I don’t now about you, but my preconceptions of glasgow revolved simplistically and mainly around that thick, almost unintelligible at times, accent along with a bunch of misinformed ideas of a faintly rough neighbourhood, deep fried mars bars and Iron Bru – hey, at least I’m being honest. So when I knew I had to visit for the first time last year, I was a little bit gutted that I wasn’t heading to Edinburgh. Shame on me. Turns out I was more than pleasantly surprised and despite a second trip shortly after, I departed feeling like I had lots left that I wanted to discover. When I received an invitation from Glasgow City Marketing Bureau as part of their People Make Glasgow campaign, I very quickly cleared my diary, accepted the invite and looked forward to being shown Glasgow by the very people in the know.
I’ll start with coffee – as good a place as any, and where my focus always leans, first to sharpen my senses and then to pick up further recommendations.
Echoing the current trend across the country, much of Glasgow’s speciality coffee scene is roasting it’s own and where its not, there is a mix of, mainly, other UK roasters which is mainly dominated by local roaster Dear Green , who’s founder Lisa, has done a fine job of promotion throughout local businesses, has just moved into a new roastery and also runs the Glasgow Coffee Festival. Busy lady.
My favourite cafe without a shadow of a doubt is the delightful Piña. What’s not delightful about a tiny, astro turfed cafe down a narrow gravel lane? Nothing, that’s what. Even better, they serve a great menu of Workshop Coffee and The Barn as filter and espresso based drinks, and a dedicated ghetto toastie menu, that is, none of your fancy sourdough numbers, but proper brevilled, sealed sandwiches that promise to melt your face with their contents; both sweet and savoury . It felt right to choose The Scotsman; a somewhat unusual concoction of egg, smoked ham, cheese and BBQ sauce served with tortilla crisps on the side.
The interior of Piña is ice cream hued and set down a level, so it’s like stepping down into a bunker. Upstairs is a slightly creepy area furnished with children toys and a ceiling rammed with mobiles – creepy, possibly as it was deserted on my morning visit, but spookily creepy none the less. Set in the heart of the university area, it throbs with student vibes and despite brilliant coffee, doesn’t take itself too seriously. Did I mention that I love it.
I was seriously impressed with Laboratorio Espresso just around the corner from the Train Station on West Nile Street – Milanese inspired it may be, however the Hasbean espresso I had was nothing of the sort, thankfully, a nod to Italy came instead via a pistachio Sfogliatelli.
Avenue G has two locations – I hit up the one on Byres Road one morning for a quick filter coffee on the bar – not bad at all and it came served with some good information and tasting notes. A great space that’s accommodating of the little ones, I’m told they do a decent brunch too.
Artisan Roast, I visited the Gibson Street cafe, have an impressive selection of their own beans, roasted in Edinburgh on site. Heavy on old timber and ecclesiastical imagery – it feels worn in and a bit hippified. A counter groaning with home made bakes, I, of course, went for a doughnut.
I’m recommending Papercup as I tried their own roasted coffee at the Glasgow Coffee Festival last year once, and enjoyed it, but I haven’t been to their cafe on Great Western Road myself. You should though if you’re in the area.
For breakfast the guys from PMG introduced us to Glasgow’s answer to Dishoom, Babu Kitchen , an Indian street food cafe that’s breakfast and brunches would strike fear into any hangover. Coffee is from Dear Green and my Bhurji Pau was a beautiful harmony of two colliding cultures; buttery spiced eggs crammed into a crispy, but surprisingly light Morton’s roll. Worth noting they also do BYO in the evening.
From my previous trip I can highly recommend the sandwiches and rolls at Devil’s Deli, recommended to me by Greg from Lanark Coffee. Made me laugh that when I was trying to remember the name, the girls at Babu knew exactly where I meant when I described it as being the sandwich shop run by a couple of sullen looking, but seemingly lovely, lads – it’s exactly the sort of place I frequent and reminds me of wonderful cafe Mother’s Milk in London’s Fitzrovia. Ingredients are thoughtfully combined and all meat prepared in-house, served in large portions with more Dear Green coffee.
