Tuesday 11 December 2012

Cocktail & Burger, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

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.

Cocktail & Burger, 323 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
0141 353 0953
Click here for their website

Cocktail & Burger on Urbanspoon

Thursday 11 October 2012

Red Red Wine, Goes To My Head

The label's unassuming, possibly misleading, for a wine costing £6.99. It looks like it should be cheaper. Bit there's a clue that what's lurking inside might be worth the price, because it hails from the Cave Saint Désirat and they tend to give good syrah. This really impresses, great example of the wines the syrah grape makes in the cooler climes of the Northern Rhone. All plums mingled with woodsmoke and a lovely liquorice lick. The aftertaste is surprisingly long for a cheapo and, to me, tastes like the smell of stones being struck. Utterly delicious and at my local M&S tonight it was one of the wines available to choose with the 'Meal for Two for a Tenner' deal (Rotisserie Chicken, Rosemary Potatoes and a mountain of Profiteroles since you didn't ask). I'm going to get fat.

Syrah, 2011, Marks and Spencer, £6.99 (and worth every penny)

Saturday 6 October 2012

The Hanoi Bike Shop

This place opened recently after an impressive pr campaign which saw old bikes appearing at various spots around the city sporting nothing more than the enigmatic name. Expecting some worthy charity refurbishing old cycles for the people of Vietnam I was over the moon when it turned out to be a new restaurant instead. It seems the people behind the The Hanoi Bike Shop have spent a lot of money trying to make it look like they haven't. All that's missing outside is lounging, smoking US marines polishing their guns and a hooker shouting "Me so horny" from the balcony. All that's missing inside is Vietnamese staff. The interior of what was Stravaigin 2 has been transformed with accumulated bits and bobs intended to reinforce the concept. Now I've never been to Hanoi, let alone one of it's bike shops, but something immediately struck me. If I was there, why would I be eating in a bike shop?

The menu isn't big, in fact you could work your way through it in a couple of visits, especially if you share.

The creamy, grainy textured peanut dip that accompanied prawn crackers was really good, the crackers less so, quite a few had hard bits suggesting they hadn't puffed thoroughly in the oil.

My favourite dish was a pancake. Prawns and pork wrapped in an eggy blanket with a wonderful caramelised edge. Savoury, gently spiced and a great combination of textures.

'Rice paper summer rolls', ahem, fancy spring rolls, were cold. Once the initial shock subsided they were as fresh and tasty as the rest of the food here.

Caramelised  mackerel was another winning dish, simultaneously savoury and fresh, not one for bonaphobes though and I'm not sure what was actually caramelised.

Anyone whose read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential should know to steer clear of 'specials'. I've read it but unfortunately the word still mesmerises. Suddenly, inexplicably, I found myself ordering Coley Fritters from the board. Coley's one of those 'sustainable fish' Hugh Feernley Cottage-Industry keeps banging on about. It's sustainable for a reason and frittering hadn't alleviated the dullness of the bland original fish.

Even has a toilet for Boy Ladies, how cool is that!
Along with the hard wooden stools the fritters were the only disappointment of this visit. Pescetarians will have others, seafood pho comes in chicken broth and the cracking pancake mixes prawns with pork.

Small points because overall this place is a wonderful whimsy that oozes conceptual charm. Amusing ornamentation, the novelty of Glasgow's first restaurant serving Vietnamese style food and of course the company, made for a lovely hour of nibbling. It's the ultimate going on a whim venue. I'll be back.

The bill for three, sharing dishes, with a side of greens, jasmine rice and 4 small bottles of Hanoi beer came to £55 with a tip. Not bad but not cheap either, maybe Ho Chi Minh should set-up a rival bike shop.


Last orders are 12.30pm on Friday and Saturday, I'm guessing it'll be pretty lively then. It was busy on a cold damp Monday night, so book to be sure: The Hanoi Bike Shop: 0141 334 7165

The Hanoi Bike Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday 22 September 2012

Brilliant old style German Mosel Riesling

What's not to like about a wine with such a great label? A fabulous drink that's starting to develop the petrol nose Riesling's famous for when it's old. This wine will probably last a hundred years but it's so good to drink now who cares. Balanced, complex, mineral laden invigoration, the perfect wine for the beautiful early Spring day we've experienced in late September in Glasgow today. Why on earth do people waste money on cheap, sharp Champagne to celebrate when you can cop a load of this for £14?

Erdener Treppchen, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Riesling Spatlese, 2009 
Oddbins £14 - even so, this must be one of the best quality to cost wines on the high street.

(Drinking mine at room temperature, right enough, that's about 12c in Glasgow just now. It's getting better with every sip)

Oddbins and the Power of Social Me-Me-Media: Godellogate

So there I was yesterday, whittling away a little more of my life on Facebook, when suddenly this whizzes past on my news feed.

My local Oddbins announcing a bottle of wine's been popped into a national newspaper's 'top ten'. This particular wine's become a bit of a running joke, I love it but there's never any in the fridge, so I can't resist.

