Saturday 16 May 2015

Pickled Ginger - Japanese vibes in Finnieston

Pickled Ginger is the latest new kid on the Finnieston block. Well actually it's about two blocks beyond Nouveau Finnieston proper in a part that is definitely still up and coming, if not downright down and upping. This sushi joint has taken the space vacated by Glasgow's favourite grumpy Italian, Riccardo, who pioneered an Italian eatery in these parts after closing the much missed Espresso. Riccardo is a seasoned professional but even he found it hard tempting people into this part of town.

We ventured down the day after Pickled Ginger's jam packed opening party- the posts were all over Facebook- but the following lunchtime, aside from one person at the bar we had the bright modern space to ourselves.

After comic attempts at pronunciation from both me and the waiter we managed to order two glasses of high end sake, the most expensive on the menu, when not in Tokyo and all that. Good sake is never cheap, it's all about polishing rice and master brewers staying up all night to ensure the rice doesn't get lonely or upset or something during fermentation. Very OCD, very Japanese. So in a shop expect to part with £25+ and in a restaurant, well. Well actually we couldn't part with anything because that particular sake had been polished off at the party, very generous of them, so we went for a mid menu sake at £5 a glass- beautiful elegant tall stemmed glasses which compensated for the measure which was about two gulps worth. Fortunately it was delicious- gummy and refined with hints of dried apricot and blossom- perfectly suited to gentle sipping and almost chilled enough. Fairly priced for good sake but I fear those measures are going to be a hard sell in Glasgow.

The menu is a greatest hits of sushi so we ordered a mixed sushi platter for two to try a few, some tempura and a miso soup. Miso is something that's as easy to make badly as it is to make brilliantly, this one was pretty good. The tempura was delicious.

And the sushi?

Well it was salmon. There were a couple of prawns and two squid nigiri, but mostly it was salmon.

Well made artfully presented very tasty salmon sushi but I was rather hoping for a bit more variety, nothing far out just a wee bit of tuna, clam or eel would have done. Maybe they'd run out of other fish the night before? So I asked why there was so much salmon and got the response, "Oh do you think we should mix it up a bit more?". Err yes, it's called a mixed sushi platter.

The Bill:

2x small sake £10.00
1x Miso soup £3.00
'Mixed' sushi fish £23.50
1x Tempura mixed £8.00

Total including tip: £50 for lunch for two.

Good sushi is never cheap and that's not cheap. The last time I ordered a mixed plate of sushi was in Zushi Puzzle in San Franscisco's Marina District and it cost about the same. There I was served nine different types of fish, some I'd never even heard of, and thanks to the cutting arts of the eccentric looking sushi master Chef Roger each one melted in the mouth.

Pickled Ginger has just opened and I'm sure it'll evolve rapidly in the coming weeks as the opening night hangover subsides. There's a lot to like here and a lot more to try- they have other dishes like noodles and gyoza and some tasty sounding Japanese vibe cocktails- I'm looking forward to visiting again but next time I'll order sushi individually rather than getting the salmon platter.

Pickled Ginger
512 St Vincent Street
0141 328 8941
G3 8XZ

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The deeper the cut the greater the thrill

Really, who doesn't love a bargain? Finding a rock bottom price for something you've actually considered buying at full price before. Today I struck gold, but first let me set the scene.

A few months back I found myself staring rather too long at a bottle of Tesco's own label Hermitage. In fairness I didn't just stare, I also picked it up off the shelf once or twice to read the back label, marvel at the depth of it's punt and generally fondle. The evitable became inevitable and, reflected in the beautifully formed shoulder of the weighty bottle, I saw a security guard lurking a little too close.

"I am not a bloody shoplifter just a man searching desperately inside himself to find a recent life event worth escalating out of all proportion in order to justify spending £21 on a bottle of red wine. One that, according to the back label, will go remarkably well with the reduced price venison I picked up a few aisles earlier. Now, distracted by you, you brute in a suit, I've bottled it, happy now?"

Of course in reality I just put the bottle back and left.

Today I went to Silverburn Shopping Centre. Now there's a sentence I've never written before and will never write again. Anyone wishing to study the end of the capitalist system in action should pop along to witness first hand it's seething mass of cheap and bland. The airport mall where the delayed departure to sophistication is never called.

