Roy Beers Dining and Drinking Archive - Glasgow West End Spring 2010

April, 2010

Photo: innis and gunn. Historic first for the Embra Nectar

It's always nice to be able to start a column with something positive to say about one's illustrious sponsor: and we can say "illustrious" when it comes to pukka beer brand Innis & Gunn, especially these days, because it has just become the first Scottish beer firm in more than two decades to be given the Queen's Award for Enterprise

It's a distinction which speaks volumes about the success of the products and also the incredible strides it has made into what is beyond doubt a difficult and fickle market.

On the other hand, by way of a bibulous wee digression, it's also a market in which there is a very definite trend towards the niche, the high quality and the individual - in fact there's a definite Beer Renaissance in full swing, and one which is not confined solely to cask ale.

Overall beer sales are flat, and falling steadily, but within that gigantic overall category there is the spectacular success of Innis & Gunn in the "connoisseur" segment, which perhaps shows that while many are switching to wine or other drinks there is still a definite place for "something a bit special" when it comes to choosing a beer.

I&G won its award in the International Trade category, for the success it has enjoyed in discerning markets such as Canada, and in strict sales terms I&G is now the best-selling British speciality beer in off sales outlets (for example, Waitrose).

That, however, was not the whole success story. Innis & Gunn has also won two Gold Medals at the 2010 Monde Selection Quality Awards in Brussels for its Innis & Gunn Original Oak-Aged Beer and its Rum Cask Finish variant - accolades which again confirm it is operating in a league immeasurably higher than anything "average".

Welcome to Persia

That new restaurant on Great Western Road at the foot of Cecil Street I have mentioned once or twice is now fully open for business - and (you heard it here first, with possibly tedious but nonetheless arguably welcome predictability) it is very interesting indeed.

Persia ("an authentic taste of") is markedly different from existing local ventures in several fairly major ways, and certainly has an offer likely to cut the mustard on its particularly busy stretch of road.

The first thing to stress (and you get a hint of this from the smart table decor) is that you can forget any notion of it being "a kebab shop". There is a takeaway service, I discovered, but it's really pointed at people who have already enjoyed the sit-in service but also fancy a quiet night in with the same sort of quality cuisine - much as with, obviously Dining In at Mother India or one of its siblings.

There was soulful Persian violin music playing while I was in, and together with the tasteful decor - plenty of tributes to the glories of the ancient Achaemenid and Sasanian empires, but in a low-key way - it has the stamp of a fine dining venue written all over it. It also has a full drinks licence, with what appears to be a wine list carefully-selected to complement the cuisine: there's an emphasis on New World wines but a representative Old World choice too.

Other immediately obvious remarkable features include a new mezzanine level, which adds considerably to the table capacity; and a dedicated (and very nicely designed) outdoor area - for those hopefully glorious days of summer still to come. There has been major investment in this site, not a quick refurb, and it shows.

But what about the food? I've said before that "Persian" cuisine (part of a far broader culinary culture reflected to some extent across the entire Near East) is generally speaking far less demonstrative than Indian, and that its subtleties sort of grow on you as the meal progresses - and that's very much my impression of the food in this place.

There are about 20 starters, mostly vegetarian, which could easily be bought in twos or threes to make up a "tapas" selection; but your options also include a large mixed selection of these dishes. There's a two-course lunch menu at #6.50, which would appear to be ripping value, and even a small kids' menu, in which various Persic options are complemented by a burger and fries - except the burger is a high quality lamb pattie in a sesame bun.

Since I was in exploratory mode I ordered a "stew" dish based on chicken, called Fassenjen, mainly because it was prepared in a very exotic (to me) pomegranate and chopped walnuts sauce. I thought it was exquisite - not too tart, and not too cloying, but beautifully married to the marinaded chicken and its accompanying dish of saffron rice.

