Glasgow City Centre
Chardon D’Or 176 West Regent Street. G2 4RL. Phone 0141 248 3801
Brian Maule has been behind the stoves at his Chardon D’Or city centre restaurant for almost a decade now. He returned to Scotland after plying his trade at some of the best kitchens in France’s gastronomic hothouse, Lyon, before many years at Le Gavroche in London where he rose to the position of head chef. His arrival back in Scotland was with some fanfare, and great expectation. The smart restaurant has grown to include private dining and meeting rooms, and courts a business crowd as well as Glasgow’s well-heeled diners from wealthy suburbs, who flock here for a little bit of culinary glamour. And yet on many, many visits over the years I never felt totally convinced by the offering here, finding some inconstency in the kitchen and an atmosphere that somehow failed to engage me. But eating here in January 2010, and then again in June 2010, produced two excellent meals and certainly my two best experiences. A celebration tasting menu is offered at £55 (£30 for matching wine flights) but we went a la carte on my most recent visit. After a little amuse of chicken-liver parfait, my first course of scallops was delicious and really beautifully cooked: the plate had been peppered with a smoky bacon dust, then each seared scallop placed on a little dome of creamy leeks, before being topped with more bacon dust and breadcrumb and flashed under the grill, to produce a dish of contrasting flavours and textures. For my main course, loin of lamb was succulent and tender, though the accompanying sweetbreads were just marginally over-cooked. A bowl of potatoes had a buttery, fondant character and were delicious. For pudding, the kitchen turned out a seriously good apple tarte tatin, with billowing puff pastry encasing succulent chunks of apple and oozing caramel. Tarte tatin is a French classic so often turned out carelessly as a disc of soggy pastry and stewed apple, but not here where it was a triumph. Coffee was served with excellent chocolates, including moreish salted caramels. The wine list covers the globe but emphasises France and there is good advice from sommelier Steven Whitbread. We had the exquisite rosé Champagne from Veuve-Fourny, a delicious Vouvray Silex 2009 and perfectly à point Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Cape Chamonix. An altogether excellent meal came in at £270 for four people (2010). Open Monday to Friday for lunch, Monday to Saturday for dinner.
City Café, City Inn, Finnieston Quay, Glasgow. Phone: 0141 240 1002
This moderately-priced restaurant offers good food, with one of the most beautiful settings in Glasgow. The City Inn is somewhat off the beaten track, about a mile from the city centre, on the banks of the river Clyde. It is surrounded by Glasgow’s most jaw-dropping modern architecture, including the titanium-clad Science Centre and Norman Foster’s armadillo-like concert hall. Remnants of a great ship-building past also abound, like the massive fixed crane, and twin rotundas of a disused Victorian tunnel system. The Café always feels very Californian to me, both in its clean, minimalist decor, and in its food that has a lightness of touch. Chef Richard Lyth is not afraid of decisive flavours and a nod to fusion cuisine. My starter consisted of discs of goat’s cheese, crusted with parmesan and towered with little rounds of toast on a chile-dressed orange salad. For a main course I had crisp-skinned fillets of sea bream, which came with a piquant warm sald of balsamic roasted tomatoes and asparagus. These flavours were cushioned by a delicate cauliflower puré. Dessert was a bit uninspring after such punchy flavours, and the wine list ranks only as ‘pretty good’, with choices in the £12 – £30 range, and several by the glass options. (2010) About £45 for lunch, £65 for dinner. Open 7 days.
Gamba, 225a West George St, Glasgow. Phone 0141 572 0899
Gamba has had the same owner/chef/manager combination since it opened its casual, basement dining room in 1998. The focus remains on all things aquatic, featuring dishes that major on quality ingredients in imaginative combinations, with accents borrowed from oriental cuisine. I started with sashimi of ultra-fresh salmon, swordfish and scallops with traditional soy dipping sauce, pickled ginger and eye-watering wasabi. I chose the daily “special” main course: seared turbot in a seafood, herb and cream stew. An abundance of mussels and small langoustines supported a healthy portion of well-cooked fish. A side dish of potatoes, carrots and asparagus was delicious, but probably unecessary unless catering for a typically hungry Glaswegian clientèle. Our waitress recommended the banana and coconut cheesecake for pudding: desserts at Gamba are no afterthought, and this was delicious, with a gloopy hot maple syrup sauce. Made to order coffee is served with Scottish tablet. The staff at Gamba are young, knowledgeable and friendly, and the casual but smart dining room is one of the best in the city. The wine list is moderately marked up too: we drank a gorgeously mature, off-dry Gruner Veltliner Smaragd from Freie Weingartner Wachau. (2012) £90 for dinner, cheaper lunch and pre-theatre. Closed Sunday.
Cafe Gandolfi, Albion St, Glasgow. Phone: 0141 552 6813
A Glasgow institution amongst the arty set. Furnished with the extraordinary tables and chairs of Tim Steadman and magical stained glass of my friend John Clark. This cool and airy CafÃ© has brilliant coffee, home baked scones and tea-breads, a terrific range of snacks and sandwiches and, in the evenings, a selection of interesting and exciting dishes – an eclectic mix: pacific-rim meets Paris bistro meets traditional Scotland. The short but very well chosen wine list always has something to delight. One of my favourite casual places for a coffee, a drink, or an early/late meal. (2014) £40 for lunch, £60 for dinner. Open 7 days ’till late.