In an attempt to find something to buy I reverted to form- food or drink or both- and headed into Tesco Extra. It's called that because everything you want to buy is an extra mile away from the check-outs. After a lengthy stroll I found myself at the wine aisle and went straight into bargain hunter mode, scanning the shelves looking for any inconsistencies with price to name, any reduced to clears or, and this is an important hunting ground, anything that isn't priced. I could barely contain my excitement with my first catch, so took a shelfie.

No special colouring on the label, no reduced stickers, just a price £13 lower than last time I'd seen it, what a bargain for a bottle of Hermitage.

Next up, a solitary bottle of classed growth Bordeaux from an excellent vintage on a shelf in the middle of no-where with no price.

Definitely worth a punt so after asking a member of staff to check if there was anymore Hermitage lurking out back, there wasn't, I headed off to the till.

The Haut Bages Liberals wasn't on the system so a member of staff went off to see if she could find the price. After 5 minutes of checks and discussion with others it was decided, since it wasn't listed, they'd let me have it for £4.99, did I want it at that price? Err yes please I said trying not to hug her.

According to my google researches, conducted from an armchair whilst caressing my catches, Haut Bages 2009 is normally £35+ a bottle. Every little helps and 'a lot' really helps, thank you Tesco.

Here's a man from Tesco saying just how good my £4.99 bottle of Haut Bages Liberals is.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Californian myths, mists and pinot noir

My image of California's coast has always been that of a magnate for sunshine and surfers living out their lives in a temperate paradise. This summer I discovered that marketing and pr may once again have gotten the better of me, because whilst nearly every beach can boast surfers, fog was far more prevalent than sun.

Much of the area was almost continually wrapped in a view obscuring temperature plummeting grainy blanket. Occasionally it lifted and we'd race off to a few choice landmark spots... only to discover the reason why.

A local told me that all this fog and wind is to do with the Pacific Ocean being much colder and damper than the dry heat of inland California. Yes that's right, the sea is freezing cold too, something else not mentioned in the brochures, all the surfers I saw sported full wet suits and a very fast walk back to the car. The whole experience reminded me of a childhood weekend spent shivering on Bridlington sands. They get fog there too but I don't think it's anything to do with Yorkshire's hot arid climate.

Well they say every cloud has a sliver lining. The temperature drop afforded by California's fog shroud allows grapes nearer the coast a longer cooler growing season than they'd get further inland. This results in some rather tasty Pinot Noirs like this appropriately named number from Waitrose.

This is an enjoyable pinot from Monterey, lusher and softer than New Zealand versions of the grape. What it lacks their vibrancy and piercing fruit flavours it compensates for by being far more laid back and mellow, how very Californian. It could be accused of being a bit bland but it's a polished wine for the money and makes a good sipper for the gogglebox generation. Turn on, tune in and drop off.

Fog Head Californian Pinot Noir from Waitrose. As I type on offer at £11ish normally £15ish.

Friday 28 November 2014

Sausage Slider Salad

Click on photo for a bigger picture
Anyone witnessing my social media feeds will have found the many fandango creations, particularly around breakfast time, difficult to avoid. I've never really eaten cereal and a hefty dose of Yorkshire blood means an inbuilt hate of waste so breakfast and lunch are always knocked together from whatever's in and whatever's leftover. After many years of trial and error, modesty aside they're all pretty tasty, even the ones that definitely don't look it, but every now and then I hit a real find. Today's lunch was one.

Toasted baguette with a smear of mayo, topped with cold Lincolnshire sausage, cornichons and grated radish on a bed of lambs lettuce with a Dijon based dressing and a few extra slices of sausage and radish thrown to balance the look. As they say on Masterchef, everything came together on this plate. In fact I'd be happy to serve this in my Michelin starred restaurant. The imaginary one that is, whose kitchen I cook in every night.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Bargain Hunter

For marketeers the suggested endorsement of a hunter adds an earthy rustic honest appeal to food and drink and I fall for it every time. I'm always bringing back multiple packets of chasseur sauce from France and, as it bubbles away, like to imagine that the chicken is actually a rabbit snared by me and carried home by one of my hotchpotch pack of chasseur chiens. I'd happily buy a rabbit but it's almost impossible to find them in Glasgow, unlike mice, shame there's not more eating on a mouse.

One thing that I am reasonably proficient at hunting is wine. Cuvée Chasseur from Waitrose has been a bargain for years and it's on top form now. A recent facelift doesn't seem to have gone down too well with the online brigade. I rather like it, although at the risk of appearing in Overheard in Waitrose, I'd say the label says bistro more than chasseur to me.

