Interview: Mhairi Taylor of Gather By Zique

Last year was a time for change on Hyndland Street. First, much of the familiar purpose of Delizique was transferred to Bakery by Zique when it arrived on Lauderdale Gardens. Their passionfruit and white chocolate cheesecake is fantastic, by the way. Then, work began to transform the old interior into a restaurant concept. Gather By Zique has carved out its own place in the West End food scene with seasonal dishes, mostly made from local produce.

Owner Mhairi Taylor has been a part of the local community with Cafezique for 17 years. We recently visited the stylish dining room for a chat with her over a cup of tea.

Gather By Zique’s Roast Lamb With Celeriac Caponata, Cavolo Nero, Rosemary and Anchovy recipe features in the Glasgow and West Coast Cook Book.

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I wanted to ask you about the food philosophy here, and what you wanted to achieve when you decided to open Gather By Zique last year?

Well, the reason it’s called Gather is… well there’s loads of reasons actually, but it’s all named after my grandfather. He was called Zique. His real name was Donald MacGregor. So I grew up to him singing MacGregor’s Gathering all the time.

I don’t know if you have heard it? There’s a part that goes

“While there’s leaves on the forest, or foam on the river,
Macgregor, despite them, shall flourish for ever!
⁠Then gather, gather, gather, Grigalach!”

Right, so that’s just a childhood thing. It was a nice memory and the thought stuck with me. And also my grandpa used to always sing and he would say you weren’t singing it right unless the veins were sticking out on your neck. So you gave it laldy.

And then also because [my husband] Dick is a farmer, and a shepherd and my son has become shepherd too, which was a surprise, as he’s a right out-and-out Glaswegian. They’re always talking about, “Oh, when are we going to gather?” Because they gather the sheep twice a year. It’s just a word that comes up all of the time.

And then, I like connecting the idea of people gathering together with the gathering of produce. So that was part of the philosophy for the restaurant.

Is the gathering of produce something that you are particularly enthusiastic about?

I love it. I’m often stopping and picking wild garlic. Or Sweet woodruff and elderflowers. That’s probably where I’m at my happiest. In the garden, or in nature, or picking stuff to eat.

Did you have a clear idea about what Gather By Zique would be when you decided to replace Delizique and transform the space?

At one point it was gonna be a chicken shop. We were just going to do the best chicken in Glasgow. But then I was looking at the space. It’s got loads of lovely features and height. I thought it deserved something a wee bit more elegant. And also we’re making a differentiation between here and next door [in Cafe Zique] as well, which is more casual.

What about the team and the food then, what’s the story here?

We’ve brought together a really talented team. In terms of the food, I’ve pretty much given Jamie [Donald] carte blanche to cook what he wants to cook. He’s the head chef and it’s his menu. There’s a massive shortage of chefs right now so we close Mondays and Tuesdays to give the team a break as we want to retain them. We also try to give them a real sense of ownership here.

The food is led by the best produce and relationships with suppliers, coupled with Jamie’s Italian heritage. The way he describes it is, we use Scottish ingredients but the mother cuisine is Italian. So that’s what we are about.

What’s your real passions in terms of food and flavours and the restaurant experience?

What do I love? I love vegetables, salad and light food. See Scottish brown food, big heavy stews, I don’t really like that. I prefer things much lighter and fresher.

I love all the colour. Where I grew up, I was really privileged that we lived away up the top of the hill overlooking Loch Lomond. My stepdad and my mum were obsessive about food and gardening. So we used to grow everything ourselves. We’d grow our own potatoes, we grew peaches, nectarines, Charentais melons in the conservatory. It was supposed to be a place to sit, but it was just full of produce. I grew passion fruit from seed when I was wee, when I was nine or 10 years old. I was constantly out in the garden and I loved that, I loved the smell of it. I loved being outdoors.

My stepdad also, he was really ahead of his time, he should have been a chef really. He was making his own pasta. We made our own elderflower champagne and elderberry wine and our own yoghurt. The whole house, it was all about entertaining, we had one of those big round tables and always had visitors. Nearly every weekend I would get turfed out of my bedroom for people coming to stay. We’d have magic food, drink and company. So I suppose that’s in me. And that is what I’ve always tried to achieve here. Bring groups together and try and have a good time.

So that’s your attitude to hospitality?

Yes. I’m a Glaswegian. I don’t like formality, I don’t like stuffiness. I want things to be relaxed and fun. I think that’s what Glaswegians are like, they’re never too serious about theirselves.

You’ve obviously taken on the mantle of a neighbourhood place and you have a great relationship with the local community here. Is that’s something that’s important across all the places you have?

I think that happens. I think also having a deli and cafe, even more so than a restaurant, you really get to know people. I have been here every day for 17 years. I still see people now in the street that I’ve known for that whole time. I’ve watched their children being born and growing up, and they’re starting to go to school and go to university now.

We’ve a cast of thousands here. If you are ever needing anything, phone me, because we’d be able to find it across all the customers we know. It’s like living in a live internet search engine. If you want your teeth fixed or to rent a cottage in Corsica, I bet you could find it today if we started chatting to folk [laughs]. It’s a dead nice thing, to feel part of a community and be at the centre of that.