For starters, it was where we got engaged (sort of*), where we planned our wedding, where we escaped to for penne rustica and a glass of red when the day had been horrible and the weather was grim.

Esca Restaurant, the latest casualty of the necessary but brutal pandemic lockdown, opened at the end of the 90s and quickly became a popular part of Glasgow’s restaurant scene.

On Chisholm Street, downtown Merchant City, it was small and cosy, with flickering candles and Italian classics playing in the background. Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye), belted out with gusto by Andrea Bocelli, felt like our theme song – sometimes we sat in there so long we heard it come round on the soundtrack again and again…

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In those early days, we lived just around the corner in St Andrew’s Square, a two minutes’ walk away. It was too easy. No children then, so we did have some disposable income. In those early days, we ate there so often the manager once inquired if we perhaps did not have a kitchen in our flat?

(*We actually ‘got engaged’ in the flat, but Esca was where we went to celebrate shortly after. It was where our hen and stag nights began, where we took every friend and relative who came to visit, from Belfast and Bologna to California and Japan; where we celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and promotions, where we had office Christmas nights out, where we went when we needed to make sense of life’s darker twists and turns.)

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The main course? Our family becoming part of the Esca family: bringing our baby son to eat there, to be fussed over by the team, who insisted I use the tiny staff room to feed and change him in peace; who made him and, a little later, his wee brother, feel like VIPs; who even notched their heights as they grew, in the wooden wall by the kitchen hatch. Going to Esca on his birthday is a ritual for the 16-year-old still.

It will be a struggle for many small businesses to recover post-lockdown and my heart goes out to Esca’s owners and staff who worked so hard to make it a success in a crowded, competitive marketplace.

The loss of a restaurant which has been going strong for 22 years is a sign of just how tough a challenge firms face in the coming months as lockdown restrictions ease. They need all the help they can get.

Con te partiro, Esca. For afters, what will we have? Just a helping of the happiest of memories of the best of times..

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