Restaurant revamped ahead of major anniversary. Dave Hunter reports
CHINESE restaurant Amber Regent has been a fixture in Glasgow city centre for nearly 30 years.
Founded by renowned restaurateur Andy Chung, who previously owned and operated the Amber and Amber Royale restaurants in the city, Amber Regent first opened its doors on West Regent Street in 1988.
The business is now run day-to-day by Andy’s daughters, Christina and Angelina, who felt the eatery deserved a refresh ahead of next year’s three decade milestone.
Working with designer Will Gunn of Glasgow architects firm Wilson & Gunn, the family drew up plans for a facelift that would give the venue a more contemporary look and help to bring in a fresh customer base without alienating its many regulars.
“Our customers are such regulars that everyone was panicking,” Christina told SLTN.
“‘Why are you changing it? We like it like it is!’ But now they’ve seen it they like it.
“We’ve refurbed without changing it too much. It’s just modernising it. You’ve got to bring it into this century to appeal to the younger generation.”
The £150,000 refurbishment, carried out by shopfitter BJM Interiors, was started in late July and took around a fortnight, with the restaurant reopening in mid August.
The biggest single change has been the relocation of the bar, which has moved to the entrance of the restaurant, freeing up the space it previously occupied to be used as a secondary, 40-cover, dining area that can also be hired for functions.
Our customers were panicking. ‘Why are you changing it? We like it like it is!’
The smaller dining room benefits from natural daylight from the arched windows at the front of the building, and features a selection of paintings by Glasgow artist Stuart Vernon.
Windows also help to back-light the new bar gantry in the adjoining room, before the venue opens into the main, 60-seat, dining room.
Here, a selection of Chinese artefacts have been turned into a visual feature along one wall, with light provided by an eastern-style screen window across the room.
A Gunn-designed motif resembling Chinese flowers features throughout the venue, matching the contemporary colour palette of black, grey and white used across the outlet.
That contemporary look was a deliberate design choice to appeal to a younger customer demographic.
“There’s loads of places opening (in Glasgow),” said Christina.
“Hopefully this has regenerated the restaurant and will bring in the younger generation and a different clientele, as well as the clientele that has followed my Dad about.
“They’ve followed him from Amber, to Amber Royale to here.
“There’s a lot of loyalty there.”
And loyalty is nothing to be sniffed at in a city with so many eateries competing for custom.
The dining culture in the city is changing, too, said Christina.
“The style [of dining] changes,” she said.
“Twenty years ago people used to go out on a Saturday and they’d be out for the night. They’d get all dolled up, they’d come here. The prime-time eating would be eight, half eight.
“After the meal they’d sit with coffees, bottles on the table.
“Now the trends have changed. The prime eating time is seven, half seven. They eat and then they go.
“That’s the drinking laws, the smoking laws. Everything has an effect on us.
“Nothing really helps the business. It just makes things more difficult.”
The venue’s physical refurbishment has been matched by an equally sympathetic refresh of its food and drink offers.
Most customers don’t even look at the menu. They just order.
On the food side the menu has been scaled down a little, with firm favourites retained and some new dishes added.
At lunchtime, a set, two-course menu for £10.95 is aimed at shoppers and local office workers.
In contrast to some of the city’s other Asian restaurants, which combine foods from different countries, Amber Regent remains determinedly and traditionally Chinese in its cuisine.
The suppliers have also remained consistent, including Chinese supplier SeeWoo, Andrew Reid Butchers and Glasgow Fruit Market.
“With Chinese, everyone has a favourite,” said Christina.
“I’d say 60% to 70% of my customers come in and don’t look at the menu, they just order.
“So we put a paragraph at the front of the menu that says if there’s an old favourite you have that isn’t in the menu, speak to us and we’ll make it for you.”
Similarly, there are no massive changes on the drinks side of the offer, with the exception of some new, Chinese-themed cocktails such as the Red Lotus (vodka, lychee liqueur and cranberry juice) and the Beijing Bellini (lychee liqueur and prosecco).
Here, too, suppliers have remained steady over the years, with the restaurant enjoying long-standing relationships with Matthew Clark and Alliance Wine.
In essence, then, the project has been about balancing the new with the established, as the owners aim to attract a new generation of customers while retaining their regulars.
If successful, it might just ensure that Amber Regent remains a Glasgow fixture for years to come.