THE building that houses the Battlefield Rest, opposite the old Victoria Infirmary, has been a landmark on Glasgow’s South Side for over a century.

It was opened in 1914, the year the Great War broke out, as a tram shelter, with ornate green and cream tiles on its walls. It escaped demolition in 1990, thanks to a protest petition signed by 1,500 people, and in 1992, when it was still lying derelict, it was bought from the council by restaurateur Marco Giannasi for the nominal sum of £1.

He spent the next two years restoring it, using original materials, and turning it into a continental bistro. “The first task,” says Marco, “was to restore the building, and the second, and more important one, was to see if the business was going to take off and survive.”

The Battlefield Rest opened for business 25 years ago, in October 1994. Since then it has gone on to become one of the city’s best-known bistros, garlanded with numerous awards for its Scots-influenced Italian cuisine.

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The listed building, Marco says with some pride, is the only remaining tram shelter anywhere in the UK.

The bistro’s menu is interesting. The starters on the lunch menu range from fish crepe and haggis polpette (haggis and caramelised onions, rolled in breadcrumbs then fried) to a couple of vegan options - bruschetta verdura and a vegan antipasti.

The a la carte menu’s antipasti starters include a Scottish platter (haggis polpette and smoked ham hock among the many offerings) and prawn & smoked salmon, and crepes Piemontese.

Evening Times:

In terms of mains, the options range from meat, pizza and seafood and pasta. There is also a solid list of mostly Italian wines, red or white.

“We’ve created a fusion of Scottish and Italian over the years. And we’re proud of our many awards. The good thing from our point of view is that after 25 years, and 2,000 more restaurants in Glasgow, we are still being recognised and commended and discovered, which is fantastic.” Pete Irvine has included the Battlefield in his list of 10 best places to eat in Glasgow in his book, Scotland the Best.

“We tend not to do much advertising. The best advertising is word-of-mouth. The customer is our best salesman. The happier they are, the more they like to spread the word.

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“One of the major things we have offered over the years,” Marco adds, “is consistency. Consistency in service, in atmosphere, and not to offer too many surprises. We do, however, change our plates, and we change our decor every two years. You have to keep moving. You can’t stand still.

“Twenty-five years ago we would have very young children who would arrive here in their pram with their parents. These children grew up and became regular customers, and they now arrive here with their own children in prams.

“The South Side is obviously a big area but in some ways it’s like a small community, where everybody knows everybody else. If you’re a good restaurant, people will spread the word. Maintaining that is another task.

“But it also goes the other way,” he adds with a laugh. “If you’re not, the word also goes around.

“I’ve always been honest and fair with our customers. They know what to expect when they come to Battlefield.”

Evening Times:

Two very good reasons for the consistency are the presence of head chef Marino Donati and manager Antonio Cacace, who have worked at the bistro since its very earliest days.

Like many restaurateurs, Marco Giannasi has been quick to react emerging food trends, such as veganism. When he started in 1994 it would have been difficult to foresee that within 25 years it would become so popular.

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“One of the most important things is to listen to customers. They are sending you into another stream and you need to look into it and fulfil their requests as much as we can.”

He also makes a point of offering good wines, not merely “run of the mill” bottles. “Whatever I drink, customers should drink, too.”

Marco recognises that the Battlefield’s very location is one of the key to his success.

“It’s a very visual, very well-known building.

“It’s funny to think that the building was once threatened with demolition,” Marco adds. “We saved it from destruction and now that is paying dividends, because it is a beautiful building that everybody appreciates and admires.”

http://battlefieldrest.co.uk