, is do the shtick, but maybe give the customers – as they do at El Cellar – the details in a separate menu if they really want to know.

As for pretentious? No. Though I suspect they may have loosened up more than a little bit. I do have one significant complaint though. And it’s about the amuse bouche that’s served when we come in. It’s called St Mungo, it contains foie gras. Frankly, it doesn’t sound very appetising. In fact we’re all a bit scared to try this waxy-looking Ferrero Roche.

Is there liver inside? It just tastes sweet and sticky and jammy. And not nearly as bad as it sounds but as a warmer-upper for the meal? No.

Otherwise, Bilson Eleven remains one of Glasgow’s best restaurants.

Bilson Eleven

10 Annfield Place


0141 554 6259

Menu: Flawlessly Scottish fine dining ingredients. Remarkably rare in a country where lip-service is all that’s usually paid to them. 5/5

Atmosphere: It’s a little bit 18th century old school but it is a classy building and a comfortable room. For a big occasion meal probably nowhere better in Glasgow. 4/5

Price: There are only two set menus and they’re not cheap. We paid £50 for numerous courses including freshly baked bread. 4/5

Service: Been heavily criticised in the past but, actually, warm and comfortable, even though they love to do that going through the ingredients gig. 5/5

Food: Freshly baked bread, delicate touches, superb Scottish food prepared to a very high standard. Go and try. 8/10