The Giffnock Ivy, 219 Fenwick Rd, Glasgow. Tel: 0141 620 1003
Glasgow’s south side is a microcosm of the entire city, where sleek new designer apartments rub shoulders with council estates and million-pound mansions. Whilst there are plenty of honest eatieries south of the Clyde, it is a bit of an haute-cuisine desert. In the suburb of Giffnock, a new regime has been at the helm of the Ivy since April 2008 with two highly-qualified chefs in the shape of Stuart Howie (ex-Turnberry) and Derek Blair (ex-Nick Nairn). The dining room is a cosy but contemporary space, with a dark, polished wood floor, deep Burgundy fabrics and wall of exposed stone. A cut-price pre-theatre deal pulls in the crowds early evening, but the a la carte menu is ambitious and adventurous. Some very good date and walnut bread arrived at the table, followed by a little amuse of salmon rillettes which were lemony, garlicky and delicious. I kicked off my dinner with pan-fried foie gras, with a grape and shallot chutney and Sauternes jelly. This dish was not entrely successful, with the foie-gras oddly firm on the outside and cool in the middle. Texture and flavour were both lacking. Things looked up smartly with the arrival of my tournados of cod, wrapped in Parma ham and served on a bed of mash infused with spring onion. A little pea velouté sauce was creamy and fresh, and the dish was playfully topped off with a sliver of rarebit that added richness and tang. For dessert, a competent vanilla panacotta was sparked into life by a sweet but sharp rhubarb compote. The wine list is moderate, with house wines beginning at just £12.95, and some interesting fine wine bits and pieces like Lafite 1978 a potential bargain at £250. This meal demonstrated that this kitchen is serious about offering a viable alternative to the city centre. Just a little more consistency is needed. (2008) Around £75 for two all in. Open Tuesday to Saturday lunch and dinner, Sunday all day.
India Quay, 181 Finnieston St, Glasgow Tel: 0141 221 1616
There are various cities in the UK that could lay claim to the title of ‘curry capital’ of Britain, but Glasgow would certainly be in with a very strong shout. Since the 1950s an influx of Indian and Pakistani settlers has added to the vibrant cultural life of the city, including its food. India Quay may follow in a long tradition, but forget notions of flock wallpaper and sitar muzak: this is an urban and stylish setting, part of Glasgow’s regenerated waterfront. A monochrome colour scheme is cool and elegant, with a wall of glass affording terrific views of some of the most iconic modern architecture in Glasgow. India Quay’s food is much more conventional in many ways, and hits all the right notes for Glasgow’s curry connoisseurs. After a warm and typically friendly Glaswegian welcome we settled into a booth and nibbled on a stack of crisp poppadoms, served with raita, spiced onions and mango chutney, whilst we perused the menu. We started with vegetable pakora and king prawns in a creamy garlic sauce. The pakora – little deep fried balls of batter infused with potato, onion, cauliflower andspinach leaves – were superb, very light and crisp and served with a salad and spicy sauce. The prawns were plump, delicious and perfectly cooked too, thought the sauce was perhaps a little too creamy for my tastes. Onto the main events, the highlight of which was one of the daily specials, a terrific dish of very slow braised lamb (I chose meltingly soft off-the-bone meat, though it is offered on the bone too). The semi-dry sauce had a real kick and was flavoured with finely chopped onion, mushroom and pepper and accompanied by a salad of onion, cucumber, coriander and chives. We also shared a south Indian garlic chilli chicken curry, where barbecued chicken pieces nestled in a garlic and chilli sauce, perked up by coriander and a touch of crispy red chilli. A sweet, almondy Peshwari naan bread was delicious too. We shared dessert (India Quay may be contemporary and cool but the food is plentiful and hot) and I was delighted to see a platter of delicious ice creams from Movenpick as the perfect option with which to end a fine meal. Though we drank beer, India Quay has a decent little wine list of around 30 bins from house wine at £11.99 to some good Sancerre and Chäteauneuf-du-Pape at £30 or so. Two could dine well here for £50 or £60, experiencing the modern, yet deeply traditional face of Glasgow’s Indian cuisine. (2010)
Malmaison, 278 West George St, Glasgow. Phone: 0141 221 6401
N.B. Now ‘The Honours’ brasserie. Review pending. Part of a very smart, stylish hotel constructed from an old church in the city centre, the dining room has an intimate feel with low lighting and most tables in little booths. The menu is quite traditional brasserie fare, with plenty of salads, fish and steaks. I ate a pre-theatre meal most recently, starting with a salad of tangerine and fig with toasted pine nuts and a vivid lemon vinaigrette adding texture and flavour. To follow I had a slightly underflavoured saffron-infused risotto, that was well cooked if a little too dense and a touch dry. For dessert, a Bailey’s cheescake had a very good texture and flavour, with a dark chocolate topping and rich, buttery base. Espresso was of excellent quality and came with a little pot of chocolate mousse, which was a nice touch. The wine list is pretty good, topping out with some good clarets, Burgundies and New World wines around the £100 mark. With pleasant surroundings and good food the Malmaison is not a bad choice for somewhere that’s open 7 days a week. (2007) Around £70 for dinner for two with house wine. Open 7 days.
