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.
Last night I popped out to get a few ingredients for dinner.
First stop my local independent Asian supermarket for coarse bulgar wheat. I often shop here, they sell top notch basmati rice for a fraction of any supermarket price, very cheap vegetables and all the spices anyone could ever need. Familiarity and all that but I don’t think I’ve ever known what it’s called, anyway they only had fine bulgar and that was a year out of date.
So I headed along to an independently owned Middle Eastern deli, El Baraka, just down the road, they had it, in date and 99p for masses. Madhur Jaffrey’s Bulgar wheat and pea pilaff in case you were wondering. It’s a stunner.
After that wandered over Kelvinbridge to a local independent fruit and veg place. On the way I passed the new mini Tesco that opened that had opened in the morning with protestors outside apparently. It was just after 5pm, through the vast spanking clean glass blazed a dazzling array of newness and the place was mobbed. I carried on.
In Roots & Fruits I picked up a kilo of rather handsome looking vine tomatoes for 1.99 a kilo, a fraction of the cost at any supermarket. However, their courgettes were rather huge in size and price at 3.50 a kilo, so I left them.
Onwards up Great Western Road, a quick stare through the widow of the local independent fishmonger, Fantoosh Fish, revealed nothing particularly appealing, in fairness it was the end of the day, so I carried on to Waitrose.
Here courgettes were 2.50 a kilo and a nice bit of hake from South Africa was reduced to 9.99 a kilo. Marine Steward approved, presumably not climate approved .
The car rolled in across an ancient fertile landscape with oats and barley ripening on the warm breeze. We passed through empty village after village undulating away towards our goal. From an otherwise empty school playground well dressed scarecrow children stared out from the trees and posts to which they'd been roped and I'd swear I heard them whispering, "Welcome to The Black Isle".
It's a wonderful name isn't it? Conjuring up sorcery
and pirates galore. Yet like Harris it isn't an island at all but a
butt of land adjoined to a larger proper isle, in this case Britain. We were visiting friends in Jemimaville, another name I'd conjured with that turned out to be a pretty row of houses with the sea lapping gently at their backs and the UK's smallest Post Office whose other claim to fame is that it doesn't bare the name of the postal district that it sits in. Oh and there's the scar, make sure they show you if you go, where many years before someone cut their way in to fill their boots with gummy envelopes, sellotape and stamps.
Actually you won't need to ask, they'll show you, because round these parts there's a definite sense that people are very busy talking about anything other than 'the thing' that no-one dares to mention. Nobody could recall what happened to the Postal thief, or so they said. There's a genteel haunting on this Isle that's not an isle, a constant wind-chime
too high pitched for human ears but penetrating the subconscious.
After meeting up we headed off to Cromarty accompanied by a mishmash of the sort of people who board buses in Scotland's rural parts. The northern English mother with too many kids and too much shopping, excited teenagers texting to find out which bus stop they're all hanging in tonight, the token genuine local whose accent sounds like part of Cromwell's army visited and never left and of course us, the weirdos.
Cromarty lies across it's Firth from Invergorden where the mighty British Fleet would put ashore when such a thing existed. It's also where the last mass mutiny of Royal Navy sailors took place in 1931. Nowadays it's the place where oil rigs come to die and their skeletal remains loom large.
The town itself is film set beautiful, 18th century Caribbean, honestly, when Disney make Jack Sparrow XV they need look no further. The architecture appears influenced by trade. Centuries ago Scotland's east coast sea towns specialised in different products and consequently traded with different countries across the North Sea, some villages separated by no more than a burn developed different dialects or 'doric' as a result. I'd guess the Dutch weren't strangers here.
Thankfully it was Italy not Holland that influenced the menu at Sutor Creek. Particularly on Mondays and Tuesdays when chef's not in and all they serve is pizza from the wood fired oven. What an eminently sensible idea, if only more restaurants would do the same.
A young enthusiastic team delivered pizzas, wine and lovely Black Isle beer as we munched and watched ships slip by. The crayfish, spicy sausage, ricotta and coriander was particularly impressive, the ricotta tasted so good and fresh it might have been local, I forgot to ask.
We wandered off for a pint beside the Firth then through the town itself as darkness fell. The sound of singing drifted out among the streets, apparently our waitress now home
and practicing for the town's next opera. The Black Isle is a magical
Blogging's been boring me a bit of late always feeling like it needed something new. Finally something's come along that makes me want to do it again.
