25 Jun 2009
A swish fish eaterie from architect John MacLeod has really come out of its shell, providing a popular haunt for media types and celebs. At a time of dwindling commissions should more architects follow his example?
Working for Simister Monaghan architects through to 1990, MacLeod subsequently chose to go it alone preferring the cut and thrust of self employment to a monthly pay check. This enterprising spirit becomes Òa piece of your life' MacLeod enthuses, for once tasted a return to the nine to five office is difficult to countenance.
This free spirit brought MacLeod to California in 1995 for work on interiors, exhibitions and set design. It was here that MacLeod encountered the Swan Oyster depot in San Francisco, the 40s/50s ambience of the classic American bar and wet fish shop left a lasting impression on the young MacLeod planting the germ of the subsequent idea that now sprouts on Argyle Street: 'There's a vibrancy and atmosphere which keeps pulling you back'.
Recent bar and restaurant work, notably Cafe Zique in Hyndland, finally gave MacLeod the confidence to forge ahead with his own place, a timely diversification that was all planned some way before the current recession hit home. Opened on February 13, 2009 the eatery has taken a subdued approach to publicity - famously not even having a sign in place until recently - preferring instead to let the food do the talking and customers to come a walking.
Pat Moran of Savage Creations was charged with recreating the Golden State's dockside fish venue in Glasgow's west end from the shell of a former shop. The resultant interior is all about maximising the customer experience with a good volumetric space that's built from the ground up with a mezzanine level allowing some 55 covers to be fitted within the snug confines of the strategically placed Finnieston premises.
Adorning the walls are a selection of black and white prints evocative of MacLeod's Hebridean heritage, centrepiece of which is an intricately modelled sailboat referencing his family's nautical pursuits. Materially everything is rustic/modern in natural slate, oak and exposed stone walls, all designed to display an aged quality from the day of opening.
But MacLeod states: 'It's actually about the restaurant rather than the architecture' and here Crab Shakk aims to fill a niche in the restaurant scene by providing an affordable seafood diner that offers somewhat more sophisticated fare than the humble chippie but is shorn of the pretensions of high end fine dining. ÒI'd always fancied providing great affordable Scottish seafood in a buzzing environment', MacLeod enthuses, 'plus it tapped into a few of my interests, namely eating, drinking and talking!'
Glasgow's notorious dietary statistics further stimulated the need for a west coast fish emporium - our island cousins in Japan enjoy some of the highest life expectancy rates in the world at 81 years, in parts of Glasgow it is as low as 54. This disparity is largely attributed to the benefits of healthy eating and with Britain's shores awash with a bounty of fresh fish MacLeod is keen to source from local suppliers.
Juggling two jobs would be a tall order for most but MacLeod is at ease in his dual responsibilities, attributing success to a quality staff role that allows him to concentrate on his day job, with work currently progressing on the Harris Tweed visitor centre on the Isle of Lewis and a new house in Donegal.
If Crab Shakk can enjoy this level of success amidst a severe downturn the world really will be its oyster come the upswing, proving that even in times of recession that opportunities are out there. With layoffs mounting in the architectural sector we may see a growing band of Macleods striking out on their own projects, reaping advantage from adversity.