Red Onion, 27 West Campbell St, G2 4SQ. Tel: 0141 221 6000
John Quigley is the chef/patron behind this casual, trendy restaurant in the city centre. Quigley is a bit of a ‘celebrity chef’, as after a career in the kitchen’s of London’s west end, he travelled the world as a private chef to rock stars including Bryan Adams, Tina Turner and The Bee Gees. Having settled back in his native Glasgow, Red Onion is open every day for lunch and dinner. It is a large, chic dining room with exposed stone walls and polished wooden floors. Food is contemporary and pretty much globe-trotting as you might expect. A baked goat’s cheese crotin was nicely soft on the inside, served doused in a dressing of toasted almond and balsamic vinaigrette. The French-influenced braised shin of beef was very nicely cooked, falling apart under the threat of a fork, and served with champ potatoes and a rich red wine jus. Pudding was a good effort too, a lemon tart that had been glazed and brâlléed on top, served with poached apricots and Greek yoghurt laced with honey. Red Onion is not pitched at fans of refined Michelin-starred cuisine, but a more casual, laid back crowd that nevertheless appreciate good food and smart surroundings. Modest prices extend to the well-chosen wine list, with house wines at just £14.95. (2011) Dinner around £25 for three courses. Open every day for lunch and dinner.
Cail Bruich, 725 Great Western Rd, G12 8QX. Phone: 0141 334 6265
Chris Charalambous is chef/patron of this family-run restaurant in the city’s West End, which is currently serving some Glasgow’s most creative and delicious cuisine. The family operated a very successful rural restaurant close to Glasgow before opening at this location in 2008. The food was always good, but Cail Bruich has advanced by leaps and bounds, the style moving from homely food cooked with flair, to altogether more ambitious and sophisticated fare, albeit still placing superb ingredients centre stage. There’s a new refinement to Chris’s cooking that has undoubtedly been helped by the month he spent in early summer 2011 working a stage behind the stoves in Noma, Copenhagen’s famed three-star restaurant. Whatever that experience taught him, Cail Bruich’s food exudes a new confidence, and each dish bursts with vivid and sometimes unexpected flavours. Ingredients are not only beautifully sourced (Devon snails, Gigha halibit, Tarbert crab) but imaginatively combined. Presentation has been pared to terrific, aesthetic simplicity too. My hand-dived Tarbert scallops and langoustine came in a piquant, light and foamy shellfish bisque flavoured with saffron, citrus and a touch of curry giving incisive but not overpowering flavours to match the sweet, succulent flesh of the shellfish. A fine tranche of hillside Inverurie lamb was cooked with sweetbreads and a lovely stew of broadbeans, lettuce and peas, again powerful flavours but with subtlety too. Desserts don’t disappoint either, most recently a vanilla and meadowsweet crème, just lightly set and delicious, like panacotta’s celestial twin, with a tart but sweet poached rhubarb, strawberry and pink peppercorn soup. Home made petit fours and fresh mint tea rounded off another brilliantly accomplished meal from this young chef, whilst the front of house team work the simple, but comfortable dining room with smiling, quite efficiency. The wine list doesn’t quite live up to the high level of the food as yet, but it’s good and there are plenty of wines available by the glass including Bruwer Raats excellent Chenin Blanc at £4.95 and large glasses of a Rioja Reserva 2004 from Finca Manzanos at £8.50. Truly one of the city’s top culinary experiences. (2015). Around £120 for dinner. Closed Mondays.
