Added on Tuesday 29 Mar 2011
The advertisement is still on the subway wall at Hillhead as I write, promising diners at the Ubiquitous Chip ?a world first?, on a scientific-looking poster flagging up a concept called Ingr3dients ... it?s dining, Jim, but not as we know it.
What on earth is it all about? Pat Byrne and I found out the other night, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience ? which was perhaps just a wee bit like crossing a gourmet Scottish restaurant meal with some sort of exhibit in the Glasgow Science Centre.
The first clue to the fact there?s something unusual going on is the presence of 3D goggles on the table as well as the usual cutlery, plates and glasses. That and the fact that the delightful indoors courtyard setting of The Chip is as dark as a cinema immediately before the main feature, with negotiation between tables only possible because of strategically placed blue lights.
There?s a menu card detailing everything that is to be served, and in some detail. It?s too dark to read this without a pen torch and strong glasses, but never mind because the whole script will soon be flashed up on the giant screen on the far wall anyway.
Sponsored by estimable deluxe blended whisky brand Black Bottle (which famously includes each of the whiskies distilled on Islay), the bill of fare looks extensive, and at first glance you assume you?re looking at multiple choices in each section.
Not so. We?re asked by the staff if we have any special dietary requirements but we?re both (it turns out) more or less omnivorous, and it then becomes clear we are going to be expected to eat everything listed.
First up is a tassie (very small dish) of delightful cullen skink ? a trad dish which often appears to be surprisingly difficult to do well. This little taster is a delight, not over-fishy but nevertheless satisfyingly appetising. The superior bread served with this king among soups ? oh, for an entire plateful ? is a delight.
Next ? and here we feel obliged to slap on the goggles like everyone else ? is a ?starter? called Seafood Trinity ... and suddenly the darkened restaurant is swimming with hologram sea creatures. I?ve seen hologram video done before, but certainly not like this. Fish swim straight at you, and it?s all you can do not to duck.
Following what looked at first like nouvelle cuisine but which was in fact a little riot of taste sensation on a plate we move, after a decent interval, on to a magnificent Perthshire game terrine, with yet more spectrally impressive son-et-lumiere.
The main course, however, is obviously the highlight. This is not only because it is Rioja-glazed shin of beef, cooked for five hours ... with marrow beignet, shallot essence and sage gnocchi... but because it also has the most elaborate hologram ? to wit, a full size full colour Highland cow. Unfortunately the beastie is so endearingly cute that one or two of the younger diners pause to reflect on the connection between entree and lovable animal ? but soon tuck in. To be honest, while the 3D cow is genuinely amazing, I ?got the idea? after a minute or two, removed the goggles, and applied myself to the cuisine, attention undivided.
Sublime might be the word for it ? it was certainly culinary craftiness of the highest order, and a magnificent example of beef produce too.
Dessert is the Chip?s own Scottish oatmeal ice cream, with Angostura rum-fattened golden raisins and caramelised banana ? all disconcertingly easy to polish off.
And then there?s the Black Bottle black bun. I should have remembered from childhood that black bun is the heaviest pudding known to science, but although the pieces on the plate didn?t seem huge I greedily scoffed two, and too quickly, and of course suddenly felt like I?d had a particularly large Christmas dinner.
However this is certainly no complaint. In fact the entire meal was cunningly constructed not only to appeal to a broad range of tastes (while showing off Scotland?s stellar natural produce, by way of a top flight kitchen) but also to suit people who eat heartily as well as those with more modest appetites.
Unlike some restaurants I won?t mention (oh, all right then, the Millennium Copthorne a few years back, with its vast white plates and tiny vegetarian tortelloni), nobody was in any danger of having to make a dash to the chip shop on the way home.
As a culinary evening with a dash of science magic it was definitely an adventure, of sorts ? educative, even - and perhaps the cleverest thing about it was the fact that the 3D experience was fun but not in the least obtrusive, since obviously if you take the goggles off the holograms disappear and you?re back in a normal restaurant. In the dark.
Ingr3dients is one of the ?specials? the Chip is serving up to mark its 40th anniversary, begging the question as to what thrills may be in store next ? having to harpoon your own lobster in the new continental-style live fish tank? Possibly not, but on this form it?s certain to be interesting.
For me the most exciting new arrival on the local restaurant scene this year has been the opening of Pakistani Cafe at the foot of Byres Road ? on a site which has played host to a seemingly endless stream of dining propositions which didn?t make it.