Persia is arguably the home of the kebab - as a keen student of exotic periods of history I recall reading how early 19th century Persian infantrymen on campaign were observed using their bayonets as kebab skewers over army camp fires (a cut above the sort of rubbish eaten by European troops of the period); but on the menu here the word only grudgingly appears once or twice, as in shashlik, which cannot be anything but a kebab.

However while these are probably wonderful, somewhat mirroring the Arabic and Indian traditions of grilling meat - and I love a really good chicken-based kebab, whether Greek, Turkish, Georgian, Asian or Persian - they are a mere subsection of what turns out to be a very elaborate menu indeed.

To folk who have perhaps lived and worked in Iran (like a pal of mine who worked for an engineering firm and lived there for years) the Persian dishes are possibly as familiar as typical Indian dishes are to Glaswegians, but for most of us, certainly me, there is a thoroughly entertaining journey of discovery waiting to be made.

I haven't yet tried, for example, Ash-e-Reshteh, or Persian-style noodle soup; nor yet the fish dishes - which include marinaded salmon grilled "over an open fire"; or Loobia Polo, which is chopped fresh green beans cooked in a light tomato sauce, with a touch of cinnamon. If you're a veggie - and even if you're not - you'll quickly discover that Persian cuisine is the perfect antidote to boredom: you could eat here very regularly and never exhaust all the choices and combinations.

Since this is clearly one of the world's healthiest cuisines, there has to be something naughty included as a counterbalance; and of course that's the desserts. My first visit on a truly summery day is going to be rounded off with Persian ice cream, in saffron, rosewater an pistachio versions; or perhaps some Zulbia and Bamiyeh, "Persian authentic sweets".

Very recently I read a review of a south side restaurant where the writer, who had enjoyed a meal there on a Friday, tried again on a Monday and found it deserted and a pale imitation of what he'd had before (because the head chef was off for the day, apparently). Persia (open till 10pm) was also quiet when I visited on a Monday at teatime, but everything from the cheerful service to the pzazz of the pomegranate sauce was absolutely spot on - and I'll certainly be back.

Wok this Way?

Bashing on along the old Silk Road from Persia and scooting briskly across the Hindu Kush, in the very footsteps of Alexander of Macedon but turning left at the top of India, we arrive at length in ... not China, exactly, but Partick. Another very new opening there is the Crazy Wok, takeaway and restaurant, which opens till midnight every night (opens noon, Monday to Saturday; from 4pm on Sunday), and it's arguably a potentially welcome arrival in its particular neck of the woods at 173 Dumbarton Road.

The initial impression is that it's the latest evocation of the noodle cafe concept which seems to have firmly taken root in Glasgow dining land, but on further inspection it turns out to be a full monty Chinese kitchen with one or two potentially interesting non-standard offers.

Ramen, for example, is "big bowls of noodle in soup", and looks very interesting indeed: the seafood laksa curry version has grilled prawn, squid, salmon fillet in a spicy chicken soup topped with coriander, spring onion and sliced red chillies, with the advice: "very tasty, hot and spicy".

There are loads of seafood choices, like griddle-grilled sea bass fillet with chilli, garlic, ginger and onion sauce; our old favourite King Prawn Curry; griddle-grilled Sea Bass fillet, and also salmon in a black pepper sauce (which might be my first choice - I've long been a convert to the concept of jazzed-up salmon).

I could rattle through the whole menu, but perhaps the easiest way to explain it is that it appears to be a sort of hybrid between the "trad" Glasgow Chinese restaurant and a more adventurous offer, the latter reflecting a far more elaborate and inspiring cuisine than the sort of fare we were offered a couple of decades ago.

So while it's fine to see prawn crackers, chips, curry sauce and beansprouts in the "side dishes" choices this cosy familiarity is capped by a list of about ten "specials" under the heading "Rice/Noodle". There's a house special egg fried rice which sounds fantastic; "Singapore" style variants; and a deluxe Teriyaki Grilled Sirloin Steak - "on a bed of teppan fried noodles with pak choi, red onion, mange tout, beansprout; chillies, ginger, garlic, onion, garnished with sesame seeds and coriander."