Back on my PMG trip and after a mid morning forage of some urban green belt on the outskirts of the city, where we lamented the lost knowledge of our grandparents whilst listening to the fascinating Monica Wilde teach us all things plant based. We learnt a little on the near forgotten art of natural remedy (remember rubbing dock leaves onto nettle stings as kids?) whilst identifying edibles. Taking our impressive haul back to Riverhill Restaurant we sit back and wait for it to transformed into lunch by their clearly talented chefs. Oh, what a lunch! If what we ate is any indication of dishes they normally serve then this place is an absolute gem. Locally sourced and seasonal ingredients are dealt a deft and delightful spin – really, well worth a visit – the regular menu draws from many cultural references. The wine list is interesting, the cocktails inspired and they also have a coffee bar around the corner serving, yup, Dear Green coffee.
Know where my absolute favourite martini is? It’s right here in Glasgow at the utterly fabulous Finnnieston. Doesn’t matter that their menu is mainly seafood, I have returned on every visit for their impressively comprehensive gin and cocktail menu. The house martini is wonderfully saline, garnished with capers and, as every martini should be ice cold and gone in three sips, is presented in an elegantly tiny glass alongside a second serve that sits waiting on ice in a tiny glass carafe – you have no idea how much this pleases me.
On my 3rd visit to The Finnieston it mattered even less that they served seafood, as we dined next door at their sister restaurant, and newly opened, steak house Porter & Rye. An impressive ageing room left us in no doubt that we were getting meat and that it was going to be good. It was also, quite possibly the largest beast I think I’ve devoured, which I attacked with hand selected weaponry from a satisfying choice of sharp implements.
The Gannet served me one of my very best meals last year. I forget what exactly but from Negroni’s by the fire to a last glass of wine and melting puddings, it couldn’t have been more perfect, there’s a reason you have to book ahead. I don’t even have any decent pictures – just take my word for it.
Aside from the aforementioned Finnieston, cocktails at The Kelvingrove Cafe were probably my next favourite, and located handily on the same street. A dimly lit bar, heavy bound menu containing drinks veering not too far from the classics, and friendly service provide all I look for in a good cocktail bar.
Now, this place might not be for every one but the instagram pic I took from my second visit to Glasgow was greeted with unanimous nostalgic love; Nice ‘N’ Sleazy seems to be a bit of an institution around these parts, with a sticky floor shaking sound system and £4 (?) super charged white russians this is the student bar of dreams. Worth sticking your head into for a blast from the past.
Now I enjoyed my meal at Ox & Finch well enough during my first visit, but I couldn’t help feeling that it lacked anything of it’s own, that it was more of a themed restaurant designed to tick off current trends. From the style of the menu itself to the small plates and and of-the-minute ingredients, it seemed to miss the mark, for me at least.
My final recommendation is for Stravaigin - a gorgeously cosy restaurant on Gibson Street that is split into cafe and bar areas, both bustling, we hit the bar for it’s roaring fire and, of course, booze. It’s the sort of place that welcomes buggies in it’s cafe side and, more pleasingly for us, creatures of the canine variety in the bar. It’s another menu that is heavy with fusion; my starter is Breakfast Baozi – steamed bun filled with bacon, Thai cucumber & chilli salad with birds eye chilli sauce on the side. Nuff said. My main is all of the traditional as I tick a big fat Scottish box with my Haggis, Neeps & Tatties with whisky sauce. It delivers.
Oh, and finally, although I quite liked the dodgy guesthouses I stayed in when I booked myself, replete with tartan carpets and old school fry ups for breakfast, the Citizen M we were booked into by PMG was really quite special. A little perky and styled for my regular tastes, coming across as a younger sibling of Ace, what really sold it to me was the iPad entertainment controls in the rooms; HELLO colour changeable bedroom!!
Bit upset we didn’t get to visit the Tunnock Teacake factory – one can but dream! I did, on my second visit, however manage to score a packet of the fabled Square Sausage, Lorne as it’s more locally known, or Squasage as I like to call it.