TO put you right in the picture: let’s say it’s, oh, 8.35pm on a dank, slack, slightly dreary Tuesday night. Garry is on his second pint, I’m idly picking at the last of the Oaxacan roasted peanuts with lime, even though they’re a little burnt-tasting, while considering ordering another round of the pig’s head croquettes.
The waitress has paused just long enough to explain that where we’re actually sitting used to be the wooden booth. That very same booth is now down at the opposite end of this balcony, she says.
And at this, all three of our heads swivel. See that distressed planking lining the wall right there, she adds, it used to be down there in the big bit of the restaurant.
And is that it? I say continuing my theme of what changes the shock-horror pub chain that now owns this place has wrought upon this famous Glasgow institution while I simultaneously watch the couple across from us, behind the waitress, as they slinkily shift their stuff lock, stock and barrel to another table on account of the extractor fan noise – which we know all about because other customers were warned not to sit there.
“Oh no,” comes the answer “the downstairs bar has been completely refurbished. We’ve just re-opened.” Then she’s off onto awnings – and how the staff were asked what they liked and didn’t like during the takeover – and I’m off onto Winston Surfshirt, whose Maybe I’m In Love With You is currently filling the air.
“Couldn’t turn that down, could you?” I ask, nodding towards the speaker in the corner. “Of course,” she says as Garry rolls his eyes wearily.
Later, when we’re ordering desserts – salted caramel mousse with miso fudge malt ice cream (sludgey, good stuff), rhubarb and ginger parfait with toddy ice cream and honeycomb crisp (bit dull), I’ll pause halfway through the process and suddenly ask: “Erm did we get those confit leeks?”
“Jeez-oh,” Garry, will mutter as the poor waitress bolts to the kitchen to check. “First the music, then the planks, now you want your bloody leeks – can you imagine what they’re saying down there?”
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Huh. Two facts here. One: no we didn’t get the confit leeks, smoked furikake, sesame vinaigrette and whipped tofu and, two: when we do get them they’re delicious. Poached yet still textured, the smokey, tangy combo of weird, other-wordly ingredients blending perfectly with the sesame, sour hit.
Easily the best thing eaten tonight, and I say this after a hunk of Borders ox cheek that managed to be succulent without being over glutinous, meaty without being super-beefy and plumped by a sticky, sweet stout caramel.
Now, we had a Trinidad river lime curry, rice and paratha with slow-cooked duck leg. Frankly? Full-flavoured, righteously spiced … OK, the duck leg was clearly plopped on later and nowhere but proper Indian restaurants should ever try a paratha, yet thumbs up for what could be sauce out of a jar – for all we know from the menu.
At £22, the roast pollock (remember when this was a humble fish?) is salted properly, seared correctly and flakes lightly on a semi-artistic scattering of ingredients that includes grapes, fennel, new potato halves and, apparently, shellfish sauce.
I first looked at this plate and thought: yawn. Then totally enjoyed eating it even though that curry across the table constantly winked alluringly at me. I’ve told you about the desserts, which weighed in at £8 and £8.50, incidentally.
I mentioned those good croquettes too. Oh, and there’s a list of local suppliers at the bottom of the menu which is nice to see but probably not, given the history of Stravaigin, quite enough, yet, to reassure diners that normal service has been resumed post-takeover.
And that no corners will be cut. Saying that: we will learn during our meal, and later when we get a tour of the good-looking basement fit-out, that the staff are pretty much unchanged. The chef ditto. And Stravaigin undoubtedly has that same louche, seductive feel it always had.
28 Gibson Street
Menu: Pigs head croquettes, Borders ox cheek, Pollok, Confit Leeks in an interesting menu that given this institution is now owned by a mega pub chain could still work harder to reassure on its Scottishness. 4/5
Service: It’s a big old barn of a place with a lot of ground to cover for the staff which they do with a brisk, efficient charm. 5/5
Atmosphere: Surely one of Glasgow’s nicest dining rooms? Like a comfy old sofa. 4/5
Price: Those peanuts were £3.50, the croquettes £6.50, small plates £8 to £15, our Pollock £22. All fair enough in Glasgow’s West End. 3/5
Food: Loved the Confit leeks, enjoyed the Pollock and even the dangerous-in-a-pub-chain-curry, over all a pleasant meal. 8/10
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