The grapes are grenache, merlot and 'other local varieties', possibly malbec judging by the taste. This ripe plummy mouthful is quite French in style so works well with food. I can definitely recommend sausages very slowly sautéed till the skins caramelise. I hunted these spicy Italian numbers from Andrew Reid, one of the only original Glasgow butchers left trading in the West End. They are damn fine.

Cuvée Chasseur - £4.99 @ Waitrose

Saturday 7 June 2014

Rioja - great Spanish food in the West End

It was one of those wonderful Glasgow nights when warm air magically weechs up the city and drops it down a thousand miles nearer the equator. Outside chairs and tables suddenly appear from nowhere and as we strolled down Argyle Street even the Chinese takeaway had a fella sitting outside sipping instant coffee whilst waiting on an order. We walked on past Old Salty's and Table 11 where they'd opened vast windows giving that alfresco experience to those eating indoors. By the time we reached Rioja it felt like a holiday.

Rioja was buzzing at 9.15 on Friday evening. We were shown to our table, passing the cocktail drinkers lined up along the bar, by a slick waiter from Spain and most of the other staff seemed Spanish too. The interior is 'wan of they eclectic wans' with mismatched everything, lots of upside down lampshades and a menu chalked up on giant boards... and what a menu. Finally a Glasgow tapas joint where I want to try everything. The three of us ordered three dishes each to share and spent the next hour and a half along with everyone else there eating, drinking and chatting loudly. This place has a great vibe.

Now for the food.

The mussels baked with garlic butter had been separated on to the half shell with a little bit of bread crumb on top and were absolutely delicious.
Padron peppers that came unadvertised with the squid were perfectly griddled with olive oil and sea salt. About one in five of these little green chaps is hot, none of our lot were. The squid was a little overcooked and underseasoned.
The pickled anchovies came in their own little kilner jar and tasted spot on.
If you like ham croquettes Rioja's are a fine enough example, a light crisp exterior giving way to a soft gooey interior, again though they could go a little more seasoning.
The octopus was absolutely superb, grilled till the skin caramelised and sweet as a nut
Then came a real show stopper: slow cooked pigs cheeks with mash and crispy parsnip. A stunning dish where every ingredient worked together lifting the whole to another level. Beautifully textured moist pig cheek, a deeply flavoured unctuous sauce- verging on sweet and sour- yet perfectly balanced, a lick of savoury mash and the crispy sweet sensation of parsnip. Perfection.
After that the poor old oxtail suffered, it was nice enough but just had the misfortune to follow a superstar. The only disappointing dishes were lamb chops which lacked enough flavour to compete with their sweet sauce and the chick pea & cod stew which had a rather tasteless fresh white fish instead of the expected salt cod.

There was a moment half way through dinner when, amid the general buzz and bustle with Spanish being spoken at the next table and thick accents from the waiters, I began to drift with the breeze to warmer climes. So I might have imagined the Spanish easy listening version of Sympathy for the Devil being played, I hope not, it was very good.
Rioja hasn't been open long, it exudes an effortless and unpretentious cool whilst cooking some seriously tasty dishes, I can't wait to go back.

Click here for Rioja's website

1116 Argyle Street
G3 8TD
tel. 0141 334 0761

Rioja on Urbanspoon

Friday 30 May 2014

New Chips for Sauchiehall Street

Last year the sudden and unexpected demise of Mr Chips came as a dreadful shock to the many thousands of Glaswegians who over the years had come to regard this place as their own. A unique and brilliant vision centered around the chip. Attention to detail was everywhere, Mr Chips showed everyone how good chips could be when created in a purpose built environment. Indeed Mr Chips was internationally renowned because it was so more than just a chip shop, this was a place where artists, musicians, revelers, junkies, prostitutes, beggars and even people from the South Side would collide late at night to swap ideas, create new ones and eat chips.

Now from the ashes of Mr Chips springs Pommes Frites, a Belgian style chip shop. Belgium's famous for chips and I'm pleased to report these are damn good, nice crisp exterior with a lovely fluffy inside. They have loads of extra options but no vinegar and the only free salt is Himalayan Pink Salt which struck me as silly but tasted nice enough, although I felt 60p for a squirt of mayo was taking the piss. Other than that at £1.75 a regular portion was good value. It's not Mr Chips but it's a pretty good substitution.

 Goodbye, Mr Chips.

