I admit, head hanging in shame, that before I went to Glasgow my preconceptions were of deep fried Mars bars, heavy
drinking and the mistaken thought that the film Trainspotting was set there (wrong, it was set in Edinburgh). What I actually discovered was a city ripe with choices for foodies with a love of sustainability.
The thistle might be the Scottish national symbol, but I found Glasgow to be
a buzzing, friendly and laid back place, so very far from prickly. I love that the central town isn’t
huge and you can get around easily. And if your legs give up after a while,
black cabs are a bargain, even on the meter. I never paid more than 6 pounds
going across town in a cab.
This is the first of two stories about Glasgow and this one is all about food. In the second story I will tell you a more about where to stay and what’s happening in this tree clad city which translates from Gaelic as “Dear Green Place”.
The first place on my Glasgow menu was Stravaigin, set in the bohemian West End area combining traditional Scottish fare with exotic infusions of inspiration from around the world. The owners are avid travellers and the staff passionate foodies. With three areas; the bar, brasserie and basement restaurant, they cater for all occasions.
Maybe you just want to pop into the bar for a pint or a snack (bring your dog if you happen to have one with you), have an informal meal in the brasserie or perhaps you fancy dipping into the cosy basement for a more intimate restaurant affair. The menu is the same wherever you choose to sit and the ambience is coherent throughout, yet subtly shifting in mood. I loved how the décor features reclaimed and repurposed materials, creating a rugged and authentic feel.
You might have wondered when the subject of haggis would come up, so I won’t keep you hanging any longer! My only previous encounter with haggis was boiling it up in a bag (yup, not nice) to feed to my dog back in the 1980’s. Let’s just say the smell it spread through the house was not exactly appetizing and the memory clings vividly to my nostrils to this day. However my curiousity of what I might be missing if I didn’t try it cooked, as it should be, in it’s homeland, overcame my apprehension.
I was not disappointed. Despite the ingredients being lamb offal, finely chopped and fried with different herbs such as juniper, white pepper and thyme it was truly delicious.
That the whole concept of not wasting any of the animal is where haggis came from in the first place makes it even more appealing. In fact, I found out that that the food waste from the restaurant is separated and 80% is recycled.
I could have easily eaten anything on the menu, but after wavering for a good while I finally settled on a sea bream risotto served with a smoked Scotch Egg. The flavours coalesced into a tasty medley, complimenting each other perfectly. By now my eyes were glazed over in food ecstasy, helped along by an excellent Rioja, picked out by Rob, the Manager.
I don’t really have a sweet tooth and was delighted to see that half the dessert menu consisted of cheese! I couldn’t possibly leave without trying some. All I can say is that it was so good it literally made my toes curl, made even better by a port that wrapped itself around both the stronger and more subtle cheeses like a fortified red wine glove.
Needless to say, if you’re visiting Glasgow I highly recommend trying out the Stravaigin. They also do bi-monthly Meander evenings, exploring the food of a certain area of the world through a tasting menu. Check their website for details.
The next day I visited the restaurant Cail Bruich, which translates from Gaelic as “Live Well”. Catching chef Chris Charalambous in between the lunch and dinner shift I didn’t get to actually taste the food which was a shame (they had a private party booked in that night), but I did have a quick masterclass on the the different local plants and herbs he uses in his menu, procured through foraging in the areas around Glasgow.
Chris has been interested in foraging for the last three years and introduced these new ingredients to the core of the menu at Cail Bruich, a family establishment, a year ago. So far it has been a great success, coinciding with people starting to show a much greater interest in where their food comes from.
These are some of the herbs and plants I had never heard of before. A few of them sound straight out of Hogwarts!
- Samphire – coastal plant, good both raw and cooked with fish and meat
- Hogweed – similar to cardamom/mustard seed
- Sea parsley - a salty plant from the carrot family, perfect for fish dishes
- Sea Aster – coastal plant, good for fish and pigeon dishes
- Sea beet/wild spinach – flavourful alternatives to spinach
- Elderberry capers – once ripened they make a great vinegar
After having a look and taste, we took a stroll in the Botanical Gardens, conveniently located straight across from the restaurant. Here Chris showed me his favourite haunts where some of the plants above grow in the semi-wild. A lot of his produce is provided by foragers from slightly further afield in Scotland, but it was great to see where he draws his inspiration from, ducking out of the hot kitchen to take a walk and look what might have shot up out of the ground recently. I hope to return one day to taste some of his creations!
If you fancy something a little less formal, somewhere for a bite to eat and a few drinks, try out the Hillhead Bookclub off the Byres Road. Their aim is “to serve good honest food at good honest prices” and they definitely succeed, throwing in great atmosphere and more than a pinch of humour along the way. I had a burger there, cooked to perfection for 6 pounds including chips. I consider that a bargain!
My conclusion - there's so much more to Glasgow than meets the eye and its thriving food scene is definitely worth checking out!
I was the guest of People Make Glasgow on this trip and I would like to thank the Stravaigin and Cail Bruich for having me. As always, views and opinions are my own.