There was (in no particular order) Beetlejuice, Gordon Yuill, North of Bondi and Ad Lib, and something called The Long Way Home which I?m afraid I never tried during its all too brief incarnation. If you were of a superstitious frame of mind you might conclude there?s an ancient witch?s curse on the site, which doesn?t seem to have done too well as anything since it was ...a bank.
All that, however, is about to change. I could be hugely wrong, but I sincerely hope I?m not, because owner Mr Sharif has brought something rather special to what could become a really legendary West End venue ... which is arguably all the more surprising since the venture is an offshoot of a successful restaurant developed in Pollokshaws Road.
Mr Sharif has had his battles to fight on the south side ? and more on that another time ? but I?ve a feeling this could be a very rare case of somebody moving to exactly the right location at the right time.
Since we?re obviously talking about a place which is first and foremost an Asian restaurant this might seem a trifle ambitious, since near neighbours include The Wee Curry Shop in Byres Road and Balbir?s in Church Street ? but in a few months time diners may increasingly start to see Pakistani Cafe as forming the third point of a triangle.
Only an Asian restaurateur with sublime confidence in his food offer would surely dream of moving into a high profile site in the middle of an area well-served by superlative Indian restaurants ? but it?s confidence well founded.
The daytime offer allows you to choose from assorted Asian light bite options, but also to choose slimmed-down versions of the dishes on the evening menu. This allowed me to try a chicken and fresh spinach dish which was fantastically gingery yet beautifully ?balanced? in every way, set off by wholemeal basmati rice, a fresh wholemeal chapatti, and a generous serving of lime pickle.
Admittedly it will take a few trips to get the hang of a menu clearly inspired by authentic Asian home cooking but this initial experience was enough to convince me that the reputation established in the south side (and not just for the cuisine) will be amply replicated at Partick Cross.
There?s an eclectic range of music playing, from trad Asian to blues, a large rack of books which are clearly there to be read, and a sort of implicit mission statement that says something like ?We?re giving you the best stuff we can manage at the price, in a place where you?ll feel at home?.
More on this one soon, but in an area where there?s usually something exciting to talk about where Asian restaurants are concerned this is genuinely different ? and fans of venues like Mother India, Banana Leaf and Balbir?s should investigate it without further delay.
Nice to see Mother India owner Monir Mohammed along with Balbir Singh Sumal and Satty Singh as three of the four ambassadors for Glasgow in the recent UK Curry Capital competition (the other local representative was Fattah Haddad, owner of the highly-regarded KoolBa in town) ? and all the nicer because the city won Britain?s top award for an unprecedented fourth time in a row.
At the risk of being boring on the subject, it has to be pointed out that not only is Glasgow the universally acknowledged star of UK Asian dining but also that practically all of the best of its restaurants are in the West End ? although we?ve got to acknowledge that Pakistani Cafe, Banana Leaf and possibly others are making up a very strong showing on the south side.
Yet I think I have yet to see any city marketing pitch which makes this point, and come to think of it propaganda about Glasgow restaurants in general tends to lump the dining out scene together with shopping and whatnot.
This has really got to change. As well as a literally unrivalled assortment of Asian restaurants the West End now also plays host to above-average Persian, Levantine and North African restaurants ? not to mention its .Greek, Spanish and other international venues.
Fair enough, Scotland is an economic disaster area, we?re saddled with political leaders who look, sound and act like bit parts in River City, and the weather is truly disgusting ? but we?ve got fantastic, terrific-value restaurants which cannot be equalled for ingenuity, bonhomie or plain skill anywhere else in the country.
That?s ?gobi? worth something ...
A fairly earnest feature article appeared in The Herald recently on the subject of Daniel Cottier, the Anderston-born designer and artist whose work is rightly famous almost everywhere except Scotland - where the experts all admire him but nobody else knows him at all.
He was in his prime during the mid-19th century at the time when large and prestigious Presbyterian churches were sprouting in areas including Hyndland, Dowanhill and Kelvinbridge to answer the spiritual needs of emerging new white collar communities ? and one of his masterpieces of interior design was the former Dowanhill Parish Church on Highburgh Road (at the top of Hyndland Street).
Apart from the stained glass windows which are among his most widely-recognised achievements this church was treated to a very avant-garde freehand ?Aztec? style of design, genuinely groundbreaking in an era which tended to play a bit safe, particularly in ecclesiastical settings.
