Sadly and very suddenly Allan died yesterday (18th January, 2011). Heartbreaking for his family, his staff and his many friends. A true West End character, he will be surely missed.
It's becoming quite a regular outing when Roy Beers and I make our way down to the Thornwood end of Dumbarton Road in Patrick to check out what Allan Mawn, West End restaurateur, is up to. Having successfully established the fabulous Pinxto and uber cool Velvet Elvis, he continues his mission 'to keep Partick weird', or translated, "a bit local and a bit different". His latest venture, Criterion, a wonderful art-deco tribute to the much loved cafe of the same name, which was located at Partick Cross for many years, fits well within this ethos.
It seems that Mr Mawn can do no wrong and, indeed, such is his enthusiasm, and knowledge of the restaurant business that these days his success is entirely expected. Some fifteen years ago he opened his first West End restaurant, 'Barcelona', at the bottom of Byres Road and this proved to be a very worthwhile undertaking, allowing Allan to perfect his skills as chef and indulge his love of Basque food between 1989 until 1993. However, he moved on to other ventures including managing student unions in Scotland and England before returning to Glasgow for a short stint at OranMor. This was where I first met Allan several years ago when Jim and I were lucky enough to be assigned to the table he was hosting at a Burns Supper; I admit to being immediately impressed by this mannerly, hospitable and most gregarious man.
No matter how busy he might be, it seems that Allan can always spare a minute or two to make you feel welcome in his restaurants. His enthusiasm and good humour are contagious and it is not only enjoyable dining in his establishments but also keeping abreast of his lastest plans. However, it wasn't until recently that I had a chance to learn more about his passion for all things Catalonian and hear about long periods he spent in this area and how his fascination grew as he sampled the best of what Spain has to offer. Also about the close friendships built with other Hispanophiles such as Coleman Andrews, author of 'Catalan Cuisine' (included in The Guardian The 50 Best Cookbooks of All Time).
Allan has seized every opportunity to indulge his interest in the area and some of his analysis is both novel and interesting. I was most intrigued as he spoke with vivacity about Catalan culture and the many comparisons that can be drawn between Barcelona and Glasgow; "both cities with a passion for fashion, galleries, football"... "they have Gaudi and we have Mackintosh". Certainly something I had never considered.
At Pinxto's Allan has been able to give full reign to this knowledge and enthusiasm and surely no other little tapas restaurant has ever been so worthy of the praise received. Firmly established on The List's hit list and even satisfying the stringent tastes of critic Joanna Blythsman:"The food speaks of care, effort and an underpinning understanding of the finer points of Spanish cuisine." It also won Metro's Best Scottish Newcomer Award 2007.
Having rapidly established Pinxto's among la creme de la creme of Scottish restaurants Allan expanded along the block and opened Velvet Elvis, "a neighbourhood bar and grill offering casual dining and drinking in the eclectic surroundings of an original 1910 butchers' shop". Opened from 12 noon till midnight seven days a week, Velvet Elvis has proved a popular destination with a mixed clientele partaking of afternoon coffee, dining out with friends or meeting up in the evening for a drink. It has followed in the footsteps of its sister restaurant in the award stakes and has been voted Top 3 for Glasgow's "most delectable, delicious burger' and Joanna Blythman named both Pinxto and Velvet Elvis in Top 5 restaurants July, 2009 It certainly got the thumbs up from Tam Cowan: "Honestly, folks, if Velvet Elvis had been around when the king flew into Prestwick Airport 50 years ago ... he'd have made a beeline for Dumbarton Road".
I am sure we are going to be hearing a lot more of Criterion. Roy and I certainly enjoyed getting tucked into a fabulous lunch with Allan. We started with delightful, crispy coated, tender, baby squid, melt in your mouth lamb and. At Allan's insistence, we also sampled the restaurant's amazing sweets, including some wonderful knickerbocker glory, tipping its cap to The Criterion of old.
Once a young schoolteacher from Hardgate in Clydebank, Allan is having a braw time following his dreams creating these classy and welcoming restaurants with their delicious food. I'm just thankful he didn't move to Spain.
Pat Byrne, November, 2010.