IN THE middle of our conversation about food, life and everything, the attention of chef Nick Rietz wanders.

“I’m so sorry – I just caught a glimpse of the cherry blossom tree outside our window,” he apologises. “It made me wonder – how could I use that? What would I pair it with – would it work well in a drink, maybe, a kombucha…”

Nick, chef and owner at Dennistoun’s finest of fine dining restaurants Bilson Eleven, is not your ordinary, everyday chef.

In the two and a half years since he opened his restaurant in one of the area’s oldest and most carefully renovated tenement buildings, Nick’s unusual menus, creative flair and desire to be different have made Glasgow’s diners, fellow restaurateurs and food critics sit up and pay attention.

Some of the sniffier reviewers have called his set up pretentious and expensive – there are two tasting menus, one five-course (£49 per person, £35 with paired wines), one eight-course, and a vegetarian option; and have patronisingly wondered aloud whether the east end is ready for Bilson Eleven.

Nick just laughs. “Yes, I’d call us a destination restaurant. It’s not somewhere you rock up and ask for a table for two and we don’t get shoppers coming in for tea and scones,” he says. “But there’s room for everyone, surely? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you’re serving, if it’s a tasting menu or tea and scones, it’s all about quality – food done well.”

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He adds: “It was maybe a little bit risky, doing something like this outside the city centre or Finnieston, but we have had a great response from local people. And we’re generally always full every Friday and Saturday night.”

The dishes are deceptively simple – beef with sea herbs, lamb with asparagus, wild garlic and hazelnuts – but Nick takes great care to be original, and unexpected in his flavour combinations. This summer, for example, he has put nasturtiums – renowned for their bright edible flowers and leaves - on the menu.

“Nasturtiums have an amazing peppery kick and a fairly neutral taste profile, so they can be pretty versatile,” he says. “We grow our own in containers in the kitchen and cut them fresh to order.

“Provenance is crucial all year round, but even more so in the summertime when we have an abundance of fantastic ingredients right on our doorstep.

“We’ve worked nasturtiums into our cured Loch Etive sea trout dish, using the stems for the sauce and the leaves as a garnish.

“Nasturtiums are becoming less and less visible in restaurants across Scotland, and I’d like to see that change by encouraging more chefs to give these wee wild flowers the appreciation they deserve. They’re so easy to use: you can throw a few leaves into a salad as you would rocket to give it a kick, or pickle the buds in vinegar and use them as a substitute for capers.”

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Nick, who is 35, spent 10 years building conservatories with his dad in his native Birmingham. He met his wife, Liz, in John O’Groats and the couple settled in Glasgow.

“I did a little bit of cooking, but not much,” says Nick. “I liked to experiment. Liz had a friend who worked at Two Fat Ladies, so she put in a good word and I got a job there and my interest in and love of food grew from there.”

The idea for opening a restaurant of his own came on a trip to Italy.

“I don’t tend to plan too much, things just happen,” he smiles. “We were in Modena, and we went to Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, which was considered the best restaurant in the world at the time.

“I watched him work and I was totally entranced by him. He blew me away – there were no rules, no boundaries, he just created and it made me think I could do that too. I could do anything I wanted.”

Nick and Liz, who have two children, Billy, six, and three-year-old Sonny, started looking for suitable premises.

“We went round the city, taking pictures, and we just loved this street,” says Nick. “This place looked like a house, but Liz – who is far more tenacious than I am, chapped on doors and asked questions.

“We discovered it was being used for storage by a dentist, so we asked if we could take a look.”

He adds: “I was thinking – it’s too big. I was sceptical, it was just a house – how could I make it work as a restaurant? But at the same time, I had this tingling, this feeling, when I looked at the period features, the rooms, the stained glass – it felt right.”

Nick adds, with a short laugh: “The romance disappeared in an instant when the rawl plugs fell out of the crumbling walls and we had to put in the kitchen ourselves and fireproof everywhere…it was a lot of work, and very frustrating – we had to put in fire door after fire door – they must have thought I was a hell of a careless cook.”

He decided on tasting menus because he wanted the freedom to experiment, he explains.

“It’s more fun as a chef, too,”  he adds. “On a la carte menus, when you are just choosing one or two courses, the dishes have to be bigger to fill you up. It means carbs, big plates of food and that doesn’t always feel as relaxed to me.

“There is nothing wrong with a good mashed potato, of course. But that kind of limited choice holds you back from what you can try out.

“A tasting menu is a lot more organised too, you’re always in control.”

His inspiration comes, he says, from the places he visits, but he is also keen to reduce his carbon footprint by using local suppliers and foragers.

The restaurant is spread out, with the dining room, drinks room and office dotted around the different floors of the tenement building. Old photos on the walls are from Nick’s home town, and there are family pictures and maps too.

It can take 28 diners, and timings are staggered throughout the evening. The staff are suited and booted but friendly.

“We are trying to be the best we can be,” says Nick. “We want to be original and memorable. When we went to the Osteria, it took us a while to find it and a local man came up to us – we must have looked like tourists – and asked us if he could show us the way.

“He was so proud of this restaurant, with its reputation and famous chef, and he just wanted to show it off. I would love for people here in Glasgow, in Dennistoun to feel that way about us.”