Roy Beers Glasgow West End Dining and Drinking Summer 2010 archive

Late Summer, 2010

Innis and Gunn

Our sponsors, Innis & Gunn, continue to go from strength to strength, having recently scooped four awards at the 2010 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards, including "Product of the Year" for its original oak-aged beer and "Business Of The Year" - the company is now to take its domestic distribution operations in-house.

Managing director, Dougal Sharp, points out that this move would help Innis & Gunn "achieve its potential in the beer market by working more closely with UK customers to deliver consumer-focused growth strategies". More on this story.

Photo: tennents. SAVE TENNENT'S!

It's a while since this column spent much time dwelling on the food and drink issues in Byres Road, the supposed heartland of the West End, because for some time the sad truth is that the one area almost everybody reckons is the real heart of the area has become dull, verging on tacky.

The arrival of The Blind Pig was a great development, solving the eyesore problem presented by the defunct Whistler's Mother, and the launch of Two Figs and the rescue of Number 16 were positive moves too.

Byres Road is also peppered with some decent cafes, and has both Oran Mor and Waitrose at the top of the road, but for an area you'd imagine would have lots of lively, long-established pubs little else to commend in that long main stretch - even Bonham's has, inexplicably, become an Indian restaurant, The Curry Leaf.

Unless, that is, you are one of the legions of loyal regulars at Tennent's Bar, a traditional pub which has been assuaging the thirst of the lieges since 1884.

That in itself is an interesting date, for those of us who are interested in dates at all. One of the very first conversations in the pub must have been about the Gordon Relief Expedition, in which a British army under Sir Garnet Wolseley marched off into the Sudanese desert to rescue General Charles Chinese Gordon, besieged in Khartoum by the fanatical followers of the Mahdi (film buffs may recall the roles of Gordon and the Mahdi were played respectively by Chuck Heston and Larry Olivier in the 60's film Khartoum).

Sadly the relief column didn't make it in time and Gordon ended up with his head on a stick - but that's enough about failed British colonial adventures of yesteryear. We've plenty of modern ones to worry about.

One of the last conversations in the pub, by contrast, may be about the iniquitous forces of change and how they have laid low an institution - Tennent's is an institution - which has capably done its stuff through two world wars and the several other conflicts we've started all by ourselves since 1945.

That is if - and it's a big if - the latest scare story were to turn out to be even half accurate.

What is happening, so far as I can figure it out, is this. Pub owner Mitchell and Butler, a UK pub company which is adjusting its estate in order to ride out the recession, has taken a scunner to all traditional bars. It will claim that it hasn't, honest, but actually that's the long and the short of it.

It has embraced the tired old mantra about the need for places to be food led - ie, as in restaurants - and for some time has been implicitly waving a Sword of Damocles over a pub which some of us innocently assumed would continue much in its present style forever.

This national strategy, as it might be applied locally, has excited the imagination of everybody who has heard of it, and now that the firm's vague if worrying intention has assumed the mantle of an actual plan the theories about what Tennent's is to become have become ever more doom-laden and excitable.

I was taking pictures in Byres Road the other day when a very well-known publican stopped me and asked my opinion on the various changes about to happen in local bars (and I'll come on to The Curlers in a minute), before assuring me that Tennent's was going to cease to be a pub and was about to be transformed into a cafe-bar, which he was equally sure would not work.

I've been hearing this sort of tale for so long now that I thought it was about time I found the truth, so I nipped into the bar to ask manager Alison whether there was any substance to the rumours.

No there isn't, she said - vehemently - while attempting to serve dozens of customers jostling at the bar. Tennent's does not need a Save Tennent's campaign, she avers, because what's actually going to happen is little more than a much-needed makeover. It will see a major refurbishment taking place (and it must be about due for one), which will also see important internal changes such as a move of the kitchen facilities downstairs - and none of this is imminent anyway, as it probably won't happen until next year.

While I was having this conversation I couldn't help notice that the place was absolutely heaving with customers; it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and it must have been one of the busiest bars in west Glasgow. I'm writing this on a Monday but even so you'll find the place is perpetually ticking over whenever you visit, and is never quiet in the way that pubs which are past their sell-by date are quiet.

The place has major overheads of course, not least the rates in what is a notoriously expensive stretch of road (rewarding the robber barons at the city council with fabulous sums to lavish on their assorted pork barrel projects out in the wilds), but it's hard to see how it could make very much more money than it must be making at present.

Despite the looming changes, says Alison, Tennent's is and will remain a Traditional Bar, and is not, repeat not, about to be turned into a cafe bar, but of course until the place shuts then reopens in its new incarnation we will not know for sure exactly what is intended.

