Thursday, June 02, 2016

6 places to eat in Glasgow, one to avoid and one lovely food shop

Bank holiday weekend - why is there a holiday on the last Monday in May? - and the man and I decide on a little trip to Glasgow. By train. Specifically by sleeper. Which given how physically dinky this country  is, what that means is a train that leaves just before midnight that - I think it goes round and round the perimeter of these sceptred isles till just after 6am then chugs into Glasgow Central. It's fun.

Early arrival needs proper breakfast so, after a little googling, I'd found the famous Cafe Gandolfi, close to the station, open from 8, and serving a full Scottish. Gorgeous high ceilinged room, friendly staff and a menu that suggested it takes 30 minutes for a fry up as it was all to be done properly. Looking good. Unfortunately what was eventually served was decidedly underwhelming - a sausage that was warm but a bit cold at one end, bacon so dry it was difficult to chew, a potato scone that was so hard it wasn't possible to cut with the knife, a small sad fried egg and a slice of utterly magnificent Stornaway black pudding. The man had cleverly ordered the black pudding with poached eggs so he ate much better than me!
Met a man in the bar on the train, he recommended the Mussel Inn
After our unimpressive breakfast we had a 2 hour walk around the city, guided by students from the School of Art, looking at a lot of extraordinary architecture loosely connected by Rennie Macintosh and his wife Mary. Really hungry by the time it was finishing, by chance we walked past the Mussel Inn, still serving lunch. Made a mental note of the location and scampered back for brilliant huge bowls of steaming mussels - one with shallots, garlic and cream and one with chilli and coriander, both fabulous. Only mistake was to order a single bowl of chips - the bowl was not large and the chips were amazing. Should have been two...

Dinner was booked a little way out into the burbs to 111 by Nico, a small bistro nestled into an unassuming row of shops with a Spar and laundrette for company. They served wild mushroom soup in an espresso cup as an amuse - like a deep rich hit of the forest, it set the standard high for the meal to come.
loved the ham hough, crisp toastie wrapped shreds of ham served with shreds and small balls of fresh apple and shreds of fennel and just pleasure in every mouthful

the man had smoked mackerel, the oiliness complemented with crisp asparagus and new potatoes, all brought together with an egg in the magic way that eggs have

Mains were only slightly less successful - I had the duck, which came as a few little nuggets of pan fried bits, like yesterdays leftovers, but well served with a trio of green veg all perfectly rendered and sauced. The man was seduced by pork belly, which was a lovely slice of meat but came, oddly, with the listed ricotta and some slices of salami, not sure why. Though the peas and wild garlic were great it didn't quite come together as a dish.

The man, as always, had dessert - coffee creme brûlée with instant coffee. Meh.
A very enjoyable dinner, a definite recommend. 

To Finnieston next day for lunch, more pub than restaurant really, and by 2pm the punters were largely settled with gin and happy chat. The menu is mostly fishy and despite coming across both sides of an A3 sheet the waiter also recites a list of the specific specials, the market fish and soup of the day. Add some complicated additions of sauces and sides for some but not all of the dishes we needed the excellent negroni and scientific gin cocktail to get our heads round it all. I wasn't feeling entirely confident at this point about lunch.
3 with crispy bacon and haggis crumb with whisky mist thinking they'd be local specials but the crumb was more sand and the mist simply evaporates - holiday tragedy. 
They do serve oysters so I ordered 3 plain - which were extremely fine, salty and fresh. The man's scallops with curried parsnip and salty fingers was a definite hit - there's a theme of adding curry notes to a lot of dishes we see round town, and sometimes it works.
Mains were an absolute treat
Salmon fillet with sides of zatar beetroot and just perfect buttered greens had the man grinning with delight. My cod flaked to perfect petals the better to dunk into black olive paste which worked so well with the fennel salad and more chips. Great lunch. Dessert was a luxury version of rice pudding for the man - nothing in the world would convince me to eat it, but hey, he loved it but was defeated by the size. Another recommend, feel like I'm on a roll.

Quick mention for the nearby store, Roots Fruits & Flowers, that sells great food and smells for all the world like an old fashioned health food store. I was expecting something modern and shiny and was delighted with the simplicity we found. Bought lots of treats - bread, smoked salmon, some minute steaks and other bits and pieces to feed us at home for the rest of the weekend, with an enormous Stornaway black pudding  to take home as my holiday memento.

Sunday lunch was at Ox & Finch, a newish gastro pub style restaurant that sees itself as world class but which is really just fine. I don't mind the sharing plates and food delivered whenevs to suit the kitchen - it's the dull explanations that come with it that does my head in. You have been to this kind of place. Started with the seafood cocktail and it was, by any definition, totally amazeballs. Shiny fresh sweet crab and crayfish spiked through with chilli and lime and dotted about with avocado cream it disappeared in a moment. There was griddled asparagus, slightly underdone and a sour back note of old fat, but served with good chunks of tasty sausage and another day another egg. Roasted carrots come with a generous dusting of spice and a scatter of feta chunks. Like it. Slow cooked hogget pulls to easy shreds and comes with bouncy balls of Israeli couscous and middle eastern spicing,
dishes with a debt to Ottolenghi
 The final dish is hangar steak, perfectly tender rosy middle with expertly charred edges the meat is rounded out with a very good blue cheese and, a current favourite of more than just mine, char grilled baby gem lettuce. Oddly on arrival we were told we could have the table till 3,15, giving us an hour and a quarter. Our allowed time up we didn't stay for dessert or coffee or digestif. When we left there was plenty of available tables for the non existent late diners...

Monday was our last day, left our stuff at the station and headed to Hutchesons for another shot at a good fry up, this time in an elegant room. Wow - such a contrast to the first. I was delighted with  properly charred rump steak done medium rare with egg and grilled tomatoes, the fairly ordinary toast is forgivable.  The man LOVED the full Scottish - pudding, sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, home made beans and home fries - which are golden sauté - all of it fresh. With toast. Same price as Gandolfi and a thousand times better.

Enough to get us through a lovely day at the Burrell Collection and a long wander in Pollok Gardens in the spring sunshine and keep us going till the last meal of the trip, fab local Italian at Eusebi Deli. Recognisable to me as the kind of place I ate at as a kid in Wollongong where post war immigrants set up little cafes and community centres serving great pasta and pizza in basically cheerful environments. Loved it.  We shared silky slices of beef carpaccio with a fine dice of tomato and a mighty lump of burrata with a gorgeous aubergine paste with fingers of fresh foccacia - so good the people at the next table needed to know what it was so they could order it next time.

Then we  had pizza of course, with sausage and wild broccoli and malfatti - little ricotta and spinach dumplings, light as air and a treat to eat. The man went for gelato, two scoops of chocolate, enough to finish us off. Serious recommend.