The takeaway menu has no dessert options, and there isn't a banana fritter in sight - but that's small loss. The mission statement on the takeaway menu informs us that the aim is to provide "simple, quality, fresh, value for money oriental Chinese cuisine", and that most dishes are cooked to order.

We're also told the kitchen "minimises" the use of our old friend MSG, artificial colouring and preservative "when possible" replacing it with "top grade chicken stock for healthy eating". For some people the mention of MSG will be a killer, and they will steer well clear - others bothered by additives may seek further details on which dishes are and are not tainted with MSG etc.

In its Partick milieu it could be the owners don't feel brave enough to say "goodbye forever" to the old ways of doing things in Glasgow, and may want to test the market to see how important or otherwise a "healthy" cooking ethos really is. I'd suggest they could make the final leap to squeaky clean by wooing the Lower Hyndland set clustered around quality venues nearby, such as Delizique and Peter's Restaurant (etc) - word about good food soon reaches its market in this part of town.

However the restaurant does list the "most common ingredients" to be found in its cooking, most of which appear harmless - at least to most of us; customers are advised to speak up if they have allergies, and I imagine a relatively common one would be a nut allergy to satay sauce.

In this list of ingredients, which includes for example oyster sauce, star-aniseed, wheat flour, you'll also find "ok fruity sauce", whatever on earth that is; Worcester sauce - I invite you to study a bottle label - and, enigmatically, "etc".

So, yes, if not crazy exactly there's a wee bit of a mixed message going out here, almost as if the owners are aware that some people have concerns and are food-conscious, while others are perfectly happy with old-tech cooking and take their chances with the cooking style. I'm going to try the place very soon - but I will ask what food they can offer which is untainted by any artificial ingredients.

Mediterraneo Magic

I have mentioned it more than once, but this cracking little venue is definitely the unsung cafe star of Byres Road - unsung, that is, apart from the page three lead all about the place which appeared in one of The Herald's more bizarre (if interesting) news agendas last year. Where else but Mediterraneo can you get Auntie-style high tea and cakes, a full Turkish meze, high quality chocolate cake, top notch bacon rolls, Scottish breakfast - or Greek breakfast - and plenty more I cannot immediately call to mind. Oh yes, burger and chips with a lavish and high quality salad: I remember that one.

Myself and Mrs Beers were in there fairly recently, late on, and manager Ali was off for the day: his replacement was too polite to say he would normally be shutting up shop at that time, and let us blether away over too many coffees until it occurred to me to ask when they closed. This guy gets the Exemplary Service Medal for unfailing cheerfulness and efficiency in the face of way-too-comfortable customers.

Election Night Fever

I can hardly stand the excitement, can you? In just a couple of weeks - two weeks of loudhailers, wall to wall telly coverage, leaflets and odd people wearing rosettes - we'll have a new British government! And, who knows, perhaps the whole exercise will prove to be such fun that we'll then have a "hung parliament" and have to do the whole thing all over again until somebody actually wins.

I'm minded, `though, of the sage advice of the late, great Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, who said: "It doesn't matter who you vote for - the Government always gets in."

Personally I think they should move with the times, put the whole circus on X-Factor (and let's face us most of them look liked failed X-Factor contestants) and let Simon Cowell decide who's the winner, in tandem with an audience phone-in vote. It is sobering to consider that this approach might actually lead to a more credible result than the real thing - but I digress.

Travelling far, far away from the gaudy delights of the West End we come to Cookies in Nithsdale Road, recently honoured with an Order of the Blythman (more or less) for the quality of its food and "rustic" Umbrian wine. In fact the phrase from kenspeckle restaurant reviewer Joanna Blythman which most sticks in the mind is that the bread there was better than any she'd been able to find in Umbria.

She is too professional a critic just to rave incontinently about everything in a place, but her cavils were relatively minor ones and her plaudits were lavish. So what's all this got to do with election night?