Clearly I'm going to have to get a bottle now and pop along later. Well, it turns out in the couple of hours since posting, Head Office, then shortly afterwards the Area Manager, were on the phone enquiring as to whether the, "Gentleman's Godello is in the fridge".

Those words have caused much mirth in certain quarters since. Hats off to Oddbins and if anyone reading this fancies a bottle of something particular chilled in advance, you know what to do.

Friday 21 September 2012

Paul Rothe & Son, a haven on Marylebone Lane

One of my favourite places. Old London at it's best. The salt beef, mustard and dill sandwich is perfection, they also serve the sort of tasty nourishing soups only very old grannies normally know how to make and it's the only place I take milk and one sugar in my coffee. Paul Rothe & Son has furnished me with the perfect antidote to nights of overindulgence every time.

35 Marylebone Lane
tel. 0207 935 6783


Sunday 9 September 2012

Carluccio's Restaurant, Glasgow

We went to Carluccio's for lunch on a Saturday. It's been there some time but this was my first visit, fearing their domination I try to avoid giving chains my money. In fact, I'd been trying to do just that at Robert Graham, an independent purveyor of whisky and cigars directly opposite the eponymous Italian's Italian. Unfortunately the lights were on but no-one was home. No sign, no explanation. So hungry and loose ended we crossed the road to Carluccio's, lured by a board reading 'Menu Fisso'.

I met Carluccio, or Antonio to give him his first name, once, briefly and he seemed like a very nice man. Frankly he must be, otherwise long before they'd finished filming the first episode he'd have murdered fellow Greedy Italian, Gennaro Contaldo, the world's most hyperactive pensioner.

My problem with Caluccio isn't his personality, it's his fingers. Ever since childhood the sight of chubby pensioner fingers fondling food has ruined my appetite. The worst offender, when still with us, was the dead Fat Lady. With gay abandon she'd plunge her podgy, inherited ring clad digits into all manner of doughy matter before serving up to an endless procession of unknowingly enthusiastic emergency service crews.

Clearly there was a lot of internal wrestling going on during that dash across the street. Still, everyone has their price and on this particular day it seems mine was £9.95. Anyhow, there are now forty-five Carluccio's restaurants across the UK, that's a lot of dough, so I'm guessing Tony don't knead it no more.

The place was busy, we were told we could wait for a table or have a stool at the 'bar without a bar'. I was seated before she'd finished the sentence, freed from the clutter of drinking ephemera this barless bar provides a bird's eye view of the restaurant's diners and I'd never seen so many healthy looking people assembled in one place in Glasgow. It would seem this is where the council tax dodgers of Newton Mearns and Milngavie nibble during a break from refreshing their wardrobes after a month in Provence.

The wine list is concise, well chosen and mark-ups are reasonable. The glasses are the sort you want to drink from, not those pub style, molded, dishwasher friendly goblets beloved of lazy staff and margin obsessed managers across this city. We took up the Menu's offer to 'add a glass of Sicilian Sicani white wine for £3.25'. Crisp and fresh it made the perfect aperitif.

There's not a lot of choice on the Menu Frisso. The chicken liver pate tasted like it had been 'lengthened' with the addition of milk or even water. As a result it was a lot less rich and all the better for it. The brushetta was exactly what it said it was. Tomatoes, roasted peppers, basil and olive oil on toasted bread. Tasty.

Our main courses were good. Spinach and ricotta ravioli came with a bit of the cooking water mixed into the butter. I liked that, some people won't, though the sage could have been fried a little harder in the butter first. The 'Milanese' had cheaper chicken substituted for veal but was well executed none the less. Japanese panko style crispy bread crumbs giving way to still moist, tender chicken. All of this was washed down with a very nice glass of Valpolicella.

The food isn't exactly cutting edge, even from the carte, but overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable, metropolitan experience for Glasgow. Service was fast, efficient, friendly and reassuringly confident in a way that suggests they're actually training their staff. Also, crucially and unusually for such a large operation, all the tips go to the staff. In short, an excellent lunchtime venue for hungry people and if you enjoy a decent glass of wine at a fair price, it's even better.

Click here for the Carluccio's Glasgow website

Carluccio's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Interview with a Beekeeper - Video

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed a Renfrewshire based beekeeper on behalf of a colleague. There was far more material recorded than needed, mainly because I'd never been so close to a hive before or realised just how fascinating bees are. For example, did you know the Queen can, in emergency, create bees without need for a male? Puts another dimension to 'the birds and bees'. So here's some of the unused material where Ian addresses the problems facing honey bees, woes that go way beyond the woeful summer.

Ian gave me a jar of the sycamore honey. I can confirm it is indeed delicious- sweet and nutty with a gentle, lingering aftertaste of wood and warmth. With 70 hives Ian produces decent quantities of honey, if you live in Renfrewshire keep an eye out, for some reason it's labelled 'John Craig'.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

A Tasty Loire Sauvignon at a Gem of a Price

Just walked back from Queen Street Station. Too nice a night to go under ground or sit trapped amid the scent of Magic Tree listening to a stranger's bad chat. Fortunately my evening's constitutional took me past Oddbins on Woodlands Road. Manager Ross said he'd been at an event tasting Champagne all afternoon, so, jealous, I told him of the christening I'd been to a few years back with free flowing Krug. It was knee jerk one upmanship, pathetic on my part. Luckily he didn't hold it against me, I think, and pointed out this.

