My year of travelling continues, this time closer to home with a long weekend in Glasgow. I was there both for work and to see family and old friends, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time for culinary planning. (Please feel free to translate this as ‘I didn’t do anything in my spare time except drink terrifying quantities of gin’.) Luckily, I know the city well and even on autopilot can steer myself toward deliciousness. Glasgow is a pretty good food city, especially in the West End where I was based. There’s a strong emphasis on new Scottish cuisine, in which traditional dishes are reimagined and local ingredients blended with the flavours of the city’s South and East Asian immigrant cuisines. You can have amazing local seafood, game, and vegetables here but we never forget the importance of a good curry. As my friend D says, the nan bread up here is giant and pillowy. I did have a proper old-school Glasgow curry but, unsurprisingly, I was far too drunk to photograph it, so you’ll have to take my word on that one. After the jump, a walk through some of the highlights both Scottish and cosmopolitan.
First up was Stravaigin, which is a popular pub and restaurant with two locations in the West End. For well over a decade, Stravaigin has been popular with the university crowd, partly because of its extremely convenient proximity but also because of its casual atmosphere and inventive take on Scottish cooking. You can book a table downstairs or eat from more or less the same menu in the bar upstairs. We went for the latter option, since we were already comfortably ensconced at a table. The menu offers some pub food classics like fish and chips, but also includes a range of more upscale options. The thing you have to try is their haggis, which comes as a main course or, if you don’t want to commit to such a heavy meal, as a starter.
Now I know, non-Scottish readers, you may be horrified by haggis, but trust me, it really is not so scary. You’ve had sausage, right? Well, then, you’ve eaten scarier animal parts without even noticing. Haggis is really just an especially tasty type of sausagemeat, spiced and mixed with oats. It’s delicious and Stravaigin’s version is particularly fine. They also do a vegetarian version that people rave about. The mashed turnips you see are also kind of a Scottish secret: those readers used to bitter American rutabaga will marvel at the sweetness of the neeps, which, with the mashed potatoes, make the traditional combination served with haggis.
After the haggis had mopped up the alcohol a bit, I needed something lighter. One special caught my eye: steamed local langoustines served with garlic butter and green leaves. I love anything in the langoustine / crayfish / lobster family of shellfish and, well, you can’t really go wrong with garlic butter.
The photo doesn’t really do this dish justice, but mostly because a better photo would really bring out its eXistenZ qualities. It was marvellously abject, full of legs and claws, and with the green herbal butter looking for all the world like lobster brains. I did feel like it was a toss up whether I should eat it or fashion a gun from it and shout ‘Death to the demoness Allegra Geller!’ I decided it was more sensible to eat it and it was rather good.
The next night my friends took me to Asia Style, a pan-Asian but largely Malaysian place near St George’s Cross that they’ve been promising to take me to for ages. The menu caters to a broad demographic with quite a few conventional Chinese dishes, but obviously the reason to go is for the Malaysian food. We had the roti canai (translated simply as Malaysian pancakes) and salt and pepper quid to start with. The roti were very good but the squid were a bit on the hard side. I hear the dish is better with soft shell crab.
Next came a gaint vat of kari ayam and a plate of kang kung belacan with crispy pork. Mario Batali says that no word sells more dishes in his restaurants than ‘crispy’ and I can believe it. This was an inspired take on a classic dish, with chunks of well-fried pork belly nestling in the morning glory leaves. The sambal was mild, with just a touch of belacan, but it went beautifully with the savoury pork.
Finally, what trip to Glasgow would be complete without some dessert? Scots are famous for our sweet tooth – you’ve heard of the deep-fried Mars bars, right? I rounded out my trip with a visit to the University Cafe, a West End institution on Byres Rd that combines cafe, chippy and Italian ice-cream store in a uniquely Glaswegian way. A 99 cone with raspberry sauce: what better way to enjoy the late-evening summer light…