Well, assuming you have pals in the south side who might give you refuge in the late hours on election night, one option would be the televised "special" the venue is planning along with local resident and political commentator Gerry Hassan - a genuinely novel themed occasion which deserves full marks for ingenuity.

I hope owners the Del Priores won't take offence when I suggest that if it were in an Italian political context it's an entertainment they might be able to repeat on a fairly regular basis. There's also a sort of manic energy about Italian politics I doubt any other European country can match.

Domenico Del Priore, said, "The Battle for Britain has begun in earnest once more and this time voters will get a chance to watch the drama as it unfolds at our General Election Late Night Special.

"In addition to live television coverage on the big screen, Gerry Hassan will be providing his expert analysis on the unfolding events as it comes in, as well as hosting our election night quiz with Cookie prizes. And if all that wasn't enough, we'll be hosting a morning panel discussion as the dust settles and Britain wakes up to its new government."

What I want to know is ... why isn't someone in the West End doing this sort of highbrow wheeze? We have televised footie occasions, of course (which is where the Italians get the last laugh - because they can actually play football, whereas we play at it): lowbrow is never a problem.

But apart from random discussions in salons of intellectuality such as the Three Judges (which, however, was hit by a subway crawl party of about 50 people dressed as leopards on Saturday afternoon: they were well-behaved but it was a bit disconcerting), where can one go to chew over the great issues of the day with like-minded sophisticates? There's always the Doublet Tuesday night quiz, of course, but that's not really the same sort of thing.

Licensing Madness

Have you ever wondered what lawyers think of the super-duper new licensing laws which were intended to bring everything up to date and make it user-friendly but responsible and logical? No, probably not, but that sort of material was exactly what was on offer at a rather august conference in the Teacher Building in St Enoch Square the other week, hosted by the highly influential licensing legal magazine Scottish Licensing Law and Practice (SLLP).

Much of what was said there would be incomprehensible to the layman, as it involved frequent reference to many weird and arcane licensing things all the legal boffins know back to front, but the general thrust of the conference message was that the licensing system has become a "burach", thanks mainly to the ill-advised interference of assorted politicians determined to make their mark on what was originally intended to be a seamless piece of field-leading legislation.

Why should any of this matter to the customer of pub or restaurant? Next time you are told you cannot take a drink outside because, or cannot stand because, or can't take your kids into a place because, or can't play the ukulele as a charity wheeze because .... it will be - because - Hammer House of Holyrood have unwittingly (as in devoid of wits) made life very difficult for all concerned.

Allow me to give you one very brief example, from licensing lawyer John Loudon - generally reckoned a sort of Perry Mason of the Scottish licensing legal world. In future it is possible that a 20-year-old buying a drink in a pub may be disbarred from joining his 21-year-old friend with that same drink in the beer garden outside.

This is because under the proposed new regime some areas may make "off-sales" purchases legal only for people aged 21 and over. The beer garden has the connotation of an off sales sample room, or something similar, under this putative Alice in Wonderland new regime, so the 20-year-old drinking quite legally in the on-sale pub premises suddenly becomes "illegal" if he or she moves a yard out the door into the dodgy over-21 territory of the "off-sale" beer garden.

The 21-year-old I mentioned as being there already has no problem, and can order and consume drink in either pub or ("off-sale") beer garden. With me so far?

However with moves afoot to ban smoking in beer gardens, and with the Noise Police now in full cry (there's always something to ban if you look hard enough), and with all sorts of strictures on whether you can sit or stand, or drink, and when - and indeed what you can drink; and perhaps in future what you'll be allowed to eat, it could require Mr Loudon and his chums to actually accompany patrons on their excursions to figure out exactly who can do what, where and when.

As it happens he has a 20-year-old son himself, and he told the conference that when he outlined to him what the legislators appeared to be planning, he had replied "they must be mad".