Vine and Instagram offer an exciting new addition to anyone with a food and drink blog. The constraint of time, with Vine a measly 7 seconds, forces creative thinking on how to convey information and best of all, it stops people boring the arse of viewers.
Here's my fist attempt at a Vine tasting. The sound defaults to mute, no bad thing since it loops, but a click in the left hand corner gets it back.
I'm going out on a limb here and realise the inevitable danger that others may visit the 78 when the potatoes aren't the same variety, a different person's cooking or the oil's a bit older and colder. Well if that happens hard cheese, today in the blazing sunshine with the mercury hitting 14c, these were as fine as the finest chips I've eaten. What's more I wasn't drunk and my chip tasting record's impeccable because many years ago when Heston was just a village north of Hounslow, I was among the first to try the thrice cooked chips of a budding young chef named after it.
Blumenthal's, finished in fat rendered from calves kidneys, are impressive, unfortunately they were to change the face of restaurant chippage forever. Chips began suffering the fate of those who consume them and nowadays the 'chips' in many Glasgow restaurants look more like roast potatoes. Not here. Today these little skin-on blighters were sublime. A perfect tempura light crisp outside yielding to fluffy taste packed potato inside. Cut as chips not fries and definitely not 'thick'. Chip perfection for £2.50.
Other than good potatoes I've no idea if they're employing any special chip technique, they definitely didn't use veal kidney fat though because the 78's a vegan. Lack of animals didn't hinder the delicious Quesadillas or the tasty Ras el-hanout roast sweet potato wrap either. One slight caveat, all the beans, nuts and pulses that took the place of meat made this food seriously filling, six hours later and I'm still stuffed. For the myriad students living nearby that's probably a bonus, especially on Tuesday's when they get 25% off. What a bargain.
Panevino, bread and wine, two of the greatest achievements of western civilisation and two of my favourite things yet until last night I'd never been in. Outside the menu read well, peeping through the window all I could see was a chichi sea of marble and polished metal. Italian bling is no doubt still the rage in Newlands and Newton Mearns but it's totally incongruous amid Finnieston's seething mass of piercings, tattoos and fixed gear bikes. This is Glasgow's wanna be Dalston that ended up Potlandia, here everyone believes they've at least one good pop-up in them.
Anyway, last night we were booked in for a spot of total immersion theatre in an empty warehouse above a fishmonger, as you do in Finnieston, but completely forgot to book anywhere for dinner. Numerous phone calls, a few of which were actually answered, resulted in the conclusion that since it was 12 degrees centigrade, sunny and Friday the entire city had
decided come out to eat, drink and kid-on they live in a proper
climate. Suddenly I remembered Panevino and we were in.
It's a funny thing getting in somewhere after trying everywhere else. Initially it's elation but by the time the phone call's finished you start thinking, 'Hmm, why did they have a table when nobody else did?'. I needn't have worried, the answer was 'because they could be arsed', the place was mobbed and they'd made an effort to squeeze us in.
The menu's full of things I like eating at this time of year. There's various nibbles- hams, salamis, cheeses- as well as more substantial dishes. If you get there before 6pm they do Aperitivo where for £5 you get a drink and a selection of nibbles 'of the day'.
We started with grilled then marinated vegetables, all £2 a dish and enough for three of us to have a bit. We went for courgettes, aubergines, artichokes, all good, fabulous little red peppers stuffed with tuna and a couple of cheeses, the one with Barolo wine was delicious. Bread's £1.60 a basket and nice enough.
For mains the beetroot risotto looked brilliant and tasted good, beetroot and parmesan go together really well. Proper risotto needs to be cooked to order, that takes at least 25 minutes with pretty much constant attention, something most restaurants can't do. Here they'd managed to retain a bit of bite to the rice.
If bread and wine are western civilisations greatest achievements then Linguine alle Vongole must surely be one of Italy's. It's a relatively straightforward dish that's almost impossible to find well executed. Panevino's last night was the best I've had in Glasgow and by quite some way. Throughout the short time it took to devour the al dente linguine, swirling mass of surf clams and perfectly integrated garlicky sauce I didn't say a word. Rarely does a craving get satiated so well for £10.50.
The wine list's excellent and there's over 30 by the glass. We drank a superb bottle of Sardinian Vermentino, so good it tasted like a bargain at £22.40. There's plenty of good looking bottles for less than that. Frustratingly they don't put their wine list online, that's a real shame because it makes for good browsing.
We finished with a couple of very good espressos, just £1.40 each, before wandering off to the warehouse where we spent the next hour atop penny farthings, peddling away, staring into a Victorian camera at beautifully crafted miniature worlds whilst someone whispered in our ears. I love Finnieston.