Below: 1981 and Mr Chips in it's original site with Adam Ant fans queuing overnight to get chips.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Cracking 15 year old Speyside Malt : theperfectsip - Batch #1

 Something great this way comes.

Tucked away in a basement underneath the Glasgow Art Club is 'Inverarity One to One'. Anyone with even a passing interest in whisky, bourbon, rum, tequila, wine or cigars should make an effort to search out the shop's basement entrance off Bath Street.
The two knowledgeable enthusiasts who run the place recently selected their first ever batch of whisky from a single cask. Pete Stewart and Andy Bell chose a 15 year old from Carn Mor distilled at Auchroisk Distillery in Speyside (pronounced Arthrusk) and finished in sherry casks.

Batch #1 has a beautiful viscosity and slight haze, clearly no chill filtering here. For me the smell conjures up nuts, woodsmoke, tart tatin and orange oil. On the palate it explodes into a multiplicity of flavours with barley sugar to the fore. An utterly gorgeous dram that's worth every penny and needs snapping up because they only bottled half a cask.

theperfectsip - Batch #1 15 year old Single Malt: £50

Andy and Pete also do some very amusing tasting videos under the banner 'theperfectsip' and will on occasion offer visiting customers a taste of the limelight.

Click here for the Inverarity Website 

And click here for more loads more videos from theperfectsip's YouTube channel

Saturday 17 May 2014

Bez's Beer

I was introduced to these beers by a friend and couldn't help but notice the similarity with the Happy Mondays album art work.

A few days later I popped along to The Cave on Great Western Road to pick up a couple more bottles and Nikki who works there told me that these beers were specially selected by Bez at the Herrnbrau Brewery in Germany. Mind blown.

Surely the Happy Mondays endorsement of anything that can get you wasted is worth something. As it happens Bez has chosen a mighty fine couple of beers, both the beerspotters blonde and wheat manage a simultaneous amalgamation of refreshment and complexity that makes for a really satisfying glass. Nice one, sorted, top buzz.

Here's the Happy Mondays at their absolute finest. Back in the day when everything started with an E.

beerspotters blonde & beerspotters wheat £1.99 a bottle from The Cave, 421/423 Great Western Road, Glasgow.

And click here to visit the Herrnbrau Brewery just like Bez

Sunday 11 May 2014

Perfect red for a sunny day

Tesco's own label Valpolicella only costs £5.49, a total bargain that went brilliantly with lamb and chicken kebabs on Friday. A light easy drinker with refreshing acidity and a pronounced sour cherry flavour. It's good chilled too and only 11% alcohol, so you can drink loads without getting a thick head. What's not to like? Well sour cherries I suppose so don't buy this if you don't like them, apart from that it's simply quaffalicious.

Click here for a link to Tesco's Valpolicella

Saturday 10 May 2014

An Island Adventure... then off to Balmaha for tea & icecream

A suddenly recalled foot injury led to the announcement and it came an hour after I'd planned be heading up Ben Lomond. I'd delayed on the promise of company up a much smaller hill nearby. Then, from a distant room came a question, "Is there a hill in Glasgow?"... "Eh??"..."Well, I just want to practice walking downhill because I think I'll be alright going up but I'm not sure I'll be able to get back down again".

There were several possible reactions here but mostly a sense of couldn't you have perhaps mentioned this an hour ago sprang to mind. Then suddenly, like a subconscious reaction to cushion the shock, a memory of the wonderful Tom Weir's television programme box set flooded into my head. He was walking around an island near Balmaha talking about the Highland Boundary Fault whilst walking through abandoned graveyards. That man could have made a cow pat interesting.

Thanks to Google and a car within the hour we'd boarded the ferry to Inchcailloch and embarked on our adventure. The boat's a beauty built in the 1930s and we had it to ourselves on the way over, for the five minute journey.

The island's beautiful and in early Spring had a serene quality. Bluebells were bursting out and the woodland floor was hoaching with wild garlic. I picked a rucksack full.

There's a well marked path that takes in the highest point (85m), an old graveyard where the Macsomebody's of Macsomething are buried and a pile of stones that it's claimed was once a farmhouse.

More usefully at the far end of the island, looking out towards the National Park's inaugural shopping centre, there's a beautiful beach with picnic benches, 'barbecue facilities' and dread of dreads, a composting toilet.

At the ferry office they'd recommended spending two hours on Inchcailloch, frankly without a picnic that was pushing it, but there's no denying, medieval shit ditch aside, it's a beautiful place.