That's just one teensy example of the sort of Ruritanian fiasco the hapless public could be up against if The System has its way. What can anyone do about it? Absolutely nothing. The only person in Scotland writing intelligibly in a mainstream newspaper about licensing issues that I'm aware of is Gerry Braiden in The Herald, and his accounts will keep you broadly abreast of what's happening in Glasgow and elsewhere.

However other than that it's a niche subject which is seldom reported, and when licensing issues do get on TV or radio they're usually presented with exuberant inaccuracy, and nobody ends up very much the wiser.

I'm beginning to think we should have a licensing system of the sort the Greeks seem to use. They have rule books stacked maybe four feet high, no doubt full of close print, but I'm not convinced anyone outside the larger cities bothers with any of them. It's just a piece of whimsy to keep assorted legal people in work.

My fleeting holiday experiences of Greece include a) A large gin being interpreted by a (16-year-old?) bargirl as being about a treble measure in our parlance - though it wasn't measured at all; and b) A plastic bottle on a ministore shelf alongside tins of beans and whatnot, bearing the handwritten label message in Greek and English "Home Made Raki", which turned out to be at least 40-something proof and cost about three Euros. I bought some for a laugh - then later found out it was actually pretty good stuff, produced on some hillside farm on the wild outer fringes of the Sfakia in Crete. If it were sold in Scotland at that price there would be civil war.

In the more rustic tavernas it's not unusual to find, say, a much-loved family cat sitting on your outside table, waiting for customers to provide its tea; and in one case I fed one (to its great contentment) with a couple of king-size sardines from my plate. Try that in Scotland and they'd close the place down.

This sort of thing persuades me that Southern Europe has a culture more or less at ease with alcohol (although there are always problems - there are problem drinkers in Greece as in any other country; and binge drinking by young adults is now a problem even in Italy), whereas ours is a fraught relationship at the best of times.

Partly because life has become so difficult and so rules-bound for our publicans we're now seeing the death throes of the traditional bars, some of which were bound to go anyway. Only the strong and the very popular will survive, and there's really no saying where it's all going to end - I presume in a world equipped overwhelmingly with bistros and cafes but very few "real pubs".

Mystery Venues, and Squirrels

I can confirm that what had been The Salon in Vinicombe Street is now poised to become something different - but I regret to say I haven't taken the time to find out what it is yet, and will rectify that over the next couple of days. Will it be a gigantic Indian restaurant, or a sports bar, or a Brazilian restaurant? I've no idea.

However on recent form most of the new additions to the West End drinking and dining scene have been inspiring or at least interesting, depending on your particular tastes; and I doubt anyone would approach a place as big as The Salon (as was) with something bland or ordinary. We'll see.

Meanwhile I'm reliably informed someone's launching a new cafe in Gibson Street with the promise that he will be roasting his own coffee beans - and maybe even pitching for the honour of Best Coffee in the West End.

Gibson Street these days is a garden in which many culinary flowers bloom. There's everything there from Stravaigin (of which more in a sec) to fast-food outlet Chicken Cottage, a Lebanese restaurant and - recently opened - a whacking great branch of Gregg's.

Regular readers may remember last time I mentioned Stravaigin's specially-themed one-off menu as including dishes based on rook, and also squirrel.

The Evening Times has eventually found out about this, and was today explaining that it's not the cuddly endangered Red Squirrel which ends up on your plate but the unloved and deeply dodgy grey squirrel - which has been forcing the reds to the margins of squirrel society.

Tom Shields recently opined in a column that the greys could possibly elude this notoriety by dyeing their fur red, on the premise "because I'm worth it".

The same Evening Times article also stresses that the squirrel meat used "comes from Northumberland" - not that anyone would have worried that the cute little creatures who beg food from people in nearby Kelvingrove would be threatened in any way.

Apparently squirrel tastes a bit like wild boar or "a cross between duck and lamb", depending on your tastebuds, and is probably low in cholesterol and gastronomically interesting in its own right. Free range too.