Hotel du Vin, One Devonshire Gardens. Phone: 0141 339 2001
The Hotel du Vin in Glasgow’s leafy West End is composed of an entire terrace of beautiful Victorian town houses that have been modernised and refurbished to offer five-star accommodation. Original features have been retained, including stained-glass windows, magnificent fireplaces and ornate plaster ceilings, making the 49-bedroomed hotel one of the most exclusive and luxurious in the city. The hotel’s restaurant has a chequered history, but almost always bound-up with haute-cuisine. This is the site where Andrew Fairlie of Gleneagles cut his teeth as head chef, and where Gordon Ramsay based his 1* Amaryllis restaurant until 2004. Post-Ramsay, there followed an unsettled period where various food formulae where tried under different owners, before Hotel du Vin moved in in 2006 and launched their bistro. Initial experiences were extremely good, but over the course of several visits I felt the kitchen slightly lost its way. In 2010 word reached me that a whole new menu had been launched, this time focusing on seasonal ingredients and, for the first time, offering a tasting menu with matched wine flights. So on a warm summer evening I headed along to see what was now on offer. A little amuse of a tian of potato and leek with walnut bread toast and smoked mussel oil was deliciously moreish and did a fine job of perking up the tastebuds, the leek and potato puréed into a blancmange texture, the mussel oil delicate but flavoursome. First course proper was foie gras, rolled in a shell of crispy-fried pain poilâne crumbs, with a sauce dotted with highly-flavoured morsels of haggis, date and passionfruit. The contrasts here of sweet, sour, spicy and fruity was nicely matched by a glass of the rich and lightly spiced d’Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier. Next up, a crab and beetroot canelloni was colourful with yellow and red beets and an intense, orangy granité giving the whole dish a sushi-like freshness. A Verdejo from Bodegas Naia was a very good match. My main course of loin of Dornoch lamb came cooked through but still with a touch of pink, with some crunchy polenta croquettes, again showing a fearless approach to combining unusual flavours, in this case violet artichoke, broad beans and ricotta in a purée. The accompanying glass of Premières Côtes de Bordeaux from Château Tanesse was competent rather than thrilling. Fonseca LBV Port was served with some really excellent French and Scottish cheeses before a hot mango and banana soufflé, into which was popped a ball of poached mango sorbet, creating a creamily delicious marriage with a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. As we sipped our mint teas and petit fours afterwards, I reflected that this meal, and indeed the whole experience, was not one, but two or three steps up on my visit a year before. (2010) And yet a meal in 2011 was a very patchy affair: some seriously burnt red cabbage that should never have left the kitchen and switched-off staff that delivered a very frustrating dining experience. The jury is, once again, out. (2011). Around £120 – £150 for dinner for two.
Northstar, 108 Queen Margaret Dr, Glasgow. Phone: 0141 946 5365
It is easy to miss this tiny, cramped, Bohemian little deli and restaurant tucked in amongst a row of shops in a residential corner of Glasgow’s West End. And missing it would be a great shame! Portugeuse and Mediterranean-sourced ingredients are fashioned into mouthwatering “small plates”, larger-than-tapas dishes like a chorizo and saffron risotto, or patatas bravas, each costing only a few pounds. Excellent coffee (Sical, from Portugal), a wide range of organic soft drinks, and yummy home-made cakes complete a lovely lunch for less than a tenner a head. (2010)
Number 16, 16 Byres Rd, Glasgow. Phone 0141 339 2544
A tiny place at the bottom of Glasgow’s buzzing Byres Rd, this space has had a chequered, but largely very positive history as a restaurant, not least in its current incarnation. No 16 has been a favourite neighbourhood choice for years, but when it changed hands a couple of years ago I felt standards slipped, and I downgraded it from a two thumbs up, to one or maybe one and a half. Whatever has happened recently, I’ve eaten there three times in the past few months and each meal has been excellent. It still has the same mix and match furniture (take my advice and request a ground floor table with the new and rather smart leather tub chairs when booking) and the same cramped conditions, but the food is as inventive as it is well cooked. A tasty starter of seared chicken livers came in thick stew of Puy lentils, and was beautifully textured and cooked. My main course was a risotto, liberally folded with roasted sweet pepper, wild garlic and finished with creme fraiche, and parmesan. It was heartwarming stuff, and delicously creamy. A classic pudding to finish – of the sticky toffee variety – was the real thing, rich with dates and fruits, and served with home made ice-cream. The wine list has around 20 reds and whites from £12 to £27 pounds, and all in all, this is one of the nicest casual places in the city at the moment in my opinion. (2014). £65 for dinner. Closed Sundays.
La Parmigiana, 447 Great Western Rd, Glasgow. Phone 0141 334 0686
La Parmigiana is a real institution. An upmarket, but very typical Italian family restaurant, it has been around since the 70’s, and is one of those places were the staff never changes, and everything works with a comfortable, well-oiled precision. The menu is short and has lots of staples which never change, like lobster ravioli in a tomato cream sauce, chargrilled scallops, or medallions of venison with a porcini mushroom and Italian sausage ragu. Other seasonal items come and go, but all cooked with great skill and presented in an honest, understated fashion. This is quality Italian cuisine with a nod towards the best Scottish ingredients. There is a short, but quite serious wine list. It is exclusively Italian, presented by region, from house wines up to Sassicaia and Tignanello. The regular “wines of the month” are always interesting. We drank Silvio Jermann’s delightful Pinot Bianco at £21. La Parmigiana is a bit old-fashioned, but is none the worse for that. (2012) £70 for dinner, cheaper lunch and pre-theatre
