Wednesday 29 April 2009

I just can't get enough..

This is a cracking wine for the money that I've been buying in dribs and drabs for weeks. Tonight I asked the woman in Oddbins how much she had left..... "Oh, funny you should ask, I had loads but a guy came in today and bought 3 cases and someone has just left with two, so I'm running low". That did it, especially since you get 20% off any 12 bottles. 
So, I popped out for a £5.99 bottle to have with dinner and struggled back carrying a case. Oops. The discount makes this wine £4.79 a bottle. A total bargain! 
It tastes to me like the best of old and new worlds, ripe but not too rich, a subtle lick of oak, licorice and I'd swear gravel too.... in a nice way, like Graves. And, it's only 12.5% alcohol.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Perth... the original one.

Our friends Alan and Issi invited us to Perth. Their son Hamish is just 4 moths old, so it's a much safer invite than it perhaps once was. We leapt at the chance. 

Perth sits on the River Tay, one of the world's most famous and expensive salmon rivers. In recent years, almost reluctantly, they seem to have acknowledged the association.

Though as we strolled along the rather barren river front the locals seemed more keen on swimming than fishing. Bracing!

Perth boasts the oldest hotel in Scotland. But it's not a proud boast. Perhaps, in the best presbyterian tradition, that would be sinful?

So, like a lot of the town's residents, it gently crumbles away. Another interesting feature of Perth is it's businesses' names.

From the 'a spades a spade' school of nomenclature, to what Alan says is the town's second best Mexican restaurant. I think you can guess how many there are.

Alas, my favourite was closed so my mind stayed boggled.

Surprisingly, in a town of such Georgian gentility, I've never found a decent wine shop. So I stocked up in Costco before coming. It's a great place to buy wine, though the selection is very 'Parkerized'. I also picked up squid and John Dory from the fishmonger, Alan had butterflied a leg of lamb. All going on the BBQ. Alan's a chef, in fact he was head chef at one of Glasgow's best restaurants for many years. So no pressure there then!
We kicked off with a German, from Costco, under £9, and utterly delicious. Spring flowers and ripe pears. Only 8% alcohol too.

Once the sun set it soon got cold so we went inside, popping out now and then to cook the food. 

It was a great night, lovely food and wine and the evening had a star.

A sweet Austrian eiswein  Alan had been saving for some years. 

It was absolutely incredible. A myriad of flavours. Including my favourite, glace fruits. Beguiling and perfectly balanced. 

The next day, also a stunner, we recovered slowly over breakfast. 

I made those responsible watch.

The wines were:
An Albarino, forgot to ask Alan how much, Lagar de Pintos
Very sophisticated with a flavour of peaches. Probably quite expensive.
Spy Mountain Pinot Noir 2006. 
Delicious, surely one of the best value New Zealand pinots of the market? Normally about £10.99.
Peter Lehman, The Mudflat Shiraz 2004. About £9 in Costco. Very nice, has some of the white grape muscadelle added to the blend. It lifts and lightens the shiraz.
Mitolo Jester Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. About £9 in Costco. Very rich, bit too much so for me. A proportion of the grapes are dried on racks as for Amarone.
And, of course, the Weinrieder Eiswein riesling. No idea how much, but it can't be cheap.

Friday 24 April 2009

If you're not fast, you're last.....

It can be a bit of a battle finding good German wine. So I was taken aback by this little temptress in Springburn's Tesco. Even better, it was reduced to clear. I grabbed the eight remaining bottles but immediately felt greedy so put two back "for someone else". 
God knows who, but then I wondered the same thing about the Taylors 1977 Vintage port they were selling for £99. It sat on the shelf for over a year. I kept my beady eye on it, eventually it went down to £79. But I gambled on another reduction and someone scarfed the lot during a 'buy 6 get 20% off' sale. Gutting.
I got home and tried a bottle of my new bargain. It was seriously delicious. A beautiful piercing bouquet of spring flowers, mango, papaya and a lovely flavour like the juice from tinned mandarins. Acidity just about balanced the intense sweetness... and all this in a 7% vol. wine. Incredible. Should've scarfed the lot!