However as a onetime card-carrying member of the Tufty Club I cannot stomach the prospect of eating squirrel - I'm too used to seeing their grateful wee faces light up whenever I lob them a Brazil nut in the Botanics.

Spring, 2010

Photo: ronnie clydesdale. Ronnie Clydesdale

Normally we begin this column with a jaunty update of the latest successes for our sponsor, Innis & Gunn, but sadly that's not appropriate this time around.

Yesterday a well-known local restaurateur gave me the news that Ronnie Clydesdale, founder of the area's best-known restaurant and bars venture, The Ubiquitous Chip, has passed away after a long illness.

Inevitably a full obituarywill appear in the quality press shortly, because Ronnie was one of a very small handful of people to whom the word "iconic" could be safely applied, and I am not going to attempt a career retrospective here.

However as someone writing a column which does its humble best to regale readers with all that's great about West End dining and drinking I have to mark the fact of his passing in some small way, and of course to pass on the condolences of Pat Byrne and myself to his family.

I was very lucky to have come to know Ronnie passably well over the years, initially through journalism work on the Scottish licensed trade and later through convivial chats over a drink or two during his occasional visits to The Three Judges, which he told me was one of the few "real pubs" in the area worth mentioning.

It's customary to say pleasant things about the recently deceased, but in Ronnie's case anyone who is even remotely interested in the whole social culture surrounding quality dining must be left struggling for words to sum up the extent of his achievement.

Suffice to say, in this brief note, that the Chip is still far and away the area's best-known and most widely-regarded restaurant; and that together with the businesses operated by Ronnie's son Colin - the Stravaigin restaurants in Ruthven Lane and Gibson Street; and The Liquid Ship near Kelvinbridge - his and his family's contribution to the area, and to Scottish dining culture, is literally incalculable.

I look forward to reading a full obituary of this great gentleman of the licensed hospitality industry.

He put quality Scottish cuisine on the international map, embraced the concept of "provenance" decades before the current vogue for flagging up the origin of quality Scottish produce, and in every area of endeavour broke new ground and expanded existing frontiers.

The article which appears on him in Pat's West End personalities section gives some of the flavour of his remarkable career, but very much more remains to be said about a man who, more than being simply able and talented, was also so profoundly liked and admired.

Photo: botanic garage. Saturation point?

Is the West End at saturation point for pubs and restaurants? Somebody from the local community council has certainly decided this is the case, while arguing against the plan to convert the garage in Vinicombe Street into flats and some sort of licensed cafe.

If you walk down Byres Road of a weekend evening you certainly get the full Golden Mile experience by around 9pm these days. It isn't being toffee-nosed to suggest some of the people you encounter seem to come straight out of a Still Game episode, and perhaps not one of the better ones either.

Early and mid-week it's a bit different, however. Most places "tick over" if they're lucky, because of the well-established tendency for many people to spend all their spare dough at the end of the working week.

If operators are prepared to take the gamble of launching new ventures on a fickle market we should perhaps let them decide whether the market is "saturated", unless their places are causing trouble - which simply isn't the case where restaurants are concerned anyway.

If we'd decided the area was at saturation a year ago we wouldn't have seen the launch of The Blind Pig, Two Figs, Athena Taverna and no doubt several other places besides. I'd agree we don't need any more large-capacity pubs, but as far as I'm concerned, the more restaurants and niche drinking and dining venues the better.

Meanwhile, back at the manky old garage, I'm afraid I can't see what the fuss is about. Recreate its art deco facade, and turn the interior into something useful - eg, a restaurant!

Salon No More

However in a market so fiercely competitive as the West End there will always be casualties. The Salon is currently closed and advertising for a new leaseholder, along with the advice that the site is "a fantastic opportunity" - which it might very well be for the right kind of venture.

This building has had a career every bit as illustrious as the venerable garage opposite, and to most minds is a far more important landmark in every way - rendered in classic style it was once the oldest continuingly-operating cinema, and cries out to be kept alive as some sort of going proposition.

