Bill’s, West Nile Street, Glasgow – is it a restaurant or a would-be potting shed? Is the design intentional or has it simply evolved into what it is – a hip, chic, and fairly peeled-back design of distressed wood, bare brick walls, interspersed by chandeliers, candles, mirrors, and wee blackboards full of pithy homilies.
Located in the city centre, you’ll be hard pushed to find a parking space on-street, although there are some, including a disabled bay right outside the door. Be warned though, the area is heavily patrolled by the council’s wardens just looking for the chance at issuing a ticket. Disabled access is good overall with the restaurant offering open-plan space, as well as some booths for a more private dining experience.
Bill’s have just launched a new summer menu, and it’s right on-point as we swelter in an unnaturally and quite unseasonal heatwave. The menu isn’t extensive, stretching to a single side of an A3 card, but that’s no bad thing. I get fed up easily and a 12-page menu switches me off quicker than that parking attendant manages to issue his tickets! There’s a nice mix of meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian on offer, and the restaurant will cater for those who have specific allergy needs. There are nine starters excluding the bread, olives, tortillas, and sausages taster dishes – and if you’re like us, order these and have them while you browse the rest of the menu. It’s that kind of laid-back joint is Bill’s. In the mains section there are 18 choices available plus a selection of side dishes, mainly chips and veg.
As I briefly touched on earlier, it’s a very fresh and innovative menu giving a modern twist to dishes with combinations you might not expect, or even consider will work. For example, watermelon, paprika and sesame-crusted Feta cheese with a mint yoghurt dressing. Or how about a rarebit mac cheese – Mushrooms, leeks, pea, broad bean and mint pesto, cheddar cheese sauce, mustard rarebit with baby kale. You see where I’m going with this…
On the evening of my visit it was an open-house night for the media and the place was buzzing so I made a wee note that it might be unfair to rate the service on such a busy night. But, you know what, amazingly, they never put a foot wrong, neery a stutter with impeccable service from our waitress – shame I didn’t get her name, she deserved a wee mention. Very professional, extremely friendly, despite being frazzled as she was on the go all night.
Bill’s is not the sort of place you’re going to head to for an intimate dinner for two, it’s not that sort of place. It’s funky and chilled-out ambience has a younger following, therefore it was no surprise to me to find out son number one has been a regular customer. But remember those booths I mentioned, OK, it’s not a romantic gig, but you’ll get some privacy – and a damned fine meal.
Even Bill’s new cocktail menu is hitting that summer mark, with more than a nod to the heady, lengthy, warm summer days with a selection of mixed fruits, including brambles, raspberries, apple juice, elderflower, strawberries, watermelon and the like. So sitting outside on the pavement on West Nile Street isn’t exactly the same as on the banks of the local river, watching the ducks gliding by, but you get my idea.
And for me, a massive plus point – linen napkins! Oh, Bill’s where have you been all my life? None of that 2-ply nonsense where one wipe of the lips miraculously makes it disappear.
So to the grub. We started off with a wee selection of potato and rosemary bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and an order of the mini Cumberland sausages tossed in a honey and grain mustard dressing. Out came a wee round bread on a wooden board, delightfully warm and just screaming out to be torn apart and dipped. It was light, fresh and very tasty. The bowl of five mini bangers with wee wooden chip forks to keep the fingers clean were well received across the table. Succulent, well spiced with a nice meaty consistency, I’d have happily had a big plate of those with some mash, to be honest.
For our starters, we opted for the crispy calamari, a chicken liver parfait and a roasted plum tomato and red pepper soup. For an establishment which has to deal with the vagaries of central purchasing, and therefore a kitchen brigade who have little control over the quality of ingredients supplied they do an amazing job. Although, as I suspected, and was confirmed during the evening, there’s literally no frozen or pre-packaged food arriving in the kitchen, with the chef and his team making everything in-house from raw ingredients – and it shows.
I’d go so far as to say my parfait is not a kick in the bottom away from being one of the best I’ve had. It was soft, smooth and light with no bitter aftertaste so common with this dish, and was served with three slabs of chargrilled Campagne bread and a wee bowl of deliciously sweet chutney which offset the meatiness of the parfait perfectly. As for the calamari, this one was to test the claims that nothing is frozen or pre-packaged. Frozen calamari when cooked is akin to chewing on a piece of tyre. Not so here. Remarkably, it was soft and tender with just a wee bite to it, as good, freshly prepared squid should be. The garlic and parsley crumb coating was light, nicely browned without being overcooked and the whole dish was brought together with the addition of a tartare sauce and red pepper tapenade. The slurping from across the table, with not a word being uttered told me all I needed to about how good the soup was.
So plates cleared away, we moved swiftly onto the mains. This time around it was the chargrilled paprika and lemon chicken, the grilled sea bass fillets, a steak, egg and chips and one of Bill’s renowned hamburgers.
I’ll start by saying the portions are large, so do bear that in mind, and we have to admit to being beaten by two of the dishes – unheard of! My chicken had two large butterflied breasts of chicken (skin on), well done Bill’s for not pandering to those who insist on removing one of the tastiest bits of the chicken. This was served with a summer slaw of mint, coriander and couscous, baby kale and a lemon garlic mayo. Maybe the reason I couldn’t finish the plate was the addition of a portion of sweet potato fries and the side of mac cheese – for sharing of course. Lip smacking and amazing flavour bursts, from the charred chicken skin, the juiciness of the tender chicken breast meat, to the dressed slaw. Bill’s you should be out on West Nile Street shouting about this dish.
Hmmm, actually don’t bother, I want to be able to get a table for my return visit! The CO said her sea bass fillets – the healthy option she insists – were obviously so fresh, they were almost trying to swim off the plate. Served with a cherry tomato, avocado and caper salsa with a pan-fried rosti on the side. I did try to sample this one, but for fear of being speared by a fork, decided not to bother. Bill’s burgers are HUGE. With a 92 per cent meat patty, I was worried it might be slightly dry. Shouldn’t have bothered wasting my time worrying – it wasn’t. Served in a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato slices, red onion, horseradish mayo and skin-on fries, oh and the addition of Monterey Jack cheese and streaky bacon. This was the other dish that had son number two beaten. The gannet that is son number one was obviously hungry as his chargrilled 8oz minute steak, two eggs and chips were there one moment and gone the next.
“Could we manage a look at the dessert menu” our waitress threw at us in the passing. After much groaning, I decided to sacrifice my waistline for the sake of the job. So it was puddings all round then. Two strawberries and cream pavlova, a warm pecan pie, and the gooseberry and almond crumble. I won’t bore you with the minutiae, but it’s safe to say you’re probably not going to manage three courses at Bill’s.
I can see why the place has such a following now I’ve eaten here. It’s tapped into a market and supplies them with what they want – good quality, well-cooked, hugely tasty large portioned dishes. What’s not to like about that.