Design Focus: Birdtree & Bellfish
All Glaswegians know the story about ‘The Tree, The Bird, The Fish and The Bell’, but how many know St.Mungo’s real name? Quirky questions like this are what the owners of the Lorne Hotel are banking on making its new restaurant The Birdtree & Bellfish a success.
The new 82 seater restaurant in the Finnieston hotel launched this month after a painful six months in development and an even longer time while a decision was made about what to do with the corner.
Owner Sohan Singh’s Bellhill took over the hotel in 2011, and the left wing part of the hotel was earmarked for development but wasn’t a key focus for the company. However, in February work started to develop 21 rooms, the bar and the restaurant in a £3.7 million refurbishment of the extension. The result is a homely restaurant that is, according to general manager Thom Murphy, supposed to ‘be like going to your grannies or your aunty’s house’.
When you enter the restaurant, you can see a distinct difference between it and the back room, which is referred to as The Snug. Despite being decorated in the same contrasting grey combination, the Snug feels warmer somehow, and Thom puts that down the fact the latter is carpeted while the main restaurant has wooden laminate flooring. He says, “We wanted the private room to have the feel of a family’s back room. Even the carpet looks a bit faded and threadbare, which scared the carpet fitter! He thought someone had spilt bleach on it!”
While the restaurant has ornamental talking points, the Snug has scarcely any decor apart from a shinty stick mounted on the left-hand wall and a stag’s head opposite. A stunning marble fireplace dominates the right hand wall, one of two discovered when renovations started. Thom says, “When you think that the building was built in 1853, over the years some beautiful architectural detail has been lost. When we knocked down some of the walls we discovered the fireplaces, which had been painted over.”
A large pale wooden table that seats eight is a big feature of the Snug. Thom says, “Another part of our design was that it should reflect what it would be like at a family house for Christmas or get togethers where there are hardly any seats and it’s all mismatched but still works.”
Two high-backed chairs flank the ‘family table’, and different chairs in a mixture of fabrics and leather coloured in cream, buff, olive green and blue are placed around it, and also around six teak-effect tables. Three of the tables – one seating four people and two for two – back onto a corner leather banquette furnished in dark brown leather. The ceilings throughout the restaurant, Snug and Kelvin Bar all have intricate cornice detailing, which involved some replication due to damage over the last century. The 21 bedrooms above the restaurant enjoy the same high ceilings, says Thom. “The main part of the hotel was created with the rooms in the same style you’d expect, but these rooms will be our classic and executive rooms and all benefit from the high ceilings and detail.”
A white panelled doorway leads into the light and airy main restaurant, which benefits from three single panel windows and a double panel window down its left-hand side. Chocolate brown leather banquette seating lines both corners, with seating for two single tables and a table for four. These tables are matched with another mix of fabric and leather-covered chairs, this time in yellow and blue hues. In the right corner, a large booth is made by creative placing of a two-seater couch, again in brown leather, giving a more casual feel than the Snug. Black and white hand-drawn pictures by Glaswegian artist Pearl Kinnear decorate the walls, with the largest showing an interpretation of the tree, the bird, the fish and the bell.
A high eight-seater table with bucket bar stools, which are covered in a chocolate brown leather, indicates the start of the restaurant area. The table is marked out by a brass ‘Glengoyne’ plate, which Thom reveals was a discovery from the first hotel to stand on the site – The Apsley Hotel. “When we started refurbishing all the rooms, we found brass plates with names of different distilleries that The Apsley used to indicate rooms so we’ve decided to resurrect them.”
Five three seater wingback couches covered in a cream fabric are arranged in a 2-1-2 formation, making up the left side of the restaurant. The solo couch is matched with a second pale wooden ‘family’ table, which Thom says is a feature for the restaurant. Thom says, “We want the restaurant to be somewhere you can come casually, or for an intimate meal or a family get-together.” The family table also has three chairs in purple and blue around it and on the walls behind, a gird and cleek hangs (a hoop and stick to non-Scots). On the wall beside the next table, there is a whip and peerie (an old-school spinning top toy) which, along with the display cabinets that mark the end of the restaurant, Thom hopes will prompt conversation among diners. He says, “We’ve tried to make the decoration similar to what you would see in any Glasgow home, so books and trinkets that will spark conversations.” On the opposite side, chocolate brown leather banquettes line the wall, separated by a wooden partition for privacy. Underneath wall-mounted chandelier-type lights, single dark wooden tables are arranged with blue and cream fabric-covered chairs and an air conditioning vent has been adapted as a display shelf with more chat-invoking whisky memorabilia.
The other addition is The Kelvin Bar. To the left as you come into the lobby, it is named after Lord Kelvin, of whom a striking portrait with a blue lit neon ‘Kelvin’ sign takes up an entire walls.
The bar was constructed from scratch, creating a traditional dark wood bar that wouldn’t look out of place in any Glasgow pub. Four dark wood backed bar stools with royal blue leather cushions surround the bar, and each of the high tables by the tall windows. Lower dark wooden tables gather around the other discovered fireplace, this time in black marble, and the banquette below the Kelvin portrait is in the same chocolate brown leather as the restaurant’s. Historical photographs are arranged on the mantelpiece and wall. The drink offering is eclectic, with The Kelvin being the first bar in Scotland to offer the entire Harviestoun Brewery range and Molson Coors created a white-label lager called Kentigern, which is the real name of St Mungo.
With such a rich heritage, it seems The Birdtree & Bellfish and The Kelvin Bar are happy to have a foot in both the past and the present with its nostalgic yet romantic take on Glaswegian hospitality.