At the short end of a cobbled lane, Riverhill Courtyard opened its doors during the cold March of 2014. The Riverhill ’empire’ – the deli in Helensburgh and well-known coffee bar on Glasgow‘s Gordon Street – has expanded from cosy to Courtyard. It’s continental, cosmopolitan, and definitely more city than quiet Argyll town.
Peeled back to the beautiful terracotta bricks, the roof supported by duck-egg blue wooden ribs, the Courtyard is the breathing space to the Glasgow deli’s snug hub. Two years ago, we curiously asked about the renovation project (which took ‘eight months!’ says owner Eva, not quite the easy job Facebook made it appear). Now, we’re back; the atmosphere past the wooden doors is still positive, humming with weekend foodies and absorbed staff.
This time, we’re here for lunch. Back for a short stay in the town where I went to school, we’re keen to tick off a few of the Helensburgh sights: the Hill House and Dino’s, if we can squeeze an ice cream in. We are given both breakfast and lunch menus (breakfast is served all day — the dream, right?). The lunch offerings feature a range of sandwiches (chicken shawarma for example, an established favourite in both the deli and city coffee bar) along with snacks, small plates and daily specials. It’s like the Glasgow deli on steroids. Only the cakes have taken a hit (there’s a smaller selection. But they’re still just as gigantic.)
Eva talks us through the specials, and as soon as she describes the mac and cheese with truffle oil, I know exactly what B is going to opt for. I decide on the famous spiced chicken shawarma with flatbread and slaw. As we wait, laughter from the adjacent tables and the general buzz of a restaurant at lunchtime fill our ears. The Courtyard doesn’t remind me of any restaurant I knew in Helensburgh as a youngster. Rather, it reminds me of a more refined Hillhead Bookclub in Glasgow’s West End. Somewhere like this is far overdue for this former bustling, seaside town.
The mac ‘n’ cheese is set down on the table with a promising ‘thud’. Inside a heavy iron pan, the creamy sauce is set off by a crunchy parmesan crust and the pop of fresh garden peas. I can’t help my arm leaning over my plate and stealing some mouthfuls of pasta, it’s that good. And as for my chicken shawarma wrap, the flavours are as delicious as I remember: sumac red onions, tahini mayonnaise and that chewy flatbread just finishes me off.
After relaxing in our seats — with no rush to leave — we pay and depart. The cobbled lane, Eva told us years before, was hidden underneath modern tarmac. Detected and uncovered, it was a rather serendipitous unearthing. I can’t help feeling that anyone else wandering the stony path towards the Courtyard will themselves make a rather delicious discovery.
How to get there: 26 West Princess Street, G84 8TD Helensburgh, 01436 676730