I've been coming here for longer than I care to remember. It was still a militant vegan place when I first rolled through the door and judging by the reception I'd say they could smell the meat on me. They're much friendlier these days and it has one of the best things going for it of any Glasgow restaurant, BYOB with no corkage charge. How good is that? Instead of paying the bare minimum 300% mark-up everywhere else, you get to drink a bottle of wine worth what you paid for it.
Well, I paid exactly nothing for this Chablis. One of two bottles sent as part of a Bloggers Competition to show how many different types of food Chablis compliments. The prize is a weekend for two in Chablis though I suspect given what I'm about to write there's no rush to look out the passports.
First up was a 'plenty to share' vegetarian platter. It comes with their delicious homemade baba ganoush, hummus and the other very good reason to visit The Bay Tree, their falafels. These are not just any falafels, these are the first falafels I ate and thought, right I get it now. They're gently spiced and there's a moreish tension between the crisp coating and the crumbly almost too dry interior that makes you keep dipping in the hummus. At £8.95 this dish makes a great starter for two and has this cafe's food hallmark, total freshness.
As for the wine, well strictly speaking it's a 'Petit Chablis', made from grapes grown on soil not considered good enough for true Chablis. The label said it'll be on sale in Marks and Spencer for '£7.5', good luck with that. It's one of the sharpest most searingly acidic wines I've encountered recently, only improving slightly as it warmed up. On the plus side we both swore our teeth were much whiter half way down the first glass.
We persevered with it into the mains. Juje Chicken kebab (£10.95) was as perfectly chargrilled and as delicious as ever, the Perisan Naan
it came with was a bit stodgier than usual, more paratha in style. Turkish Potato Chaps (£8ish), great name 'Chaps' isn't it? Mashed potato encasing minced lamb and again always beautifully, gently spiced. Unfortunately these three were burnt, two at the edges one to a crisp all over. It's really annoying when restaurants send out burnt food, people aren't stupid, they know it's burnt, what they're left wondering is why it came to their table? The really burnt Chap was replaced, the others had to be eaten around.
As a palate cleanser the Chablis worked a treat, if it hadn't been -10c outside the thought of it as a sorbet could have appealed. In the end we popped the cork back on deciding the only thing that wine is ever going to compliment is oysters.
As for The Baytree Cafe, well, Chapgate aside, this place is remarkable value. We sat for the best part of an hour after dinner sipping a much more agreeable bottle of Fairtrade Bonarda Shiraz (on offer @ £3.99 Co-op) without ordering anything else from the menu and the waitress continued to be as friendly as ever. Eight of us were in here towards the end of last year, running out to the The Cave and Co-op for extras, and the bill came back at £15 a head. Remarkable. You can even smoke a hookah outside with your coffee if you're that way inclined.
Some of the best fun to be had of a weekday evening is to be found lurking behind an uninviting basement door on Bath Street. Trust me on this one.
Last Thursday it was a cigar tasting.
A few weeks before a lot of Tequila went the same way.
Tequila and cigars are not substances I knew much about until the end of their respective nights.
Because here's the real joy, this isn't just drinking this is education. Yes, you get to tell colleagues you're off to a class and it's not a lie.
Well I got my education and can happily report that course 'lecturers' Andy and Pete just keep getting better and better.
Let's face it these are the subjects that just keep on giving.
You learn, drink, laugh and meet some very interesting people all for around £20. Oh, and lectures take place in a bloody good wine, whisky and cigar emporium allowing students to stock up on essential course work before slipping off into the night.
More than any other supermarket Sainsbury's seems to me to have lost it's way with the fruits of the grape. It's the only supermarket I visit regularly without buying wine. God knows I try, scanning their dreadful uniform lines of badly branded dross and suspect half price offers, but I hardly ever buy.
Tonight I didn't have time to go anywhere else and anyway, being in Drumchapel there wasn't anywhere else. So I bought the badly labelled Marques de Montino Rioja for £4.60 ish on offer, normally it's a wee bit more.
It's delicious. Lovely strawberry fruit that feels so good in the mouth with a nice refreshing acidity that makes it very moorish. Tonight it'll be washing down bargain veal chops, because the reason I visit Sainsbury's at all these days is the spectacular meat and fish bargains lurking in their fridges... last week a kilo of cod loin for £1.25!! Feel the deal.