Leitz, Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad, 
Riesling Auslese 2004
Tesco: down from £11.99 to £5.99

Monday 20 April 2009

Carnal with Carmen

Friends couldn't make the ballet and kindly gave us their tickets. I'm no aficionado and last time, actually the only other time I've been, I had to leave early. Back then Scottish Ballet weren't the lightest on their feet, and someone leant into my ear and whispered "Morecombe and Wise". It shouldn't have been so funny, but it was, and I couldn't stop. The more I tried to hold it in the more it built up until a bellowing roar burst out and I followed it through the exit.
So, this time, it seemed a smart idea to steady the nerves with a spot of food and wine first.

Michael Caines @ Abode on Bath Street have, what they call, 'An Amazing Grazing' menu. For £19.95 they'll give you three courses with matching wines. For £14.95 you can have the food on it's own. Both menus are £2 cheaper at lunch. Apologies in advance for this pun, but judging by the empty spaces, not a lot of people know that.
For starters we had a recession staple: terrine of ham hough with rhubarb. Very nice. Came with a glass of Malumbres Tinto, red wine from Navarra. Great pairing.

And, tartare of organic salmon. Even better. Paired with a Chilean take on the Oz classic Chardonnay Semillon. Worked well.

Pick of the mains was black bream. It came with what looked like road kill tomatoes and cat sick. Ugly as hell but it tasted great. Accompanied by a glass of rose. Ah, memories of lazy lunches on the Cote d'Azur.

Best desert was 'caramel thingy' with an amazing passion fruit sorbet. It came with a LBV port, something I don't normally like, this was exceptional. I could drink this by the thimble full... which is fortunate because that's exactly what they gave me.

The wines come in something called 'split 175ml servings'. Why don't they just say 87.5 mls? Anyway, it's a small amount of wine. Desert wines are even smaller. But it's also a small amount of food, so it works.
The food was good, sometimes very good, but don't eat from the 'amazing grazing menu' if you're hungry, or for that matter, if you want a drink. History teaches that innovators survive, even thrive, in recessions. Here they've invented a whole new meal, the pre-dinner dinner, brilliant, and perfect if you're going onto something afterwards, like dinner.
We went to the Theatre Royal and popped into the Cafe Royal for a proper sized drink. Despite the name, it must be a long time since anyone royal came here.

Extensive offerings included 2 types of bottled beer and 2 wines, one red one white. All the charm and appeal of a cross channel ferry.

By contrast the theatre itself is a belter.

Carmen was great, loved it. No laughter fits. Really exhilarating.
The second part of the evenings entertainment was a 'contemporary' piece. The orchestra started up...

The portentous chimes and electronic raspberry sounds let me know this would require total self control. Sure enough the flaming sofa, funny outfits and giant pointy towers were testing, but I had it under control. Until, suddenly, the pointy towers started to move. One by one they glided across the stage. It was the culmination, the camel's straw, suddenly transforming it all into ballet's very own Spinal Tap !

Luckily for me this turned out to be the finale. The curtain came down and I clapped like I'd never clapped before. Bravo.

ABode Glasgow
129 Bath Street
G2 2SZ

0141 221 6789

Michael Caines Restaurant at Abode Hotel on Urbanspoon

Friday 17 April 2009

If you go down to the woods today...

"I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now". Bob Dylan

There are many things I know now I wish I'd known before. There's the practical stuff, there's the more esoteric stuff and then there's the other stuff.

For example, why didn't anyone tell me about the pulling power of cute dogs? Archie's a regular visitor these days and strolling through Kelvingrove Park it's amazing to watch women visibly melt as they lay eyes on the wee scamp. Also, rather incredibly, I'm suddenly transformed into an attractive proposition for a conversation. This would have been priceless information to a young chap.

A spot of blossom photography helped cement my new fey image. But just before turning my toes inwards and humming a Belle and Sebastian song something happened.

Irresistible wild garlic popping it's wiggy head above the ground and a mystery oniony thing that smelt very oniony. Phew, that was close. I could be wrong, but as far as I know, fey men don't leap fences, rip up plants and stuff them into doggy poop bags. 

Things happen in city centre parks that would make a pirate blush, so everything got a good wash.

One thing I was told when younger was to never eat certain things. Toadstools, berries and anything Mrs Evans offered us. But I'm more reckless now and despite failing to identify the strange oniony things, I ate one. It was delicious. Like the sweetest spring onion imaginable. After another three I decided to wait a bit and see if anything bad happened. In the meantime I chopped the wild garlic and stuffed some lamb (delicious) and made a pesto (tasty but sludgy). All very intense flavours so a tricky wine match. Then I had a brain wave. Summer = Cider. And it worked rather well. Proper stuff from Herefordshire. You can buy this in Sainsbury's and Morrisons. It's cheaper in Morrisons.