Simply Fish, 111 Cleveden Rd, Glasgow, UK G12 0JU. Phone: 0141 334 0111
This was a disappointment. Simply Fish is the latest incarnation in a restaurant space that has had several themes over the years (most recently Italian), none of which have gone the distance. The location is a very suburban one, surrounded by plenty of affluent housing, but well away from the buzz of the city centre or thronging heart of the West End. So a restaurant either has to become a real destination, renowned for its quality, or it has to offer the locals really good food that’s affordable enough to eat there often. Unfortunately based on this evidence, the terrific concept of ‘Simply Fish’ hasn’t cracked either. Already doing cheap meals on ‘deal of the day’ sites, the atmosphere was lacking, with two other tables occupied. However it was the service that added to the chill: it is efficient, but was not warm or welcoming. And then the food was a let down – a smoked haddock risotto was the highlight, the salty, smoky flavour enlivened by a touch of gremolata adding a nice astringency. But if you are going to be “simply fish” and offer fish and chips made with frozen fish, it’s little short of a disaster. The fish had the typical spongy texture and lack of flavour that gave it away instantly, though chips and home-made tartare sauce were good. From a throwaway dessert selection, sticky toffee pudding was pub grub average, and the portion was tiny. Wines are nothing to write home about. The house Sauvignon blanc was characterless, though the list does rise to Gaja Chardonnay at £70. We ate an early evening, cheap menu, so perhaps it’s unfair to write this place off, but though a 15 minute stroll from home, there was little in terms of ambiance or food to make us want to return. Someone needs to look again at quality and service. Closed Mondays, lunch menu £9.95 for three courses, evening menu around £30 per person. (2014)
Stravaigin, 28 Gibson St, Glasgow G12 8NX. Phone: 0141 334 2665
A little like an Aboriginal ‘Walkabout’, Stravaigin is old Scottish parlance meaning to wander, and a philosophy of travelling and crossing boundaries has always been at the heart of Colin Clydesdale’s operation. It is 15 years since the doors first opened, and quite a few since Clydesdale himself was behind the stoves: managing the family’s small group of restaurants in Glasgow now takes up his time. Today Daniel Blencowe runs the kitchen, an Australian who has brought some Pacific-rim style to the always eclectic food. My starter was pretty resolutely European, a fricassee of duck livers and rabbit served with a truffled brioche. This was a great dish, the livers soft and buttery in creamy sauce, two perfect morsels of moist rabbit served to the side and the warm brioche perfect for mopping it all up. There was more of an Oriental influence in my main course of duck breast roasted with a Tamari glaze (a turbo-charge soy sauce) and served with a little tower of roasted yam and kimchi. The duck was beautifully cooked, and the rest of the flavours where hugely powerful – perhaps even a touch too powerful. The sweetness of the yams (roasted with sesame seeds) and the vinegary sourness of the kimchi (Korean pickled vegetables) were wonderful in their own right and with the duck, but the combination was pretty explosive. A rich anise-flavoured gravy was yet another component in a dish with perhaps just one ingredient too many. Still, this is bold, confident and original food and far too many places manage none of those. For dessert, toffee apple delice with green apple sorbet was very good, managing to simultaneously cleanse the palate and provide some sweet-toothed comfort. Wine-wise, Stravaigin prides itself on a list chosen by the staff from regular tastings and there are some very interesting things in the selection of around 80 bins. It is all well-chosen, with names like Domaine A and Jean Marc Brocard in the mix and a good sprinkling of esoteric stuff like sparkling Austrian wines, Picapoll from Pla De Bages in Spain and the brilliant Vina Pedro Gonzalez Malbec from Trapiche. I let our waiter recommend a bottle of Cline Cellars Zinfandel to match my duck and my companion’s slow-braised pork which it did very nicely for £24.45. Stravaigin is a real survivor in Glasgow’s often quite transient restaurant scene. There’s a reason for that, and that reason is the adventurous and honest cooking, welcoming staff and relaxed, buzzy atmosphere. More power to them. (2009) Open daily for dinner (£80 for two). Lunch Thursday – Sunday. The upstairs bar serves food daily.
The Ubiquitous Chip, 12 Ashton Lane, Glasgow. Phone: 0141 334 5007
“The Chip” is a venerable linchpin of the Glasgow fine dining scene. At the helm for 30 years, owner Ronnie Clydesdale may be the father of modern Scottish cuisine, but there is still plenty to like about this operation. The Chip offers a very attractive package of food, wine and atmosphere. The verdant conservatory courtyard is still my favourite of its many dining spaces, and a great place to enjoy their terrific value Sunday lunch. An appetising little cup of cullen skink (a creamy soup, laden with chunks of smoked fish) sets the tone for a Scottish-flavoured but eclectic menu. My starter – new season carrots braised with cardamom and wrapped in spinach, served on a creamy juniper sauce – was inventive and superbly executed. The loin of herbed free-range pork was served with crunchy wok-fried pak choi, and dessert was a comforting and calorific pavlova crammed with fresh Scottish raspberries. The Chip suffers from a bit of inconsistency, and not all of the eclectic partnerships work, but with its unique atmosphere, comprehensive wine list extensive collection of single malts, it deserves its following. (2014) £60 for lunch, £90 for dinner. Open 7 days.
Russo, 360 Byres Road, Glasgow G12 8AW
This restaurant has changed hands since this review and is now a family-style Italian restaurant of decent quality, friendly and inexpensive. There’s really nothing exceptional to commend it, but similarly, it does a decent job and is handy to know in this busy part of town where it’s tiny entrance leads upstairs to a fairly capacious space where you can usually find a last minute table. (2015). Inexpensive.