So after a bit somebody decided to vandalise the whole gigantic work of art by slapping blue paint over the lot ? an artistic sacrilege which specialists The Four Acres Charitable Trust have been labouring to put right since 1984.
Now they have arrived at what?s clearly a landmark moment. To fund their activities the Trust have used the leased bar and restaurant operations at ?Cottiers?, and while for a time it might have seemed as if the place might never be more than a converted church ? like, say, Church on the Hill at Battlefield ? this month finally saw the reopening of the main hall as a theatre.
The opening show is a musical version of the Count of Monte Cristo, and just like the count the restored main hall, a massive undertaking, has figuratively come back from the Chateau Dief.
If all goes according to plan West Enders will have in their midst not only a celebration of the art of a great Victorian Glaswegian of international standing but also a high quality theatre with fully-fledged professional restaurant and bar facilities, all arguably acting as a nice counterpoise to Oran Mor half a mile up the road on Great Western Road and Byres Road.
Each former church will have a different style, and together they?ll be able to offer a genuine local ?circuit? of venues in a stretch which will also take in smaller performance spaces in excellent hostelries such as (music specialist) Bar Brel in Ashton Lane.
A common complaint by bar and restaurant operators at the West End Festival over the last couple of years is that all the action has been dragged over to Kelvingrove, where admittedly there?s more space for family fun day events involving kiddies.
The reopening of Cottiers Theatre will, I think, swing the pendulum back the other way a little. The relatively short stretch between Great Western Road and the top of Hyndland Street will be ?theatreland?, with an eclectic choice of entertainments ranging from classical music and jazz to comedy, theatre, celebrations of fine Scottish cuisine and no doubt very much more besides.
Not to put to fine a point on it, it?s great news for local people who like good food and drink with their culture, and who don?t really enjoy sitting in huge impersonal corporate function suites in the middle of town ? so it?s one up to the West End?s unrivalled going out scene.
The Blind Pig in Byres Road is named after the infamous speakeasies of Prohibition America, when ?dying for a drink? could have literal connotations if you fell foul of Lucky Luciano or Al Capone.
Now the owner has taken the theme a step farther by introducing a concept he calls ?Intoxicating Tearooms?, in which the china teapots your maiden aunt might have poured Earl Grey from are containers for .... drink.
It?s a sassy way of drawing attention to cocktails, and (if people I saw staring in the window late on a Monday afternoon are anything to go by) also perhaps to alert people to the idea that they can enjoy an early-week treat by way of a wee libation, that is a cocktail mixed by a bar tender (who the owners insist on calling ?a mixologist?)
Will it catch on? Who knows ? it?s the West End and Byres Road so anything could happen, but it?s maybe interesting to note the pitch is being made particularly at women, possibly on the assumption that they?ll like the curious juxtaposition between the worlds of Miss Marple and Dashiel Hammet. Me, I?ll just stick to the occasional pint.
Meanwhile back in the world of delis and home cooking, one indication that you find a lot more than spuds and home-made tablet at the Mansefield Park farmers market is a stall selling the Just Add Chilli range of home-made condiment created by the estimable Mrs Susan McCann, who insisted on giving me a couple of jars to try as I was writing about her product anyway.
?They? said it was fantastic ? and so do I. All natural ingredients, secret recipe (involves fresh strawberries), shelf life of 35 weeks ... it?s either (or both) a relish or a convenience cookery aid. You can put it in a chilli, of course, but it?s also great with salads, or on oatcakes ? and perhaps particularly with cheese.
Mrs McCann was more or less badgered by her family into making her chilli recipe a business proposition and after fulfilling all the statutory requirements her home kitchen is now a fully-authorised catering kitchen ? one in which the cupboards are inevitably choc-a-bloc with neatly stacked jars of Just Add Chilli.
Interestingly there?s no modern convenience aid to process the actual chillies, and Mrs McCann ? who visits the fruit market most days at an ungodly hour for her supplies ? has to chop up the chillies by hand, stripping out the fiery seeds.
There?s a Mild version, a Wild version and ? just for all those people for whom no chilli ever seems to be hot enough ? there?s soon to be an Extreme version. It gets my vote. I?m half way through the second jar already.
Apart from farmers markets you?ll find Just Add Chilli in quality stores like Peckham?s.
What is the first genuine indicator of authentic spring in the West End? Is it buds on the trees or the arrival of particular breeds of duck in Kelvingrove Park?