A nightclub doesn't seem to be an option, given the likely furore from neighbours, and Oran Mor is already doing the job of large capacity pub very well. However the scale of The Salon - two bars and a large restaurant - makes it difficult to imagine anything but another substantial venue on the same lines.

Some sort of arts venue would be fantastic, but it's very hard to see how that could possibly be made profitable in the current climate. Best of all would be another cinema, perhaps a local version of the GFT which would not clash with the generally more mainstream fare at G1's splendid cinema in Ashton Lane - but I still can't see the sums adding up.

La Cucina Shuts

La Cucina, meanwhile, closed down a few weeks ago, leaving us all guessing what's going to replace it in that busy stretch of Great Western Road between Oran Mor and Cecil Street. An offshoot of an Edinburgh enterprise, this, it always seemed busy enough any time I was passing but evidently wasn't performing strongly enough to last the pace - and it's also quite possible it suffered from a Waitrose Effect.

One advantage a deluxe supermarket has is that the typical shopper will buy more than originally intended, in a place like Waitrose - adding luxury items they would normally only have found in a specialist shop. There may be other reasons for the closure, but having a Waitrose five minutes' walk away can't have helped.

I've heard some people say that Waitrose is "not expensive". Eh? I don't trust myself with a card in the place, and only venture in with a definite spending limit, in cash.

Tesco Opens

Woolies, as was, is now Tesco Metro - open till midnight - and has immediately become a standard shopping spot for legions of students and many other people who typically only come out after dark. It is useful for some items Iceland doesn't offer in any profusion - hairspray, toothpaste, etc - but otherwise, apart from a reasonable selection of fresh veg, is remarkable mainly for its vast selection of those Ready Meals without which student life is not possible.

It also has a drinks licence, which is something of a puzzle. The site has no history of a drinks licence, and while it must have advertised it aimed to gain one I don't remember any mutterings along the lines of "not another drinks licence on Byres Road" when it opened.

Since more people now buy drink from off sales than pubs, thanks to changing trends (and rising prices in pubs), you'd think - given all the stramash about drink abuse - the arrival of a new "offie" might excite some comment.

But no, apparently the only people to notice are the students (etc), bless them, whose booze-buying opportunities have now jumped up a notch.

Little Persia

A few doors up from the defunct La Cucina the former Aladdin takeaway and diner is still morphing into "Persia", which might just turn out to be a reliable purveyor of high quality Middle Eastern treats, particularly of the barbecued kind - but we'll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile I'm delighted to report that since the last time I visited, the West End Cafe at Kelvinbridge now has beneath its main sign another, reading "A Taste of Persia", and also has displayed the full Persian menu in the window.

It's quite an ambitious offer - the lunch menu alone is very varied - and now definitely caters for vegetarians, with three or four interesting main dishes and a number of vegetarian starters and sundries.

Exactly whether there will ever be the same enthusiasm for Persian as Indian food I couldn't say - Persian cuisine, like Turkish, is generally speaking much "quieter", and doesn't set out to create a big impression from the off; but at the same time it is by no means dull. I aim to try this one again very soon.

Indian Mystery

You heard it here first: a restaurateur who has been earning rave reviews aplenty for his venture in West Regent Street - and who just expanded by launching a new venture in East Kilbride - is also heading West.

When I heard that Assam's was preparing to move into the West End I initially found this almost impossible to believe. We already have the finest Indian restaurant sector in Scotland, what with Mother India and its siblings, as well as Balbir's, The Shish, Chillies and Mr India's - to name the obvious front runners - so why would anyone want to spend a lot of money trying to cut a dash with yet another new venture?

In this case it's possibly because the restaurateur concerned, Asam Rashid, knows the West End market extremely well, having worked as main man at one of its premier Indian restaurants for 14 years - he appears convinced he can score with a mixture of stunning cuisine and shopper-friendly prices.