Braidwood’s, by Dalry, Ayrshire. Phone: 01294 833 544
A recent makeover has given one of my favourite British restaurants a glamorous new look, but Keith and Nicola Braidwood are doing exactly what they do best; serving up some of Scotland’s greatest cooking in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Braidwoods gained a Michelin star in 2000, and were simultaneously the AA’s “Best Restaurant in Scotland”. Their informal restaurant is in a converted farm cottage which nestles in the lush Ayrshire country side. They use the best seasonal local produce and traditional techniques to create really superb food. A typical meal might include a brilliant lobster ravioli in a rich, herb infused, shellfish jus, a beautiful, palate-cleansing terrine of citrus fruits, melt-in-the-mouth roast loin of red deer on a bed of caramelised shallots and finally, a trio of raspberry desserts: three jewel-like little miniatures of perfection. The wine list has been evolving over recent years and is now one of Scotland’s most interesting, including a very well chosen selection of half bottles and a selection of mature Bordeaux and Burgundy at reasonable mark-ups. There is always a very warm welcome and touches such as home made chocolates with coffee add even more to the experience. I’ll declare an interest here as the Braidwoods and I present special food and wine dinners together, but make no mistake: this is a gem of a place that displays remarkably high and consistent quality. It has become the standard by which I measure all Scottish restaurants. (2014). £60 for lunch, £100 for dinner. Open Tuesday dinner to Sunday lunch.
Lochgreen Hotel, Monktonhill Road, Troon. Phone: 01292 313 343
The Lochgreen hotel’s restaurant is something of a hidden gem, being part of a country house hotel near to the Ayrshire coast at Troon, that is an extremely popular wedding and function venue. Such a description would normally raise a big warning flag in my mind, as catering for large functions is often the death knell for seriously good food. But Lochgreen’s bright and comfortable fine dining restaurant is tucked away from the wedding action, and is serving excellent 3 AA rosette food, with a very good wine list, overlooking the hotel’s beautifully maintained gardens. The lunch is an absolute bargain at £22.95 at time of writing for three courses plus coffee and petit fours. Little nibbles of crisply-breadcrumbed haggis balls and parmesan biscuits with a goat’s cheese dip were served, and a couple of glasses of house Champagne slipped down a treat at only £6.50 per glass. A little amuse of a cube of cauliflower panacotta on a rich red onion marmalade was delicious too. For my first course I had roast quail, wrapped in bacon and served with braised cabbage. It was juicy and delicious, the delicate flavour of the de-boned quail melding with the salty and smoky bite of the ham. For my main course, a pithivier of lamb was lovely: an elegantly thin case of buttery puff pastry encasing a rich, dense, mound of shredded and lightly spicy lamb shoulder, served with a delicious hot salad of thin slices of new season asparagus, curly kale and broad beans. For dessert, an Early Grey sorbet packed a lot of flavour, served with a little scoop of a lemony verbena ice-cream. We drank glasses of Rioja at £6.50 for a 175ml measure and a bottle of sparkling water, and as we sat on one of the plump sofas in the lounge for coffee, macaroons and blackcurrant fruit jellies we considered the bill for £75 all in to be a stand-out bargain. (2012)
McCallum’s Oyster Bar, Troon, Ayrshire. Phone: 01292 319339
Another extremely fine seafood restaurant, this one spectacularly sited right on the working harbour of this West Coast town. Gulls wheel over-head and a charming back-drop is formed by the fishing boats that to-and-fro constantly. The restaurant itself is a converted pumping station, with a vast, vaulted ceiling. Bare stone walls are almost entirely taken up with a collection of yacht-building and Americas Cup memorabilia. The menu is seasonal, reflecting the best of the current catch. Choices are restricted to 4 or 5 per course, very heavily biased towards fish and seafood. I had a plump, soft, ravioli of lobster, bound with salmon mousse, and served in a seafood sauce. For my main course I opted for char-grilled tuna on a bed of noodles with a sauce nero (cuttle-fish ink sauce). The tuna was a little over-cooked (I like it pink) but it was tasty. My partner’s pan-fried brill was pronounced excellent. A dish of market vegetables was included. Puddings and cheeses are pretty good too, though maybe not McCallum’s real forte. The wine list is short, sound but not exciting. In all, a restaurant that is strong when it keeps things simple – and has a great situation. (2005) £45 for lunch, £65 for dinner. Closed Sunday dinner and Monday.
