Diners are stealing the cruet sets from Number 16, according to the proprietor. I say this without wishing to condone such behaviour or, indeed, to draw attention to the fact that items are easily pilferable from this well-liked bistro at the foot of Byres Road. Admittedly, it is a fetching cruet set, a dinky kiln-fired affair, hand-glazed by artisans somewhere in Dumfries and Galloway. It's so fetching, in fact, that sets keep falling into customers' pockets.
This is merely one of the drawbacks of catering for the public. Bizarrely, though, restaurateurs seem to like their customers. On the whole, they say, we're a reasonable and agreeable bunch - except for the boozed up sales reps and the Hyacinth Bucket women who withhold payment because of some tiny, arcane flaw in the meal. They pop up in most restaurants once or twice a week, I’m told. Restaurateurs have a love-hate relationship with them; love because they allow the owners to rehearse their Basil Fawlty impressions, their polite concern morphing gradually into edgy, patronising sarcasm.
The incidence of mild larceny at Number 16 would concern me less, though, if the restaurant didn't appear to be perpetrating some small sleight-of-hand of its own. Long a fixture of this stretch of Partick, the bistro was recently taken over by Joel Pomfret and Gerry Mulholland, both of whom worked there during its previous incarnation. But the reviews and commendations from this era are still on the walls, which is slightly cheeky. They're praising a different restaurant.
Although, to the naked eye, Number 16 Mark 1 and Mark 2 are really similar. The room is identical, a converted shop that is basic, intimate and buzzy, filled out with fairy lights and random, twiggy horticulture. Restaurants in Glasgow are allowed to choose between only two decorative schemes for their walls -fuzzy Manhattan (out-of-focus black-and-white Brooklyn Bridges and taxis) or Rikki Fulton gothic (university towers and Dear Green Place scenery). Number 16 opts for the latter.
There's a touch more show in the menus, though. Previously, Number 16 offered Frenchified wild larder stuff; terrines, prestige chicken and puy lentils with everything. The new Number 16 is similar but a touch tricksier, more demonstrative and out to impress. The lunch and pre-theatre menus are startling value, weighing in at about £10 for two courses.
It was all technically accomplished to a degree that belied the tiny kitchen just visible beyond the till. There was a starter of slow-cooked pork cheeks on herb mash with red wine sauce, the meat a moreish hunk of succulence. Potato and oregano gnocchi with leak cream were evidently home-made and equally indulgent. Shards of five-spiced squid were woven through a sizeable pagoda of greens and shallots on a puddle of Vietnamese dressing.
The mains were a slow-cooked blade of beef, a thick discus of crumbling meat with a potato cake the size and shape of a tent peg; and a sea bream fillet on a salad of haricot beans and lemon oil. Desserts were a dark chocolate and orange tart and a slice of frangipane.
Generally the cooking was observant and sympathetic, the prices and atmosphere were first-rate. Number 16 takes the candlelit bistro format and adds something special. Altogether it takes the reputation of its predecessor and builds on it, presenting a loose-limbed, obliging restaurant that gives reasonable discerning diners exactly what they want. The, though, they remove at their own risk.