His West Regent Street restaurant offers a tapas-style selection at three dishes for £8.95, which while not an original idea is rip-roaring value if the quality is as high as three different reviewers suggest.

Having sampled a lamb dish and a fiery chicken karahi at the city centre restaurant recently I can vouch for the quality.

Unfortunately I still don't know where in the West End this daring new venture is going to open. The site is under offer, apparently, and should present no problems - but until the whole complex purchase process is completed the actual address is being kept under wraps. More on this interesting development nearer the opening date.

Photo: allotment. Digging for Victory

Cookie, the restaurant, deli and shop in Glasgow's south side, is appealing to gardeners and allotment growers to grow produce for the business - or share their excess production through an innovative barter system.

The Urban Gardener Barter Food Exchange, as it is catchily titled, is an idea which might just appeal to West Enders looking to do something interesting with home-produced veg. There are literally hundreds of West End gardens where spuds, peas, carrots and all manner of herbs could usefully be produced.

Cookie co-owner, Domenico Del Priore, said, "The idea is that we will use your lovingly-grown produce in our restaurant. We also have a stand outside which we would like to fill with local produce to offer a truly alternative means of supply to our community.

"So if you are interested and would like to participate and help develop an exchange of local food production, we would love to hear from you."

Mr Del Priore says he is passionate about using local and seasonal Scottish produce as much as possible.

He said, "Scotland has the capability to grow some of the freshest, tastiest food so why don't we do just that? The idea is rooted in our own personal interest in gardening and growing so it makes perfect sense to work with like-minded local people who share our passion for reducing their carbon footprint and food miles."

He draws parallels with the groundbreaking urban food programme in Cuba where political and economic change forced the population to attempt an "organic revolution" as the country struggled - successfully - to produce enough food to survive the American blockade.

One way was to grow more food in urban areas, a strategy that more recently has since also been supported by London's Lord Mayor Boris Johnson, regularly voted Britain's Top Tory Twit - who's maybe worried London may be blockaded by the French - but don't be put off by that!

Epicurean Delights

In well-to-do Medieval households - castles, manors and so forth - grand dinners were never complete without some novelty food items, hence the origin of the old nursery rhyme about "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie". Swan, sadly, was popular too.

However while wild boar is now back on everyday dinner tables, courtesy of farmers markets, and (same source) ostrich meat has a certain following, Stravaigin is the only restaurant I've heard of to make much of a thing about ... rooks.

There's more, however. On Thursday, May 20, Stravaigin in Gibson Street is staging a £35 per head dinner for which the word "eclectic" could positively have been invented.

Kicking off with a Pincer Vodka and Elderflower Martini, we then have a menu which includes peppered Carsphairn roe deer carpafcio with sourdough crostini and red onion ham; squirrel - yes, squirrel - truffle, spinach and pine nut tortellini; roasted Galloway rook breast; Ayrshire rabbit and pork belly estofado ... and many other esoteric concoctions which together can justifiably be called "a bit different".

Meanwhile the monthly Tuesday Indonesian Rijstaffel nights at Stravaigin 2 in Ruthven Lane appear to be going from strength to strength. Next event is on 13th April. More on this genuinely unique (in Glasgow, maybe Scotland) phenomenon another time.

Good Food Guide

More than 8,000 people have already nominated their favourite restaurants, pubs and cafes for The Good Food Guide Readers' Restaurant of the Year award, but with three weeks left there's still time for diners in Scotland to have their say.

Front-runners at the half-way stage in Scotland include La Vallee Blanche in Byres Road, and management there will be hoping to follow the success won last year's Scottish winner ... the Ubiquitous Chip.

This year, the judges are looking for independently-owned eateries that deliver excellent regional dishes and use local producers where possible. In line with this year's Which? Awards theme of "Who cares, wins", they're also looking for impeccable customer service.

Roy Beers' Drinking and Dining, January, 2010

Roy B

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