Let’s take a moment to appreciate Princes Square. No, really. The decision to encase a drab open space and create a five-storey, tastefully-designed shopping centre was one of the most innovative developments to happen in the city centre.
It quickly became the posterboy for renewal in the city when it opened in 1986. It still looks great today. Sandstone, decorative glass, tiling, timber, the flowing escalators and ornate staircase, that wonderfully artistic metalwork on the outside.
Amidst the boutiques and conspicuous designer brands, the centre is studded with places to eat of various hues. The latest occupies a space beneath and behind the grand staircase, on the far side as you arrive from the Buchanan Street entrance. It’s beyond that sunken circle of steps where shoppers linger with bags or parents chat while kids invent games to play.
Step in and it immediately seems quite different from the rest of the building, which seems quite deliberate. A self-contained lounge, bar and dining room. Good use of space, funky design, comfortable furniture.
Here’s a potted history: Kerry and Alistair Prow met when they managed étain restaurant, Sir Terence Conran’s first restaurant outside of London, upstairs here at Princes Square. They got married and were part of the opening team at Harvey Nicols Fourth Floor restaurant Edinburgh. Other culinary pursuits ensued, then they opened a deli and bistro in Dollar, where they settled on a small plate dining philosophy. After they sold up in Clackmannanshire, they opened Epoch three weeks ago.
They’ve recruited Head Chef Andrew Greenan to run the kitchen. He was previously in charge of the Glasgow branch of Martin Wishart’s The Honours at Malmaison.
A Set of Small Plates
I’ve not even started our lunch and I’m already thinking about dinner. Epoch has a six course tasting menu which can be matched with pairing wines for an additional £25. That would be about the most fun I’ve had in a shopping centre for a while. Then there’s these little assemblies of charcuterie of seafood that could be dissected over a glass of wine and indiscrete conversations. Epoch will be fun in the evenings (they open till 10pm).
They’ve a nice, tight menu that covers a lot of bases. The premise is sharing and combining different flavours. Some dishes are more ambitious than others, in the sense that some plates look specifically designed for passing shoppers conditioned to look for the unambitious on menus. Everything shows evidence of formidable cooking technique in the kitchen.
When ordered, dishes arrive as they are ready, in no particular order, as it should be. Pork croquettes and crispy fried squid are first from the kitchen. They are probably the weakest of the following procession of plates. The croquettes feel like something of a missed opportunity and the popcorn squid wasn’t particularly memorable. They didn’t quite reach their potential.
Let’s get to the good stuff.
Alistair recommended we try the caramelised fig salad and the gnocchi. Both are going down well with customers, we’re told.
Figs are not something that would register in our top go-to ingredients. Here, there’s a quite wonderful combination of fresh, zingy flavours, with a smattering of cheese, that makes a big impression.
That gnocchi though. Plump gorgonzola and walnut filled mini dumplings lathered with a sweep of butternut. It just immediately registers on the taste buds. A rich, small portion to be savoured. Don’t share this one.
Lamb papperdelle with tomatoes, olives and capers has a generous portion of robust meat that’s interspersed with ribbons of delicious pasta.
There’s a surprise with the Epoch sliders. This is in the Goldilocks zone for small plates: not too little, not too much. Another to add to Glasgow’s burger circuit. Truffle is a major theme in the menu. The truffle spiked mayo brings a plush layer to the well constructed, tasty burgers.
I’m quite taken with the Seabream, balanced on a colourful collection of halved vine tomatoes. It’s an excellent piece of fish. Presented in a simple fashion. Maybe too simple? It’s the most expensive item on the lunch small plate menu and it’s still less than a tenner (just).
Time to catch a breath after that.
“Do you want to look at the dessert menu?”. Well, it would be rude not to. They prepare their puddings from scratch here, including their pastry and ice cream.
It’s a straightforward choice. Pineapple tart tatin and coconut ice cream or a chocolate, hazelnut & caramel eclair, each for £6.50.
The eclair is the winner. It’s that dessert, the one that arrives and you look at it and you think “that’s too pretty to eat”. Then you wreak havoc on it and ensure every morsel is consumed. Honestly, I was close to licking the plate. Belter of a way to close out the meal.
Expect the menu to change with the seasons. As is the case with any new restaurant, there will be some tinkering with preparations. Based on our fist look, the team here have what it takes to get things right and usher in the new Epoch of the small plate in Princes Square.
Go try the gnocchi. Ask them to fill your wine glass. Retail therapy.
On The Menu: Epoch Restaurant
Crispy fried squid, aioli (£4.50)
Caramelised fig, orange, pomegranate, spinach, feta salad (£5.50)
Gorgonzola and walnut filled gnocchi, butternut, sage (£6.50)
Lamb papperdelle, tomatoes, olives, capers (£6.50)
Pork croquettes, green yoghurt (£6.75)
Epoch sliders (x2) beef and pulled pork, gherkin, cheddar, truffle mayo, sesame bun (£9.95)
Seabream, vine tomato, lemon, pomegranate (£9.95)
Truffle fries (£3.25)
Eclair, chocolate, hazelnut and caramel (£6.50)