Since I'm writing this it's fair to say, so far at least, four strange oniony things isn't enough to kill, but my stomach was upset the next day. Coincidence? Or possibly the toxic heavy metal legacy of Glasgow's industrial past.

"Funny the things you think of, a long time after you should". WS

Saturday 11 April 2009

Gandolfi Fish

In lazy articles and free plug magazines Cafe Gandolfi is often referred to as 'an institution'. Founded in 1979 it has a wonderful interior with furniture by Tim Stead and stained glass by John Clarke. There are many good reasons to go there, but the last few times I have, the food wasn't one of them. Next door is it's newish sibling, Gandolfi Fish, and it's here we came for lunch on Friday.

It has a modern interior with a huge expanse of glass that gives great views of the street. A small bar by the entrance is a nice spot to sip drinks while waiting for late arrivals. On a previous visit I'd asked for the cocktail list mentioned online but was told they'd stopped offering it due to a lack of interest. Customer's or staff's I wondered? Shame. But the wine list is good and includes a range of sherries and wines by the glass.

We drank the Chilean Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008 at the bar and throughout the meal. It was, I think, £15.99 a bottle and everyone seemed to like it. Fresh, clean lemony taste but maybe a tad too sweet for the oysters I had to start.
The oysters themselves were splendid and reeked of the sea. With a drop of shallot and red wine vinegar they neared perfection. By far the best oysters I've had in Glasgow recently. £10.00 for 6 or £2.00 each. The waiter said they came from Loch Fyne. Others tried lobster pasty and pickled herring. Both went down very well.

At lunchtime you can choose from the carte or the special deals. We mixed between the two. I went for fish and chips at just under £10. There was a high batter to fish ratio, but what a batter! Gorgeous light and crispy right through. The fish was sweet and fresh. The chips were nice enough, but not in the same league as another purveyor of the 'just under £10' fish supper, Stravaigin.

Others had fish pie, also just under £10, a big plate of large langoustines, £24, and something crabby. Everyone said their food was great. Deserts were all £5. Ginger pudding was a big hit. On my last visit I'd tried the sticky toffee pudding. It was sublime, someone in the kitchen knows how to steam puddings. But I'd gone for the Pear tart, mainly because it came with custard. It was the posh stuff, more 'creme anglais' than Birds. The tart was fine, but frankly, I'd rather just have a big bowl of vanilla flecked custard. Why isn't it a desert in it's own right?

I've eaten here twice in three weeks. The owner was around this time. Last time he wasn't. The service was impeccable on both occasions. Even the toilets impress. Altogether, much better than eating in an institution.

84-86 Albion Street,
G1 1NY
0141 552 9475

Gandolfi Fish on Urbanspoon

Friday 3 April 2009


Sometimes, when I really can't get out of it, I have to come here. It's as grim inside as it is out. Though not if you're into fabric. Because if fabric floats your boat then this is El Dorado. Afterwards I headed off to somewhere with an equally grim exterior but a far more inviting stock. 
I've been trying to play Credit Crunch recently. A game of scrimping and saving. Hopefully we'll be too absorbed playing it to notice that our houses are now as worthless as our currency and our jobs are about as secure as, err, well our jobs.
My first purchase is well within the rules.

What I used to call winkles but the fishmonger here calls whelks. £4.99 kg. I'll be boiling these in very salty water for 5 minutes and eating them with a pin..... no shortage of them today.
The next purchase disqualifies me immediately. It's a rubbish game anyway.

But who could resist a wild sea bass for £13.49 kg? The fishmonger scaled and gutted it. My plan is to bake it with a few slices of ginger, a little mirin, grassy olive oil and some fresh herbs. A few years ago I planted up some old sinks with various herbs and then forgot all about them. Amazingly they're still there, so perhaps a few more points back on the Credit Crunch board. Fennel, chives and.....

Lemon sorrel. This stuff really tastes good. Can't decide whether to put it in with the fish to bake or chop it up with butter to serve? Probably not the sort of dilemma you're suppose to have in a global recession. The wine....

another present from Niven and Sabeen who just came back from Paris. They're not very good at Credit Crunch either.