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Ghez Ken

The man behind Malmaisons, Ken McCulloch, talks to Jonathan Trew about his most recent enterprises.

Ken McCulloch has come a long way since his first job in the hospitality trade when his day would start in the kitchens of a British Transport Hotel with the unenviable task of cleaning two dozen chickens and a dozen ducks. Last year he was awarded Hotelier of the Year for his achievements with the luxurious One Devonshire Gardens and today he is sitting in one of the suites of his latest venture, the funky Malmaisons hotel in Glasgow. McCulloch describes himself as a ‘very proud Glaswegian’. When he first struck out on his own in 1976 with the cocktail bar, Charlie Parker’s Glasgow had the reputation as being a place where ‘you went to get your throat cut and then we started to do a lot more sophisticated things. I suppose l’m responsible for about a dozen things in town.‘ The ‘dozen things’ reads like a guide to the most stylish places to eat

. and drink in Glasgow over the last

eighteen years The Rogano, The Buttery, Srnith’s, The Drum and

‘You make sure that you do the best prawn cocktail and it turns out that it’s our biggest seller.’

Monkey, Times Square, to name a few. McCulloch puts his success down to the market being ready for his style of restaurant and also down to a determination to change people’s preconceptions of Glasgow. ‘1 could just imagine a world traveller looking at his list “Monday is Paris, Tuesday is Brussels, Wednesday is London, Thursday is Glasgow, Oh God!” I wanted to try and change that and work it to an advantage and offer something unexpected.’

Despite being a Glaswegian born and bred, McCulloch refuses to be drawn into any form of weary East/West coast rivalry seeing each city as a distinct entity with their own identities, diversity which should be encouraged but put to the national good. ‘l’m glad that there are big differences,’ he explains. ‘Scotland has got to look at itself in the world context and the more you travel the more you realise that. In tourism terms we are a product and what we should be doing is working at our pr'oduct a lot more. That’s what I do.’

Taking the theme of individual identity to heart, McCulloch opened up two new hotels this year working to the plan of ‘independent hotels for

individual people‘. The Malmaisons hotels in Glasgow and Edinburgh certainly offer individuality the Glasgow building was formerly a church and the Edinburgh edifice used to be a seamans’ mission. Both are large, imposing, sandstone structures that stand out from their immediate environs. The design of the Edinburgh hotel is such that as you move from the bar to the reception to the restaurant the mood and atmosphere change subtly. The warm tones of the reception welcome people in while the booths and dark wood of the bar impart a certain intimacy.

Back in Glasgow huge studded doors lead into the striking reception ofthe lobby and from there guests are led up to their rooms passing by an ornate

""le .fi


balustrade which was fashioned by a young. Scottish designer Andy Scott, who took the idea from paintings in the original Malmaisons. the residence of Napoleon's wife Josephine. McCulloch has drawn upon the wealth oftalent available in Scotland for much ofthe fittings and fixtures in the hotels and the end results are fresh. modern and functional. Luxury hotels have a tendency to be staid and old-fashioned in design, harking back to a bygone opulence. The Malmaisons are luxurious yet forward-looking and fun. The heart and soul, not to mention the stomach, of any hotel is its restaurant and it’s here that McCulloch indulges his guests culinary fantasies. He has resurrected traditional, filling dishes such as liver and bacon, roasted cod,

94 The List 4—17 November 1994