No, in fact it?s the four feet high ice cream cone placed on the pavement outside the University Cafe near the foot of Byres Road ? a brilliant little retro flourish which, effortlessly, conveys all the joie de vivre of the season in one easy-to-recognise image.
Unfortunately the management only deploy the giant ice cream cone on days which they regard as authentically spring-like, so while their splendid example of Public Art was on full display on Saturday it was whipped indoors again on chilly Sunday ... and who knows when we?ll see it again.
An ice cream cone of real Italian ice cream from the University Cafe, meanwhile, remains one of life?s more or less innocent pleasures ? and never mind your 135 different flavours from arriviste ice cream parlours elsewhere. A University Cafe cone is the definitive al fresco ice cream experience, just as it has been since (I think) sometime before the 1920?s.
From the ice cream parlour it?s just a short stroll down to the recently-opened Chocolate Emporium (on the site of what used to be The Pantry) neatly turning what had been this moribund section of Byres Road into a sort of dessert and confectionery heaven.
Hot chocolates, continental chocolate drinks, truffles and other delights are among the treats in store.
Some will grumble that chocolate is hardly a replacement for a bakery, but it?s clear the venture already has its regular sweet-toothed following, and it?s a nice point of difference to the other cafe and restaurant offers on this stretch of the road.
Congratulations to staff at iconic city centre landmark the Grand Central Hotel (it used to be just ?the Central Hotel? before a major revamp) which has just won two awards from the Scottish Hotel of the Year Awards.
The Grand Central Hotel picked up the most awards on the night including the Friendly Service Award, Event Venue of the Year for the stunning Grand Room of Glasgow ballroom, Rising Star Event Venue of the year, a Taste Award for the newly opened Tempus Bar and Restaurant and Urbane Bar of the Year for its elegant Champagne Central bar which overlooks Central Station.
Owning firm Principal Hayley?s ?20m restoration of the historic Grand Central Hotel was also given a prestigious Gold Laurel.
The Grand Central Hotel?s general manager Laurie Nicol was also commended on the night with a Gold Medal Award for her role in the hotel?s ?20m refurbishment while head chef James Murphy was named Executive Chef of the Year.
Tennent?s Bar in Byres Road remains saved from major repointing, so far as we know, but that doesn?t mean everything is staying absolutely the same.
The iconic hostelry has introduced its own comedy nights, aiming to tap in on virtually limitless enthusiasm for laughter-inducing entertainment ? in these days of desperate and deepening recession we could all do with a snigger ? and its downstairs area now becomes Byres Road?s only (official) comedy spot every week on Wednesdays after 8pm.
Unfortunately I?m never around on a Wednesday night so I?ll have to rely on customers for feedback ? but nice to see jokeathons making it to Tennent?s, as in Woodlands people are well catered for by The Stand Comedy Club and The Dram.
It?s the sort of publicity money just can?t buy ? and a salutary reminder that while in olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking we needn?t assume the loose-stays ambience of the West End today (have you seen Ashton Lane on a Friday night?) is acceptable to everyone.
A group of several dozen members of something called The Church of Zion turned up outside Oran Mor last week to barrack performers in a play entitled Christ on a Bike ? the Second Coming, by Richard Herring.
According to The Herald this show has played to around 50 venues and this is the first time it?s come under fire in quite this way.
The show?s director, Tommy Sheppard, is not chuffed by the way the religious enthusiasts disported themselves at the venue, reportedly likening their actions to ?the sort of thing you might expect from Al Quaeda, not on the streets of Glasgow?.
He says they should have read beyond the arresting title of the piece and taken the trouble to find out what it?s actually about ? which is, he says, in fact an exploration of the New Testament and how it conflicts with Herring?s particular take on something The Herald calls ?atheist logic?.
Quite regardless of the merits or otherwise of the play, the protesting fundamentalists should realise that their very presence as protesters will have had an effect entirely contrary to the one intended, and sell-out performances are assured.
It?s not the first time an artistic production in Glasgow has come under fire from religious people, of course. Many years ago Monty Python?s Life of Brian was banned from the city by a group of cooncillors who thought the citizens should be protected from cinematic heresies ...which included such immortal and non-blasphemous lines as the message to the multitude from Brian?s mum: ?E?s not the Messiah ? e?s a very naughty boy!?
Nowadays I expect you could probably buy it on DVD at Fopp for a fiver.