Airds Hotel, Port Appin, Argyle. Phone: 01631 730236
The Allan family raised their small luxury hotel to international fame, and since they sold up, new owners Shaun and Jenny McKivragan have continued the good work with 3 AA rosettes for the restaurant and a Hotel Chef of the Year award for Paul Burns in the kitchen. Airds sits facing the ruggedly beautiful Loch Linnhe with views from its delightful gardens to a little lighthouse and the slate-blue Morven hills beyond. The picture-postcard setting and simple whitewashed exterior belie the luxury within. Public rooms are traditional with plump sofas, books, games, the tick of grandfather clocks and a multitude of cosy corners to take tea or sip an after-dinner malt. Rooms were already extremely comfortable (this is a Relais & Châteaux property) but there has been a substanial programme of upgrading to bring 21st century chic, with limestoned ‘spa’ bathrooms, falt-screen TVs, wi-fi, et al. The restaurant is excellent, with an innate understanding of balance and classical techniques, married to definite flavours and emphasis on the finest Scottish ingredients. My starter of seared breast of squab pigeon in a pastry shell, doused in wild mushrooms and with a lobe of seared foie-gras on top, was typical of two dinners studded with highlights. Baked halibut with a crab crust, came with a pungent but never over-powering herb mash. Desserts included a beautiful pistachio and chocolate soufflé, served with a jug of chocolate sauce to pour into the freshly cracked crust. Coffee and petit-fours are taken back in the cosseting tranquility of one of the lounges. Airds is a very grown-up sort of place, and whilst the welcome could not be warmer or more charming, it has a hushed atmosphere that some might describe as rather formal. I’d disagree: formality is often a state of mind, and a weekend break at Airds is one of the most relaxing and restorative ways I can think of to blow the bank balance. Room, dinner and (brilliant) breakfast for two starts around £260 per night off-season, £300 and up from Easter to September. (2010)
Isle of Eriska Hotel, Benderloch, Argyll. Phone 01631 720 371
Whilst the dinner service in this country house hotel may be formal, there is a relaxed atmosphere whether seated in the chic, contemporary surroundings of the dining room or large conservatory extension. For non-residents, prior reservations are required. Clearly there is a chef here who keeps abreast of culinary innovation, and the kitchen garden supplies herbs and vegetables, whilst local sourcing is taken seriously. Over the course of my two dinners this kitchen rarely put a foot – or even a toe – wrong. Dinner is a table d’hote affair, with three choices at each course. Highlights for me included a brilliant and quite simple dish of grilled fillet of Sea Bass on a cassoulet of mussels, roasted peppers and young leeks. The fish was crisp-skinned, juicy and moist, the mussels plump and full of flavour and the little stew of vegetables deeply flavoured and cooked perfectly. Roasted fillet of aged Scotch beef came with a shallot jam, a brilliantly simple dish of salsify cooked in red wine and rather up-market Yorkshire pudding. Eriska’s cheese trolley is quite rightly famed, and is one of the best selections (and served in the best condition) that I have seen in Scotland. Around 40 British and French cheeses make up the selection, which can be sampled pre- or post-dessert. Puddings themselves were very good indeed, my favourite probably being a silky ginger and lemongrass panacotta, set against the contrasting texture and flavour of a little walnut cake and honey syrup. A word for the wine list too: holder of the AA notable wine list award, there is a very good choice with whites and reds starting at just £14, Champagnes at £33.50. At the serious end of the list there is value to be found, where wine lovers have been given a relative break on margins, and wines like the 1998 ChÃ¢teau Batailley (£69), 1988 ChÃ¢teau Canon (£80) or 2005 Cheval des Andes (£73.50) all represent fair prices. (2013). Dinner £50 per person. Open every day, dinner only.
Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, Argyle. Phone: 01499 600217
This venerable seafood venue is now a national chain, but this is where it all started. Expanded over the years, this is a large, airy and comfortable restaurant and a retail shop. As well as the oysters (which are truly delicious) a whole range of seafood and fish are the specialities, with their own smoke-house producing wonderful smoked salmon, trout, kippers, etc. The restaurant can be very busy at weekends and holiday periods, and only a limited number of reservations are accepted. My personal favourite dish is the “Bradon Rost” – a plump piece of salmon fillet, roasted in a oak-fired kiln making it tender and flaky inside, smoky and blackened outside. Prices are a bit steep, the wine list is uninspiring, and the non-fish dishes are nothing to write home about. But it’s well worth trying for the seafood (and delicious brown bread and butter). (2011) £65 lunch or dinner. Open 7 days a week lunch and dinner
Summer Isles Hotel, Achiltibuie, By Ullapool. Phone: 01854 622282
Note that as of 2013 Chef Chris Firth-Bernard has left the Summer Isles Hotel. This review dates from 2011. The Summer Isles kitchen has a Michelin star, and is presided over by chef Chris Firth-Bernard. Scallops, lobster, langoustines or crab from the cold offshore waters feature nightly, along with venison and lamb from the hillsides and big brown eggs from the Irvine’s hens. Delicious breads come straight from the oven, and the 400-strong wine list runs the gamut from £15 southern French and Chilean quaffs, to trophy wines like PÃ©trus, RomanÃ©e-Conti and Screaming Eagle. Though there’s a certain formality about the dining room, this is a place to wear walking boots and wind-cheating clothes by day, and dress up a bit for dinner after a long soak in your over-sized bath. There’s also a busy bar at the side of the hotel, where you can rub shoulders with locals and sample the Skye Brewery’s excellent cask ales. The set, no-choice dinner is not cheap at £47, but offers good value for five course, coffee and service. One starter I particularly enjoyed on my two-night stay was a fine fish soup, creamy and light, touched with saffron, and studded with chunks of locally netted salmon, turbot and lobster. Though a haunch of Roe Deer venison was dark and delicious, it was a scintillating poached lobster that stole the main course show. This was an object lesson in simplicity, with copious, impossibly fresh meat presented with minimum intervention. Puddings and cheeses are brought round on trolleys, followed by coffee served in the lounge. By 10:30 we had the place to ourselves: all those hearty hill-walking guests had retired early. (2011) Closed November – March. Rooms from £130 per night, bed and breakfast
