Niven’s By Cafe Source


IT'S the Sunday night between Christmas and New Year when all the world is either bitterly regretting excess or defiantly making space for more. So we’re not expecting much action in Niven's. Empty tables probably, a trimmed-down menu, a slow night then, definitely no turkey. And it is empty at 6pm. Though as the evening stutters on, people will wander in, in dribs and drabs through that heavy velvet curtain, that’s either to keep out the draughts or the bams or maybe both.

There’s a couple of couples, a family with gran, some kids, nobody seems to have anyway booked apart from us. Enough to keep the two waiting staff popping up and down the stairs to the basement kitchen, ringing things up at the till, back and forward to the tables offering to refill glasses.

Farrow and Ball’s Elephant Breath, says my wife, surprisingly me with her knowledge of paint colours. Low watt filament bulbs hang everywhere, fairy lights define shelves and mirrors, dried flower wreaths cling to the mesh behind us, though the veneered table tops are so filled with empty and opportunist glasses that we clear the wine ones away ourselves. They brought a decanter of water when we sat, glasses for them too, all laudable but before long it’s like sitting in a bric-a-brac stall.

Now, I’ve been here many times in this restaurant's many previous guises; who remembers the Kowloon Kitchen? Almost but not completely forgettable. The Salisbury before it? Much like this frankly. And once upon a time that ambitious, promising yet pricey Italian where eventually they gave up updating the specials board and it faded away. We’re sitting exactly where their kitchen was.

For me, this is possibly the best it has looked, the most relaxed, the easiest to sit in. Yet, I have an uneasiness. The walls have a couple of those fashionable pull down rolls of brown paper usually reserved for food. But in here they just go on and on about booze. Hand-written lists of wines, another one of beers, a huge section on the chalkboard is dedicated simply to something called Craft Cans, 11 of them, I count.

The small Daily Specials area contains just four lonely food words: “carrot and coriander soup”. And that’s underlined by a handwritten list – of cocktails. No specials then, well, it is the festive dead zone, so we won't hold it against them. We turn instead to a slightly tired-looking printed menu and call me new-fashioned but does it seem a tad too formal, dated, for the relaxed, casual feel of the place? Pan fried breast of chicken, pressed garlic potatoes, wild mushroom fricasse (£14); pan fried seabass with gnocchi, chorizo, wilted spinach and a tomato and smoked paprika butter (£15); crispy confit duck roast baby pear, more pressed potato.

To start we have a reasonably pan-fried gnocchi, dotted with goat's cheese and tomato (£6). Some perfectly OK wild mushroom arancini, four, about the size of haggis bon bons (£7), and a ham hough terrine that is crumbly and looks made here but is too cold from the fridge and therefore tasteless.

All plates, both starters and mains, come strewn with pea-shoots which I’m fond enough of to have a bought a packet in Morrisons the other day. But on just about every dish?

Moving on: they’re very good at pressed potatoes in Niven's. Sliced thin, layered, basted in stock presumably, cooked long and low in the oven. The garlic ones are the best thing on my plate and outshine a very mediocre piece of not-very-pan fried greyish chicken with some uninspiring mushrooms.

The gnocchi with the admittedly well-coloured piece of sea bass are too oily, the orange smear we’re assuming to be smoked paprika butter but it doesn’t taste of much and looks like pumpkin. Only the confit duck leg with cheddar pressed potatoes and a roast baby pear (£14) gets anything above average marks. But none of it is bad. It’s just all dangerously forgettable.

Niven’s By Cafe Source

72 Nithsdale Road


0141 471 966

Menu: Scottish bistro, but perhaps slightly ambitious. Mix of confits, pan-frieds, fricassees all from fairly usual suspects, pork belly, sea bass, chicken. 3/5

Service: Pleasant but unobtrusive, push the drinks quite hard but I suppose in a restaurant that feels like a bar people would complain if they didn’t. 4/5

Atmosphere: The best point, comfortably lit, homely and almost cosy, even on a quiet night. 5/5

Price: Not at the bargain end of the market and a main and a starter can easily top £20 but okay. 3/5

Food: Had its moments particularly those pressed potatoes, but not nearly enough of them and overall the food largely didn’t live up to billing. 6/10