Vinicombe Street in Glasgow’s west end is having something of a moment. While the adjacent block of Byres Road was once filled with independent eateries (I still miss Heart Buchanan), it’s this offshoot of the busy thoroughfare that’s getting the levels of attention once reserved for Ashton Lane or Ruthven Lane.
In early 2020 Ka Pao, a sister restaurant to the enduringly popular Ox and Finch, opened its doors and has since gone on to be mentioned in the 2022 Michelin Guide.
Nearby is the unassuming but lovely 1841 coffee shop while The Parlour is loved by cocktail fans and is a sun trap on warm days, meaning it’s an ideal spot for summer drinks.
The latest addition to the charming former Botanics garage building (where Ka Pao is located) is the second Crabshakk venue.
For those not in the know, the original Crabshakk was one of the first 'must visit' Finnieston restaurants, before the strip became one of the trendiest and popular places to gather in the west end.
Set up by architect John Macleod in 2009, the Finnieston restaurant has become a pillar of the food and drink scene in the city and is booked out weeks in advance at weekends thanks to its menu of fresh seafood and cosy space.
The decision to open a second restaurant came from Covid restrictions and a plan to potentially close the original - given its teeny proportions that made social distancing impossible.
Thankfully the love of the Glasgow people has meant that the original Crabshakk remains but the plan to open a second venue went ahead anyway, with the location being chosen due to its iconic building which appealed to John.
After a complete renovation of the space, the restaurant opened in late April and has already welcomed some famous faces (Sam Heughan of Outlander fame was snapped enjoying a meal a few weeks ago).
We went along to the soft launch on a busy and buzzy Tuesday night. Crabshakk Botanics had the feel of a sleek New York bar/restaurant with lots of steel, exposed brick, and a mix of high stools and booth seating.
We were seated at the bar and started our night with a couple of cocktails. One of the main differences of this Crabshakk - size aside - is the extended drink offering which includes an extensive wine list and creative cocktails.
When we spoke to manager Lily Brown in February she explained that Crabshakk Botanics would be a ‘space where people can come and enjoy a lovely bottle of wine or cocktails and end up staying for a while and getting some oysters or something from the new evening snacks offering.’
The food menu is almost as extensive as the wine list, with snacks, specials and seafood listed in sections including oysters, squid, scallops and langoustines.
While we browsed we snacked on punchy pickled vegetables (£6) and deliciously more-ish boquerones anchovies (£4).
This was swiftly followed by three oysters on ice (£8.50). Plump and extremely fresh, the oysters were washed down with a traditional shallot mignonette.
Having heard so much about Crabshakk’s seared scallops (£11.95), it seemed rude to not try these.
Serving sizzling on a hot cast iron skillet, we opted for these to be seasoned with anchovy and butter and sage, which gave the sweet scallop meat a deep umami flavour.
Top tip, get some bread to dip into this sauce as you won’t want it stop eating it.
Having not eaten lunch so we could, let’s face it, completely pig out on seafood, we were more than happy at this point to tuck into mains of monkfish cheek scampi (£16.95) served with skinny fries, salad and homemade ketchup and a special dish of roast hake (£24.95).
The scampi was a far cry from traditional pub fayre. Each bouncy piece of fish was coated in crispy light batter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.
The chips were crisp and nicely salty and reminded me of elevated fries from McDonald’s. The side salad was fresh and gave this dish a nice splash of colour, as did the saffron hued tomato ketchup.
My hake was delicate and flaky - the butter sauce punctuated with garden peas, sweet silverskin onions and small chunks of salty pancetta.
Finally dessert, options of which range from affogato to sorbet, parfait and chocolate cake. But it was the pineapple and rum upside down cake served with coconut ice cream (£7) which caught my eye.
This brick shaped slice of cake had a ripple of sticky pineapple on the top which complemented the soft, rum sponge. A shower of bright lime zest added bite to both the cake and the creamy, sweet ice cream.
As we leave, the buzz of the place remains and it’s clear to see that the staff are really enjoying getting going with this new project.
While Crabshakk Botanics is the new kid on the block, what made the first Crabshakk stand the test of time can be found here too - quality food, cooked well and served with a smile - making it easy to imagine it soon being a as big a Glasgow institution as the original.