Glasgow cuisine: from Victorian to contemporary

A combination of a strong cosmopolitan influence, Celtic creativity and an abundance of local produce from the surrounding Scottish countryside means Glasgow boasts many fine restaurants.

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Featured in a myriad of movies (one, featuring Brad Pitt in ‘World War Z,’ as present-day Philadelphia), Glasgow has left behind its gritty image as the once mighty powerhouse of industrial Britain and enthusiastically embraced a cleaner, more wholesome one based on tourism and financial services, with a lively, largely pedestrian, downtown.

Here are four suggested restaurants to maximize your enjoyment of Scotland’s largest city:

Contemporary style with Scottish and French influences

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACail Bruich, meaning ‘eat well’ in Gaelic, is an intimate, family-run restaurant led by Chris Charalambous, a young chef whose talents are reflected in diverse dishes starting with an amuse bouche such as haggis balls on a plum gelee, green olives, parmesan grissini and duck liver pate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaste and texture in dishes is well-balanced, as in a pre-starter of coconut sabayon with curry royal and hazelnut, as well as in the veloute of pumpkin, buttermilk royal, sage and parmesan sable – warm, nutty and spicy flavors presented as smooth and velvet-like. The same can be said about the meat dishes well balanced with earthy accompaniments such as Perthshire pheasant with spelt grain, artichoke, girolle mushroom and truffle sauce and slow-cooked beef cheek bourguignon with salt baked celeriac, bone marrow and pearl onions. If selecting cheese instead (or as well as) dessert, try the Anster variety from Ayrshire served with picked beetroot, caramel walnut and honeycomb.

Romantic setting with a modern touch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo Fat Ladies at the Buttery is located in Finnieston, an area of Glasgow brimming with new restaurants. With an already established reputation, this venue with its soft lighting and cozy, cushioned wall booths create the appropriate mood for a romantic evening.

Cullen Skink, the Scottish version of chowder, is amusingly described as ‘a hug in a bowl’ while pasta lovers can enjoy homemade ravioli with roast pumpkin, Amaretti biscuit, pea and sage cream, with roasted pumpkin seeds adding a nutty flavor.

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A diverse three-course menu is offered with mains such as pan-fried halibut with a compote featuring three types of tomatoes, black olive tapenade and for meat lovers, a carved rack of Ayrshire lamb on a bed of red cabbage and minted red wine jelly. For dessert, it’s hard to beat warm dark chocolate and Chinese stem ginger with toasted almond ice cream.

Historical ambiance with good hearty food

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATempus restaurant is located within the ‘grand dame’ of Glasgow, the Grand Central Hotel, and provides an impressive ambiance with marble wood flooring, large columns and vivid wall murals of city railway scenes.

It resonated with a lively buzz of conversation when we entered early evening for a pre-theater dinner but service remained efficient and friendly. The menu, while classic and uncomplicated, is varied, mainly catering for people lacking time to linger too long over dinner. We opted for starters of pan-fried scallops nestling in a light creamy sauce of lentils and bacon bits and bruschetta of tomato, basil and red onion sprinkled with crisp rocket and balsamic reduction. As a main, it being a damp evening, we both chose a more wholesome meat dish – duck breast, with wilted greens, potatoes, wild mushrooms and a red wine jus, which came cooked to our liking – seared crisp with a tender, pink interior.

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Dessert was a delight – sticky toffee pudding with vanilla pod ice cream and toffee sauce and an aptly named chocolate indulgence with raspberry coulis.

Scottish dishes in a Victorian setting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABistro du Vin is located in a leafy West End suburb, and its Victorian townhouse façade and high-ceiling, marble fireplaces and ornate moldings inside makes one think of a bygone age.

There are three dinner options: a fixed menu, à la carte or a more comprehensive tasting experience.

The special three-course menu of the day reflects a classic, simple approach to cuisine with starters such as chicken liver pate on toasted brioche, vegetable veloute and smoked kipper parfait and salsa verde. I was delighted with the veloute of pumpkin and sweet potato – mouthfuls of velvety autumn flavors followed by bites of fresh rosemary bread.

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Three choices are offered for the mains, including pan-fried coley with warm potato salad and tomato, and herb risotto, but not being in a vegetarian state of mind and having caught and tasted a few coley along the Irish Wild Atlantic Way the previous week, I opted for the third option, pork belly confit, served on a bed of parsnip puree and braised lettuce. The chef allowed the flavor of pure meat to dominate the plate while complementing it with the earthiness of the parsnip – a typical Victorian approach to food. A blueberry and yogurt panna cotta made for a fine send-off to the downtown area for a play at the Royal Theatre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGlasgow has embraced a cleaner, more wholesome image based on tourism and financial services, with a lively, largely pedestrian, downtown.

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