Balearic beach bars inspire new eatery

From the crisp blue and white colour scheme, lanterns and driftwood to the grilled seafood, selection of Albarino and Rioja wines and chilled-out Balearic background music – recently-opened Glasgow restaurant Isleña has drawn much of its inspiration from Spain.

But owner Darren Scott, who also owns wine bar Boudoir, is quick to stress that it’s no themed restaurant.

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Eating at the bar has proved popular since Isleña opened last month, according to Darren.

Instead, he has adopted a subtle approach to incorporate references to northern Spain and the Balearic islands – and their ‘chiringuito’ beach bars and restaurants – in both the decor and offer at the Bell Street eatery, which launched last month.

Isleña (which means islander) couldn’t be more different to its “dark and sultry” sister outlet on the corner of Candleriggs and Bell Street, just one block away.

The proximity of the two outlets dictated the need for Isleña to be distinctly different.

But, for Darren, the concept was about more than that; it stemmed from his time running bars and restaurants on the Spanish islands, including Ibiza.

It also made good business sense.

“I wanted to do something food-driven,” said Darren, who was GM at Metropolitan on Candleriggs before launching Boudoir four and a half years ago.

“Boudoir does great meat platters and cheese boards but we don’t have the space to do a full menu.

“Every day we send a lot of customers from Boudoir to other restaurants in the area.

“I had had the concept for Isleña in my head for a while and I was also keen to do another Boudoir outwith the Merchant City. It was a toss up between the two depending on the site.”

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The use of different styles of furniture has created several distinct areas within Isleña.

Finding a site was to take time, however; and it was late last year before Darren secured the lease for the former Central Market premises.

That the unit is just one block away from Boudoir sealed what was to become its new identity.

Darren traded the outlet as it was over the festive period and early part of this year before closing in mid-April to bring his Isleña concept to life.

The corner unit, which features floor-to-ceiling windows, lent itself well to the “bright and breezy” interior he had in mind.

Darren again turned to Ian Graham of design firm Platform 9, who worked on Boudoir’s interior, to “put all the ideas that were in my head onto paper”.

Through the use of different styles of furniture, the 52-cover venue has been ‘split’ into distinct areas.

The ground-floor space features a private dining area with a bespoke wooden table and bench-style seating, which can be curtained off; there’s a high chef’s table in front of the open kitchen; and a lounge-style area featuring white sofas and armchairs and a low-slung table.

Meanwhile, a larger round table and chairs occupies the corner window space; and high tables and chairs run along the windows on the other side of the outlet opposite a number of high chairs set at the bar.

Upstairs, the mezzanine level can accommodate 24 diners at tables topped with white marble.

Nods to Isleña’s Spanish beach bar inspiration feature throughout, from the blue sails suspended from the ceiling and lanterns filled with sand and shells to the whitewashed wooden furniture.

“The interior has a Spanish influence rather than a theme; it’s not gimmicky,” said Darren.

“‘Subtly Spanish dining’ is the tagline we’re using; it’s not a themed tapas restaurant and the interior had to reflect that.

“To convey that without it being gimmicky is a fine line and I’m proud we’ve pulled that off.

“I think it feels like something different when you walk in.”

It’s not just the decor that has drawn on the chiringuito beach bars and restaurants of Spain and her islands for inspiration.

Isleña’s food has a distinctly Spanish flavour, from the breakfast menu, which features dishes like eggs España; to the bocadillos, with fillings such as seared tuna, salsa verde
and aioli, and dry-cured chorizo, tomato and Manchego; through to the main menu, which is split into three sections – fish and seafood, vegetables and cheese, and meats – and whose dishes include salt baked sea bream, seafood rice and Iberica pluma steak.

Around 85% of the produce used is Scottish; head chef Jamie Donald and his brigade take a Spanish approach to cooking it; and dishes are served in a Spanish style.

“The food is very Spanish; it’s simple and clean – things like grilled fish and meat,” said Darren.

“It’s also served simply. If you order the salt baked sea bream you’ll get the sea bream and lemon on the plate – that’s it; the steak is served simply with just the steak and some rocket on the plate.

“The dishes all look beautiful; the simple style with clean, minimalist plates is the way I served food in Ibiza.”

The 40-strong wine list also has a Spanish bias.

Sourced from Alexander Wines and Inverarity Morton, the range features a selection of Albarinos and Riojas alongside a Pansa Blanca from Barcelona, Blanc de Blancs from Mallorca and a Tempranillo from Castilla.

There’s also a selection of whites and reds from South Africa, chosen because they match the simple, clean style of food.

The wines complete an offer which Darren said has been well-received in the weeks since Isleña opened.

“The feedback so far has been excellent,” he said.

“I’ve had the ideas for this place in my head for so long and it’s great to finally see them brought to life.

“When I opened Boudoir, my inspiration for it was a bar I had in Italy and Isleña was inspired by my time in Spain and the Balearics; the two are very different but they have the same professional and friendly standard of service that is our signature.

“Like Boudoir, Isleña is personal to me.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. I think we’ve done something different.”