Kirroughtree House, near Newton Stewart. Phone: 01671 402141
This handsome private country house dates from 1719. Robert Burns was once a frequent house guest and recited poetry from the staircase to fellow guests in the oak-panelled lounge. A hotel since the 1950’s, this is an absolute retreat from the stresses of modern life. It is a very grown-up hotel, with a rather mature clientelle by and large where the emphasis is on relaxation. There is a croquet lawn and tennis court (both teaming with red squirrels, rabbits and grouse rather than people on my visits) and cosy lounges stuffed with books and games. Rooms are fantastically comfortable and huge, and filled with light from large bay windows that afford stunning views of the Galloway countryside. The evening menu and wine list is placed in your room each afternoon, so you can do a little forward planning. The food is good. Little appetisers and amuse-bouche are included, then recently, a boned quail stuffed with foie-gras on a bed of garlic creamed potato, followed by an excellent fillet steak with thick-cut chips and sautéed vegetables. A fine pear tart with cinnamon ice-cream led on to petit-fours taken in the lounge with coffee. The wine list is good, though I’ve watched some well-priced gems like Leoville-Poyferré 1961 or d’Yquem 1979 disapper over the years! It may be too middle-aged and qiuet for some, but attention to detail and superb management still makes Kirroughtree special. (2012) Dinner, bed and breakfast from £100 – £140 per person, per night.
Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick. Phone: 01776 810471
Local boy Tony Pierce took over the helm in the kitchen in 1994 and has held his Michelin star ever since. A large kitchen garden produces much of the restaurant’s herbs and vegetables, and local produce features prominently. Knockinaam offer only a set menu (though dietary requirements can be catered for) and above all else this is precise and very refined cooking with portions that are satisfying without ever being heavy – essential if you are going to dine here on three or four consecutive nights. Flavours are distinctive yet subtle.logo Really, the kitchen did not put a foot wrong over our two nights. Highlights included a perfect little roast fillet of line-caught sea bass with a potato crust and beurre noisette. The delicacy of the fish was matched by the delicacy of the crust, just adding a faint textural crunch and extra element of buttery flavour. Little soups are served between starter and main, my favourite being a frothy “cappuccino” of pea, pear and mint, where the sweet fleshy bite of little cubes of pear added an unexpected dimension. Local ingredients took centre stage for the main course on both nights, and cannon of Galloway lamb with a shallot puree was wonderful, but then I loved the playful accompaniments to the paupiettes of roast free-range chicken and seasonal green asparagus; a garlic mousse and little garlic beignets. We shared the excellent cheese plate on both evenings before pud: hot passionfruit soufflÃ© with its own sorbet was outstanding, but then a warm and gooey chocolate soufflÃ© pudding with sour cherry ice cream would win many fans too.The lovely thing about staying for a couple of nights in such a place is that the entire wine list opens up for you too: even if you don’t feel like a whole bottle of red to finish that cheese or bottle of dessert wine to accompany dessert, the restaurant will happily hold on to what you do not drink for tomorrow. And the list here is good, with 450 bins running from house wines at £22, to many vintages of top growths. Prices will delight those looking to splash out towards the top of the list: 1978 ChÃ¢teau Lafite at £495 is retail price, whilst less mainstream choices show a keen wine interest. We enjoyed the Pintas Character from the Douro for £57 amongst others. Fantastic. (2011) Dinner is £58 per person.
Trigony House, Closeburn. Phone 01848 331211
The Moore family took over this handsome sandstone Scottish house in autumn 1999 and set about a revolution in the kitchen. Whether dining in the snug bar or low-key but more formal dining room, you will be treated to food that falls squarely into the “comfort” bracket. Adam Moore is passionate about food and about organic methods. He has tracked down local contacts with a vengeance to source the best natural produce, like black-face sheep and Tamworth pigs, often working with other artisans in the area to realise his ambitions. The Moore’s are also showing their commitment by replanting the charming old walled garden just to the side of the hotel. They aim to be largely self-sufficient in organic herbs and vegetables. Food is substantial and good for the soul, like braised shank of lamb, the meat falling from the bone and served with three perfectly cooked pink noisettes of lamb. Having spent time working in Spain, Adam brings unexpected Mediterranean influences to many dishes, but still based in peasant cuisine. As a real bonus, there’s a very nice little wine list, strong on southern France and Spain, and offered at a standard low mark-up. Only an hour or so from Glasgow, Edinburgh or the North of England, this is a fine place for a weekend break (2001). £65 for dinner in the restaurant, moderate room prices.