Just been to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi. A remarkable film about one man and his obsessive compulsion to become the greatest Shokunin that ever was. Jiro, now in his 85th year and still working every day, succeeded a couple of years ago when Michelin awarded him 3 stars. His only concession to, well anything other than his own pursuit, was when after a heart attack in Tokyo Fish Market aged 70 he decided to let his son buy the fish. His son, now 50, still waits for his father to retire or expire. Aside from an acute case of OCD it transpires the workaholic Jiro was abandoned by his parents aged 9, had a 'brushed over' spell in the army during WW2, a wife we never meet and a brilliantly wry sense of humour. As well as taking sushi to a level many believe will never be reached again, Jiro has elevated it's service to intimate and occasionally comic theatre. The film is a wonderful portrait of the inevitable flaws that accompany those who choose the pursuit of genius.
For once we'd forward planned and headed straight out the GFT down Sauchiehall Street towards Nanakusa at a brisk pace. I've loved Nanakusa since it opened. It does what it does well and has that remarkably elusive trait in a Glasgow restaurant, consistency. It's been a while since I've been and it didn't disappoint. Although I don't know for sure I'm pretty certain none of the chefs here spent 10 years massaging an octopus before being allowed to cook an egg. Yes, that's how long you spend being apprenticed to Jiro.
My octopus was bland and boring, but it was the only disappointment in the Chirashi dish. The prawn was tasty, the tuna and salmon, both raw, were delicious, the marinated mackerel superb and the warm steamed sushi rice below excellent. It cost £13.50 which felt about right. Fellow diners made good noises about the Spicy Niku Noodle Soup and some of the sushi, the avocado one was unfortunately hard.
To start we'd nibbled on tempura vegetables and deep fried squid. Both excellent, the tempura, squid and soft shell crab has always been outstanding here. Crisp, clean and not a hint of oil. Just hope they can keep it up for another 50 years.
Blink and you'll miss it, which is exactly what I did the last time I came to meet someone at Cocktail and Burger's previous incarnation Republic Bier Hof. Missing this place would be a big mistake. The doorway's tucked in between various eateries on Glasgow's nite spot strip and there's a sense of adventure from the moment you head down the stairs.
After taking the plunge I'd expected something reminiscent of a Lower East Side dive bar, a riot of graffiti and post punk noize. What actually greeted us was verging on the too nice, booths, low lighting, urban muzak and a fake library on the way to the gents. Yes, a fake library, it's the oddest thing, the only books are those on the wallpaper.
Following a bout of midweek indecisiveness, during which one order was almost Beer and Hotdog - perhaps a future sister venue - we all decided to play along and went for cocktails. My tequila mojito was delicious, really well made and only £4.50.
Looking for something to accompany the cocktails 'Oban Popcorn Mussels' screamed out from the snack section of the menu. They turned out to be one of my favourite new nibbles of the year. Inside a crispy batter shell there was something of the vinegar jar about them. Images of donkey rides, kiss me quick hats and shove penny arcade machines flashed through my head. Heston would have been proud, though he'd have been shamed by the price, just £2.75.
The burgers didn't disappoint either, in taste or price. Two cheeseburgers, we both opted for Emmental, and a CnB Burger, which came with bacon. Now I'm no burger aficionado but these were pretty delicious. The bun was more bap than the brioche style advertised but worked well.
My only gripe was a lack of seasoning on the burger. I made up for it with a big splosh of Tapatio Hot Sauce. It worked so well pretty soon it was all over the skinny stealth fries too. None of us had any idea why they were called stealth fries, they were certainly thin, crisp and pretty close to perfect. Since the burgers were all 2 for 1 and there was three of us, we opted to try a chicken burger, something as incongruous as a fake library. It tasted very good but it's not a burger and it's hard to ever imagine myself ordering one if it wasn't free.
Desert wasn't optional once my friend read aloud from the menu, "Raspberry Ripple Ice-cream with Crumble". If custard had been in there as well I'd have ordered two. My desert triumvirate. Again, at £2.75 a remarkable price and it tasted good. It would have tasted even better if the ice-cream had been softer and the crumble crunchier.
It's only been open a week but already this is one of the few places I'd actively seek out to eat on Sauchiehall Street. The name tells you what it's about, what it doesn't reveal is the remarkable value for money on offer. Just before we left the waitress came to take the bill, "Hang on", I said, "I want to photograph it first". Quick as a flash she asked, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?". Oh, that's a very good thing. Four burgers, four fries, popcorn mussels, 3 great cocktails, two deserts, friendly service and a warm atmosphere... all for £33. Feel that deal.