HONESTLY, they’re pests with the drinks here. My glass of Diet Coke sits before me almost half full, not half empty, completely innocently, bothering nobody, but the waiting staff don’t seem to see it like that.

To them it is flashing like a fire alarm.

I see their eyes being drawn towards it like magnets as they walk by, regardless of which direction they come from. No matter which one of them it is. Their heads swivel. They lock on. And load. Half-full alert. Up-sell. Up-sell.

While I sit thinking: here it comes again. Next minute they’re briskly changing direction and looming up before me – all concerned looking. “Another drink sir?”

Nooooooo. I don’t want another bloody drink. For the umpteenth time. Still, it is quiet tonight, and I did choose to sit in the gloomy back area of this restaurant on the ground floor of Princes Square in Glasgow.

Not so much to get away from the children and the shoppers, milling around out there in pizza-land, but because nobody else on the terrace area seems to be eating this evening.

Not, I’m thinking, a great sign.

So I’m here all alone and being buzzed by waiters – no doubt only following management orders – and frankly I’m regretting it intensely.

Take the decor. Well, is there any? Is this a restaurant, or a bar, or simply a large Princes Square unit that has been largely untouched?

And take this menu. Not more small plates, you will be thinking. Yes, more small plates is what you will be getting, with a warm-up selection of snacks including sourdough and rye bread from the Bavarian Bakehouse at £3.50, Spanish olives and almonds at £4, and Serrano ham and Scottish cured meats at £6, whatever Scottish cured meats are.

These sort of sub-starter things are pretty much par for the course in any upmarket chain restaurant these days and pioneered, I think, by no less than Jamie Oliver.

This isn’t yet a chain, of course, but I presume these dishes are aimed at the grazers that shopping centres, particularly stylish ones like Princes Square, attract.

Hmm. I think it’s fair to say that right up to now it’s not looking promising. Tonight’s specials, which don’t float my boat either, are fish and chips – OK, beer-battered hake, chips and peas – and burgers – OK, Epoch sliders, gherkin, cheddar and chips (sorry, frites).

My first small plate arrives. Dark green shoots of sprouting broccoli, fine bean and mangetout in a tahini dressing. Simple, inexpensive. I taste it and … boom. Refreshing, zingy and light. Great, even.

Then a pork and pistachio terrine, and as a loather of chicken liver pâté and all its commercial variations I ask the waiter where they get it. “Made by us, sir,” he says.

This is juicy, tasty, properly textured, scooped on to bread with fig jam and a few slices of that gherkin. Very good. Now there’s a silky, slippery pappardelle draped around just enough tender, but not overcooked, braised shoulder of lamb to be a treat. Boom again.

I’ve got to be honest and say that when I see the little fillet of sea bream with tomatoes and confit lemon I think to myself: are people really going to pay £9.50 for this in Glasgow and be happy? But the confit lemon gives a real smack to the tomato flavours and the fish is pleasant, though the skin is not completely seared and crisp, and at this price it really should be.

Epoch, then? I don’t think I’ve ever said this about anywhere before, but surely this is a menu in search of a restaurant.

There’s no hint to this generic unit in Princes Square that the food will be so surprisingly good and there’s absolutely nothing about the atmosphere that complements what’s on the plate.

This little menu in a decent little restaurant could be a slam-dunk winner but in here it could be drowned by the surroundings. I hope not.


Princes Square, Glasgow (epochglasgow.com, 0141 261 0291)

Menu: Snacks and small plates, for grazers and shoppers at first glance, but some very good dishes hidden there including that tahini brocolli. 4/5

Atmosphere: I ate inside which was probably a mistake as it felt completely devoid of any character whatsoever. 2/5

Service: On a quiet night they hit the drinks upselling too hard, but otherwise perfectly pleasant staff. 3/5

Price: Generally reasonable with that broccoli at £5.50 and the excellent terrine at £6.50. Seam bream small plate hit a heady £9.50. 4/5

Food: Big flavours, good ideas and generally very well cooked. Would be a slam-dunk winner if it was in a small restaurant. 8/10

Total: 21/30