The lovely Scottish Highlands
I’ve been off gallivanting round the beautiful Scottish highlands this past week, the North coast to be precise. Full of bleak, dramatic and breath-taking scenery all in one! It’s a fair old schlep up there from Leeds so we broke our journey home in the bustling metropolis of Glasgow for some on trend eating and drinking. I have to admit that I did expect Glasgow to be a bit more shiny and gleaming than it was, especially given that the Commonwealth Games take place in less than a month – the Olympic effect it has not had, which is a shame. Having said that we still stumbled on a few gems that it’s worth sharing with you.
The newly developing area of Finnieston is where it’s at in Glasgow these days. About 2 miles out of the city centre, this was once an industrial wasteland in rapid decline since the end of ship building heyday. However a bit of organic regeneration has seen it start to emerge like a phoenix from the recession ashes. Cheap rents and proximity to the city have attracted young folk and with young folk come trendy bars and eateries, winner! The Finnieston end of the very long Argyle Street is where to head – sympathetically renovated buildings now play home to delicious restaurants, pop ups and speakeasys. If I had to compare it to anywhere I’d say Leeds’ Call Lane when it was first burgeoning (although that doesn’t do it justice at all tbh). A better comparison is Uberkampf in Paris which has recently transformed from a pretty rough area into a hip and happening oasis of fun and frivolity.
The Gannet – Finnieston, Glasgow
We ate the at the hotly tipped Gannet – a homage to good Scottish produce, served up in a once derelict building. They cure their own meats and smoke their own fish, so I’m wasn’t going to argue. The venue is all bare brick, exposed wires and natural wood. Staff were friendly, genuinely interested in you and helpful in explaining the menus. They do a good early bird, even on a Saturday, but we still opted for the ala carte because it sounded so nice.
For starters I had to go for the home smoked salmon with crab and fennel salad. The salmon was soft and light, with the smoking very gentle indeed, which is a skill in itself. My fennel salad was lovely and crisp but it’s only writing this now that I’ve realised there was no sign of the crab which is so disappointing! I feel bereft! My dining partner had the oddly paired scallops and confit chicken wing. He however reported that they were in a fact a decent pairing, the fatty, salty chicken a good counter balance to the sweet scallop and all married together nicely by the smooth pea puree.
For mains we both went for the borders lamb, which was a pleasingly hearty portion. The plating meant that as a diner I kept finding new little treats and tit bits on the plate that I wasn’t expecting, which meant for exciting eating! The lamb rump was soft, pink and melt in the mouth. Cubes of crispy belly gave a salty umami edge to the dish with fresh crispness delivered by the braised baby gem and broad beans. A slightly sweet cumin sauce kept the dish beautifully moist and colourful. It was very good eating indeed!
For dessert we shared a caramel fondant and tonka bean ice cream. I still don’t understand how the fondant was produced – sponge filled with caramel… I’m guessing a sponge case injected with caramel before baking? The caramel for me was very sweet and lacking in the burnt sugar/ salty tastes I had anticipated. The ice cream had more of a coconut flavour, not that I’m entirely sure what tonka bean tastes of anyway?! It was a nice accompaniment to the warm cake, elevated by the crumbs of honeycomb on top. Overall a very pleasant meal, made special by the attention to detail in the ingredients and the attitude and attentiveness of the lovely staff.
With full bellies we luckily had room for a few cocktails and so my other tips for Finnieston include – the Kelvingrove Café for grown up cocktails. It’s right next door to the Gannet and is decorated in the style of a vintage Parisian café upstairs and an illegal 1920s speakeasy downstairs. We sat downstairs and enjoyed watching the bar man expertly and speedily produce our cocktails in cut glass. All are gin and vermouth based, so my kind of place! A few doors down is the Finneston, which is a nautical themed pub – think lots of wood and portholes! Again gin is big business here with over sixty on offer. There’s an extensive menu to tempt you. I went for the Scottish gin and tonic which comes with fresh red apple. This was extremely refreshing but too gluggabale! I swiftly moved on to their signature martini which comes wet as standard and includes grapefruit oils. There’s a huge ritual to making the drinks which is lovely to watch. The martinis are served up in tiny glasses but then the remainder of the mix is given to you in a mini jug so that you can top up to your heart’s content. I liked the idea of adding aromatic oils to the drink but felt it wasn’t as pronounced as I would have expected it to be. I’ll be trying the dirty martini next time which comes with the brine from kalamata olives, yum!
So, if like me you’re more of an Edinburgh kind of person then do give Glasgow’s Finneston suburb a look in next time you’re in Scotland. It’s edgier, more creative and more innovative then the foodie scene in Edinburgh and whilst it doesn’t have the same romantic, historic charm of Edinburgh, it’s worth a look in to keep up with the latest trends and fads.
Read more about Finnieston here – http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/feb/09/a-day-in-finnieston-glasgow-city-guide