£9.50 sounds a bit steep for a bottle of wine. True, but Reuilly cost at least that much four years ago. Given the fact that other precious liquids have risen ten fold since then surely makes this a bit of a steal. It has a nice restrained nettly, elderflower nose with a refreshing, mineral taste. The Loire's having to raise it's game and drop it's prices. North Western Spain's Godellos and Albarinos are getting better and better. If you're after minerally refershment they're hard to beat, this gets close, but it isn't for everyone as there's plenty of that hardcore acidity most Loire Sauvignon possesses and like olives, it's a love it or loath it taste with little room in between.

Cuvee nue, Reuilly, Sauvignon Blanc 2011 £9.50
Try to see beyond the dreadful marketing bollocks on the label

Oddbins Charing Cross Glasgow click on this for their Facebook page

Monday 30 July 2012

In search of Mano we found Manna, Barcelona

Can Mano was another tip-off, in the backstreets of the old fisherman's quarter Barceloneta, the young ones must live elsewhere. Family run and serving the freshest fish I'd been told, we came looking on a Sunday afternoon, it still felt early after a night spent listening to flamenco in a medieval palace filled with goblets of gin. Barceloneta's main drag lived up to it's name. Paseo Juan de Borbon was a seething mass of tourists, locals, pick pockets and staggering stags swarming about the hoards of dubious restaurants lining the route to the beach. Yet only one street in the neighbourhood appeared deserted.

Not a good sign and after thirty minutes of searching we came across another.

Can Mano doesn't open Sundays, I should have checked. Fortunately we'd just passed a place that looked rather appealing. In the way ultimately rewarding places often do, by being completely unappealing in almost every conventional sense. 

All the tables outside were taken, we had to squeeze past people to get through the door, inside it was mobbed, everybody we wanted to speak to ignored us and everyone else kept telling us off. 

Eventually we got our names on a list, a virtual one inside the waitress's head, and were told it could be an hour. Suddenly I spied someone leaving the bar and moved like lightening to secure the gap. Result. 

Well, not quite as it turned out. The boss said we still couldn't eat because there wasn't enough room for three. A reasonable point, if his bar hadn't already been hoaching with people utilising every available surface. 

We ordered drinks, Clara, a mix of lager and lemon Fanta. All I'm saying is don't knock it till you've tried it, especially after walking in blazing sun following a very late night. God it was good.

As we refreshed, in synchrony, our reception did too. We'd either passed the initiation or made it clear we weren't going anywhere fast. More space opened up, enough for us to get to order. The food was terrific, razor clams and cuttlefish croquettes stood out, the Pulpo Gallega, 'Galician style' octopus, served warm with lots of paprika on a bed of potato, was sensational. The prices were too.

Bar Jaj-Ca Tapes, Ginebra, 13, Barceloneta, +34 (0)933 195002

Sunday 15 July 2012

La Paradeta: seafood stuff as dreams are made of

La Paradeta was a tip off. Someone did the research then ended up holidaying with relatives whose sole criterion for eating was outside seating. We can all share their pain. Like many of the finest eateries in this city, Paradeta doesn't do al fresco. It caters for it's audience and does that perfectly. If, like me, you're inclined to seafood fever, you'll have eaten here before, in countless dreams. To see them realised takes some sinking in.

It did sink in though and then from deep within arose the fever. An intense, trance like state which precedes a manic dash, fueled, not entirely irrationally, by the fear that all the best will shortly disappear. In Paradeta I was not alone. From the fishmongers slab you choose what you fancy and how you'd like it cooked. If you're unsure they'll advise. We went for oysters, elvers and chipirones, deep fried and clams, steamed with garlic and parsley. I'd have ordered more, lots more, indeed I tried but got pulled away mid sentence to pick up a tray, bread, salad and bottle of wine. You pay by weight, get a numbered receipt then go find a seat. Simples.

The numbers get called from behind a hatch where, for seafood lovers, the magic happens. The pace was perfect. The taste of iodine from seafresh oysters still lingered as the elvers and chipirones were called.

Both were delicious, the elver coating batter as light and crispy as tempura. Next, again in perfect time, came the clams. Possibly the best I've had. Each one a sweet marine sensation.

There are four Paradetas in Barcelona. This was the Born branch. The canteen set-up and no fuss attitude means remarkably reasonable prices. Two of us ate a lot with a bottle of decent local white wine for 36 Euros. Get here early though, it's justifiably popular. As we left I glanced over to the fish counter, all the elvers were gone... knew it. Desert was a short stroll down the road, melon ice cream, a new favourite flavour, I ate it every day and miss it terribly.

Click here for La Paradeta's website

You'll find La Campana Ice Cream Parlour at: Princesa, 36  08003 Barcelona, Spain
933 197 021. It's well worth it.