So on Friday afternoon a good friend of mine took us both out for an early dinner. “I’ll pay for it,” he told me, “if you promise to review it.” Being an impoverished writer, and hence knowing never to pass up a free meal, I gladly accepted although when I discovered our nourishment would consist of a six course tasting menu of nouvelle cuisine based on the theme of ’street food’ I became somewhat trepidatious as the idea of high-end ‘nouvelle cuisine’ mixed with low-brow ‘street food’ immediately had the two concepts incongruously crashing together in my mind before I’d even set foot in the establishment.
The restaurant, which I’ll keep anonymous, was situated in Glasgow’s West End right opposite Waitrose, so located at the very nexus of Glasgow’s space/time wankery field. Inside the environment was suitably relaxed and the staff were great with the only issue being the fact it’s a tasting menu therefore outside the consumer’s control, meaning, on entering, my agency was politely taken from me along with my jacket.
What would we end up eating and just how screamingly chi-chi would it be? Here, dear reader, are my thoughts on the six courses that followed -
FIRST COURSE — Steamed Bun — Seoul (Gochujang Pork Steamed Bun, Chilli Oil, Ginger and Pickled Mushroom).
I was quite surprised to be presented with a pork filled bun for my starter as it seemed a somewhat pretentious and heavy handed way to open a meal, but I’ve survived the opening scenes of several Darren Aronofsky movies so I felt pretty confident I could handle this.
The good news is it worked surprisingly well, specifically because the bun was light enough not to destroy the appetite with overwhelming stodge and the pork itself was delicious. So far, so good.
SECOND COURSE — Samosa — Goa (Spiced Onions and Pickle).
The intentional geometric contrast of the triangular samosa after the opening spherical bun was not lost on me and I soon twigged that the chefs were deliberately toying with our shape perception and the capacity of our visual apparatus systems. The only question was — why? Was it to distil nebulous stimuli, that of the ‘street’, into a precise form or was it to show off the pickle?
I pondered this as I bit into an obtuse angle. Not quite as tasty as the bun but the clever use of coriander helped ameliorate any excessive Pythagorean properties.
THIRD COURSE — Kebab — Istanbul (Lamb Belly, Roasted Cabbage, Pickled Golden Raisins, Salsa Verde and Roasted Garlic Foam).
The geometric shenanigans continued with a kebab the shape of which I can only describe as “ostentatiously rectangular”. The golden raisins were more inconspicuous than their name would suggest but, on the whole, this was another winner. The lamb was cooked to perfection and the salsa verde was suitably verdant.
Yet it was the roasted cabbage with garlic foam that were the real stand outs here with the garlic foam being, by far, the tastiest foam I’d eaten since I consumed a whole can of Wilkinson Sword as a toddler.
This really kicked the entire experience up a gear.
FOURTH COURSE — Taco — Mexico City (Fish Taco, Coal Fish, Barbecue Corn, Smoked Jalapeno and Tomatillo Salsa).
Next up was the fish course and going by how geometrically outrageous the meal had been so far I wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d been presented with ovoid coelacanth. Instead it was a supremely lovely, and freakishly miniscule, fish taco. In fact, the taco was so microscopic that the diner undergoes a severe case of size dilation as holding it between your fingers makes you feel like a ravenous giant.
It’s accompanied by a slice of coal fish covered in an ash espuma (technically a volcanic thermo-whip). My friend was especially taken by the ash espuma although this did inadvertently highlight what, for me, was the essential underlying, and extraordinarily controversial, thrust behind the meal.
You see, my friend (whom I also promised to keep completely anonymous, although his name rhymes with Randy Pelson) is part of Glasgow’s theatre world and before the meal we met at one of Glasgow’s most prominent theatre venues. When we told everyone there that we were going to dine at REDACTED we were greeted with cries of envious jealousy accompanied by declarations of “Their foams and edible emulsions are to die for!”
My problem is that people in Scotland’s theatre world, along with the Scottish media in general, love to portray Scotland and Glaswegians on stage and screen as only eating Greggs and drinking Buckfast yet when it comes to their own private and personal lives they wouldn’t be seen dead eating a steakbake, preferring instead to guzzle on various exotic ointments and pastes, or drinking anything other than expensive Merlots. This restaurant’s ash espuma was a devastating critique of that rampant hypocrisy and by far the most damning indictment of the current state of the Scottish media and cultural scene of the last thirty years. I wanted to applaud its honesty and integrity because this ash espuma is the REAL Glasgow, the hidden and neglected one brutally censored for challenging the lies of the status quo. Until it is publicly acknowledge that ash espuma is eaten in Scotland then independence will forever remain an utter impossibility.
FIFTH COURSE — Satay — Jakarta (Chicken Satay, Leg Roulade, Shallot Jam, Satay Sauce, Peanut Crumble, Pak Choi Salad).
The only major disappointment of the meal and this had nothing to do with the expertly crafted execution or presentation of the dish but more the immutable fact that chicken is so unbelievably boring, dull and offensively insipid that anyone who intentionally orders it in a restaurant is a complete idiot (chicken is to cuisine what the singer/songwriter James Taylor is to music). There’s only so much you can do with chicken to even attempt to wrestle any form of excitement out of it and when you add peanuts into the equation it’s a fucking lost cause (which, incidentally, should have been the name of this dish).
So it fails on a conceptual level more than anything else. Not a total disaster but certainly quixotic if not downright Sisyphean of the chefs to even attempt it.
SIXTH COURSE — Coffee — Hanoi (Cocoa Mousseline, Coffee, Leche and Buttermilk).
This was very nice indeed, especially the sorbet which helped counteract the cocoa mouselline which was so deliciously dense I had to struggle to prise my mouth open between mouthfuls like a dog that’s eaten a box of toffees. It came festooned with a micro-cheesecake, the spongy texture of which I can only compare to certain types of rare Scandinavian lichen resulting in a spectacular climax to the meal.
My friend settled the bill (possibly the most pleasurable part of the experience was being able to sit back and let him pay) and we left having had a delightful time and exposed to many wondrous flavours. The chicken satay aside my only real issue was that there was maybe a little too much foam, emulsion and espuma going as consuming so much insubstantial froth started making me paranoid that my esophageal sphincter would start atrophying from lack of use and I’d be rendered permanently incapable of peristalsis. Fortunately that didn’t occur.
Still, these are minor quibbles as, all in all, it was a delightful, delicious and highly varied experience. Highly recommended.