We returned ashore parched from our adventure and, after bidding our farewells to the ferryman, headed to the latest addition to the Balmaha complex- a cafe to compliment the shop and pub- and what an addition.

From the outside Cafe St Mocha is a bit bizarre. Mismatched furniture and occasional strips of AstroTurf... yes really. But don't be put off. The first sip of my Darjeeling made me sit up straight and start paying attention, it was outstanding.

I saved the tab from the teabag and later discovered 'Jenier' is a tea company based in Renfrewshire that does mail order. Their coffee's from Dear Green roasters in Glasgow, so it'll be good too.

Then came the ice-cream, wow, the pistachio was sublime, tasting of proper pistachio and with a butteryness that can surely only come from nuts. The cherry yogurt ice cream with it was the perfect foil, fruity, clean and refreshing. All served by a young woman who was enthusiastic and well informed. What on earth is happening to the Scottish tourism industry?

Click here for a link to Cafe St Mocha on Instagram.
It's to the left of the village shop by the Oak Tree Inn and opposite the main car park.

Click here for Jenier's World of Teas
And finally a real treat for fellow lovers of old TV programmes where men in bobble hats get to walk about talking shite for half an hour, here's Tom Weir visiting Inchcailloch:

Saturday 25 January 2014

Cupcakery in Finnieston

Why do so many adults gibber on excitedly about cake as if it were an illicit drug? It isn’t. It won’t get you high, result in amazing sex or change the way you see the world. More importantly it shouldn't leave you bankrupt or get you arrested, unless you steal one. So please stop. It's a cake. Just eat it and say “Mmm nice cake” or something... and give me a bit.

‘I’ll wait here’, I said to my scout as she bravely pushed forth. I hovered outside, awkwardly; pretending to be fascinated by status updates on my phone, for longer than anyone witnessing would have been comfortable watching. What held me back was pink. Pink signage, windows framed by pink tissue lights, pink menus and when the sun hit the glitter atop of the cupcakes inside I was almost blinded in a bobby dazzling blaze of the colour. Pink is nature's warning sign to men and anyway, it doesn’t suit my skin colour. What my trusty scout brought out though very much suited me. A Chocolate Peanut Butter Stack made with a dexterously light touch and packed full of sweet peanut creamy goodness. So a few weeks later, with my intended sandwich emporium full, I manned-up, bravely braved my pinkophobia and timidly strolled in.

Steve, who runs the place, isn’t exactly the sort of chap you’d expect to be a purveyor of all things pink. He told me he’d grown up in South Africa, maybe pink was illegal there and this was some sort of Veldt nurtured dream?

The goats cheese, beetroot & honey panini I'd ordered was apparently a recipe from an Indonesian acquaintance of Steve. Although lacking any descernable Indonesian ingredients it was superb. Lightly toasted gently yielding bread, giving way to a lovely creamy goats cheese then a bite from the beetroot all followed by an enveloping wrap of honey and a few tasty seeds for texture. This really worked and came with a decent bit of properly dressed salad and the right amount of crisp interest. There's nothing worse than too few crisps with a sandwich, pure torment.

There are three sweet menus in here. Cake hugging heaven. Everything on the patisserie menu is £2.75 and if my earlier stack sets the general standard, that's a bargain. The Salted Caramel Vanilla Crunch was looking particularly tasty on this visit as were the Ferrero Rocher and Red Velvet Cakes, everything on the cake menu's a mere £2.50 a slice. My very good and refreshingly limey Key Lime Pie came with squirty cream. Squirty cream is hilarious, I didn’t even know they still made this stuff, it's the orginal Ferran/Heston ‘foam’. This one thankfully wasn’t pink and tasted entirely of cinnamon dust. Oh the coffee's good too.

I don't really get cupcakes. Tarted-up pieces of sponge laced with icing and glitter, visually promising so much more than they ever deliver. Lots of people do get cupcakes though and for them this Cupcakery is a place to come. They've got them made from Irn Bru, Cookie Monster, Jaffa Cake, Millionaires Shortbread, Caramac and many, many more. All excellent looking examples of the Cupcaker's art and only £1.85 a pop. There's even a cupcake to drink.

So please go, but for goodness sake don't pretend you're doing something naughty. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, crop rotation and a global economy the developed world can now have it's cake and eat it and it's really not that big a deal.


1024 Argyll Street,
G3 8LX