It’s the plaice to be in Aberdeen.
And ever since it opened its doors in 1985, the Ashvale has cast its net wide in attracting some very big fish from showbusiness, politics and sport to sample its suppers.
The list – which ranges from Mel Gibson and Gregor Fisher to Sir Elton John and Lewis Capaldi and Annie Lennox to Denis Law – testifies how this Granite City locale has become one of the most famous restaurants in the whole of the north-east.
There was the time when operations manager, Stuart Devine tried to deliver some food to the former Prime Minister, John Major, and nearly sparked a diplomatic incident.
And another occasion where the master of illusion, Paul Daniels, parked his swanky Rolls on the kerb and waltzed into the premises with future Strictly star Debbie McGee.
Throughout the decades, there has been no shortage of Devine inspiration from the man who was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List in 2014.
And he gave us a trip down memory lane as he remembered the myriad stars who have tasted his company’s wares.
‘Gregor is always a gentleman when he comes here’
Mr Devine said: “Over the years, we have seen many famous faces from music, sport, stage and politics.
“Rab C Nesbitt actor Gregor Fisher was one of my favourites.
“He would come in for his supper before every show he had at The Capitol and he was actually quite a shy person.
“So he loved the Ashvale, because we would always go about serving his fish and chips without any fuss.
“The only problem was, of course, trying to hide him from the rest of the customers as he sat there with his thick stubble, which was the only way we all could identify Rab C!
“Later on, we employed his son when he went to university in Aberdeen and Gregor would always come to visit and never left without half-a-dozen mealie puddings in his pocket.”
The football connection with the Ashvale
Mr Devine said some of the leading stars who have come to the fish and chip shop include Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Liam Brady.
“And we have welcomed many players, management and directors of Aberdeen FC and still enjoy the company of chairman Dave Cormack and manager Derek McInnes,” he said.
“On one visit, a few years ago, he was meeting a face that I recognised, but to whom I couldn’t quite put a name.
“I quizzed one of the lads cooking in the kitchen who identified him as Scottish international Barry Robson.
“Before long, the news of their secret meeting was out and rumours were rife around the city of his imminent arrival.
“I had let the cat out of the bag. In a later interview, Barry laughed at how he knew he was in the right place to enhance his career when he signed up over an Ashvale fish supper.”
A magical arrival and no red herrings on the menu
Mr Devine also recalled one of the more flamboyant entrances at the Ashvale back in the late 1980s.
He said: “In the early days, we found ourselves serving the late Paul Daniels and his lovely wife Debbie McGee.
“But it wasn’t too easy to keep these two under wraps as they turned up in a bright red Rolls-Royce.
“It also displayed the registration plate MAGIC, which created a lot of interest.
“But again, they were very nice customers.”
The recipe for a Major story in politics…
Mr Devine has rubbed shoulders with many figures from the world of ballot boxes and party manifestos, including former first ministers Alex Salmond and Jack McConnell, and a string of members of the House of Lords, including Sir Menzies Campbell and Lord Nicol Steven.
However, he found himself skating on thin ice while carrying out what he imagined was a routine assignment.
He explained: “One episode that went terribly wrong was when I was delivering 100 fish suppers to the (old) AECC for the former PM John Major.
“I thought I was being very conscientious as I sped towards the venue, but suddenly I was stopped by what could only be described as half of Grampian Police.
“One officer asked: ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
“I replied, in a polite but slightly cheeky young tone: ‘Oh, I’ve to go straight to the front door with the PM’s supper’.
“At which point, I was ordered to open my boot – there were no fancy vans in those days – and the great whiff of fish and chips greeted the officer and I was sent on my way.
“The next day, I featured across the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the headline: ‘Major’s Fish Suppers go Down a Bomb’.
“They obviously suspected I was arriving with a bomb.”
Showbiz stars have relished their Ashvale experiences
There has been no shortage of support for the restaurant from the world of music and the stage with visitors including Aberdeen-born Annie Lennox and Elaine C Smith who has made a habit of travelling up from the central belt with her “lovely mother just to give her a treat”.
Su Pollard, Gerard Kelly, Buff Hardie, Fairground Attraction and Runrig’s Donnie Munro have also dined at the Ashvale.
Mr Devine said: “Mel Gibson was here while he was in the north-east filming Hamlet (with renowned director Franco Zeffirelli in 1990).
“He was a very nice guy, but again, he was served his fish and chips with as little a fuss as at all possible.”
And, more recently, suppers have been delivered to the stage of the P&J Live for Sir Elton John, Sir Rod Stewart and Lewis Capaldi, the latter of which became an Instagram sensation.
The joy of meeting the Lawman’s order
There’s no denying the eclectic appeal of the Ashvale and how it has drawn people from all ages and backgrounds.
But Mr Devine has been thrilled at having the opportunity to entertain one of his most revered sporting heroes.
He said: “I save the best for last. Our very own Denis Law visits us on every occasion he returns to his home city.
The Lawman, great customer, true gentleman, great Ambassador, loves an Ashvale pic.twitter.com/kb3zcN24Y2
— The Ashvale (@stuartdevine) November 23, 2017
“Denis is a total delight, he is a very simple man to look after, he wants haddock, a few chips and a pint of lager.
“His family and friends often visit with him and they are all as truly nice as the great man himself.
“Again, we ensure he has his privacy but he openly chats to fellow customers and will help out in any way he can.
“On one visit, I talked him into drawing the raffle for one of my fundraising nights, and although it cost me a fish supper – he is an Aberdonian after all – it was wonderful to see the surprise and delight on the fundraisers’ faces.
“There was one young girl who was reduced to tears despite not knowing who Denis Law, but just knowing this was one of those special moments.”
Dons chairman reveals secret single sausage treat
If Mr Devine has been grateful to the Aberdeen public for their support over the years, the chief of his favourite football team was equally effusive in reply.
Chairman Dave Cormack said this week: “The Ashvale is an institution in Aberdeen and it has long been a favourite with the fans, the players and the directors of AFC.
“Having a fish supper from the Ashvale – and maybe a single sausage as well – is one of my guilty pleasures when I am back home and it’s often a craving when I am in Atlanta.
“Stuart’s a life-long Dons fan and he has always been a great supporter of the club.”