So here we sit. Crisp white linen before us, hallmarks visible on the shining silver cutlery and sunshine streaming through the windows. I'm trying to work out just how far apart these tables actually are. Miles, since you ask. No, seriously, I didn't take a tape measure but there's loads of space.
I pop a milky-green, cone-shaped jelly into my mouth, feel a satisfying burst of asparagus flavour, mentally note that the delicate taste of pork terrine is suddenly heart-started by a salty, vinegary, caper and gherkin dressing and all the while I'm actually wondering: how big does a wine list have to be?
Joe, whose eyebrows raise when the waitress does that crumb-clearing thing with the silver scraper that you rarely see outside London these days, has looked up from tearing hunks off the freshly baked, still warm, sweet onion roll, put aside his rillette of salmon, cucumber and lemon, and said out load: “Whit are you on about?”
"Michelin. That’s what I’m on about, mate. Pay attention. Little fat guys made of tyres, mystery inspectors with secret rules, rumours that they measure the table gaps and demand a million quids’ worth of wine in the cellar before they’ll give a money-spinning Michelin star."
For some long-forgotten reason, Tam Cowan, Brian Maule and myself ended up downing a few sherbets in a pub not far from here one night. On my fifth – OK, 10th – slurper, I asked the question that’s going through my head right now. Why don’t you have a Michelin star, Brian? Now, you might think that was a not-very-smart move considering Le Chef Maule is (a) a bloody big guy, (b) from plain-talking Ayrshire, like Joe here, and (c) is said to be no Walter the Softy in the kitchen. You would be completely wrong. My not-very-smart move was then telling him exactly why I thought he didn’t have one. How he laughed. Not.
However, back to today, and I can smell and taste the truffle lacing the crushed white beans. The lamb cutlets are delicate, tender and light. Across the table Joe’s compote of beef, a mound of deep, dark almost sweet flavours, have the caramelized finish of a good rib roast and there’s a lovely parsnip puree and wild mushrooms scattered around the plate.
This is now Glasgow’s best restaurant. Classic, understated, full on this Monday lunchtime. I’ve been here there or four times recently simply because, after 10 years, it’s matured into the place to dine in Glasgow, especially, it seems, if you’re organising a sophisticated dinner.
Yet Brian Maule, now 43 years old, head chef at the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London at the tender age of 24, who is still supported and backed by Michel Roux himself, does not yet have a star here. Why?The crisp tuille that comes with honey ice cream and creamy, custardy apricot clafoutis is the best I’ve ever tasted. Salty, and like a substantial safer of puff pastry. The food here is surely good enough. And it’s not really about table gaps or wine cellars.
If you ask me, and quite rightly no-one does, there can’t be anyone more world weary and bored than a Michelin inspector. When he sits down for yet another dinner in yet another anonymous town or city, he wants to be able to tell exactly where he is in the world just by what’s on his plate. And before he goes back to yet another lost and lonely hotel room, all he asks is to have enjoyed one little chuckle at something clever and funny the chef has done with his food.
Ok, I didn’t exactly say that to Chef Maule. What I did say was: “Hey, mate, you need to do a Michelin chef’s take on pie, beans and chips.” Hmm.Turns out Brian Maule wants to do his own thing. And that’s why it’s his name above the door and not mine. And frankly, there ain’t much wrong with that.”