My hunch is that M&B will try and have it both ways, aiming to keep most of the present customer base (which includes a lot of football-watching types) while making a hefty nudge in the direction of the sort of service run by the Lansdowne at Kelvinbridge.

I'm guessing that could mean an end to value for money meals and the introduction of a menu with gastro pub leanings, and probably a major enhancement of the wine offer in a bid to appeal to Laydeez - who, in the main, inexplicably refuse to drink pints of proper beer.

But whether the entire character of the place will change is difficult to say until we know more about what the firm are planning.

If Tennent's is being revamped in accordance with a Policy then much could be lost and little gained from the transformation. If it is merely customising and upgrading its present format so that it's doing the same job as at present but in a better way then all will be well - theoretically.

Pubs under fire

However all of this is happening within the context of a pub trade which has never been more hounded and vilified than at present. It has been proven beyond doubt that most of the nation's alcohol-related health problems are attributable to home consumption of booze, and also that most drink now sold in Scotland is take-home.

But pubs are continually under fire and are also beset with masses of pointless red tape engendered by the failed new Licensing Act, which has allowed town hall cooncillors with little grasp of how to run a whelk stall the luxury of applying to pub management as many administrative bells and whistles as takes their fancy.

Most politicians, whether MPs, MSPs or just plain wee cooncillors, don't like pubs. They have a picture of aspirational acceptability in their pampered, aspirational wee heads about what people really want - and a determination, it seems, to make sure they get it whether they want it or not.

Sadly, with the notable exception of real trade champions such as The Publican, nobody in the press gives a monkey's about pubs either - apart, perhaps, from tabloid newspapers led by the Daily Record, who recognise that their readership doesn't aspire to the sort of frills and flounces the political class understand to be pinky-waggling polayte society.

They wouldn't see, for example, what I saw in Tennent's one day - James Kelman, Irvine Welsh and two or three other leading authors, all having an animated symposium of the sort you would not encounter in some suburban-style cafe-lounge.

The situation is bad across Britain, generally, but in Scotland it is dire. Good pubs (Iike, for example, The Doublet and The Three Judges) survive in spite of the system and not because of it.

Every conceivable obstacle and difficulty has been devised to make life tough, starting with the ridiculous smoking ban - which has driven most of the smokers indoors with cheap supermarket carry-outs without replacing them with an equivalent number of non-smokers - to the incoherent and nonsensical rules about outside drinking.

Yet still the punters flock to the surviving Real Bars. A real bar is not for everyone, because you are immediately confronted by real people - and people like accountants, and (obviously) people from anodyne nowheresvilles like Bearsden, can find that very hard to relate to.

It's where impromptu conversations happen among total strangers, or among fellow drinkers who have known each other for perhaps decades without ever really knowing each other at all: the bar-room is the everyman's no-man's-land in which the professor and the plumber are united in amicable beer-assisted exchange.

Some idiot once suggested in a letter to the Glasgow Herald that pubs should be more or less done away with and replaced with coffee shops, of which there are already teeming, boring thousands.

He claimed that these would make an acceptable alternative as places in which to enjoy a bit of banter, but that's only true for people such as mums with kids who are forced by dint of circumstance into each other's company.

There is no substitute for a bar, for those who are acclimatised to the concept, and anything which smacks of gastro-pub, licensed hairdressing salon, cafe-bar or coffee shop has no place in the real pubgoer's affections.

Nevertheless when Real Pubs shut, or are tastelessly refurbished (often with the casual sacrifice of stained glass features, original fireplaces, etc), the customers are usually the last people consulted on the matter.

With Tennent's Bar we have to be guardedly optimistic given the facts as we know them at the moment. There isn't enough detail to justify a hullabaloo - yet - and we'll have to wait to see what M&B come up with in their bid to ensure the place is a goldmine, and also a pub, into the next generation.

Save The Corona!

Meanwhile it's to be earnestly hoped that the same plan will finally rescue the stricken Corona Bar at Shawlands. It is a remarkable building with a unique architectural heritage and is stunning even now in the midst of its vile squalor.

Normally I wouldn't rattle on about a south side pub - it's only the south side, after all - but it's iniquitous to see the desperate straits this once magnificent establishment has fallen into, a sorry plight which should make the pub bosses hang their heads in bloody shame. To be frank, I wouldn't care if this place became a cafe bar, or indeed a hairdresser's, so long as something were done to rescue it from its present state of dilapidation and neglect - and to bring in a radically different customer base.

I'd invite anyone who's even vaguely interested in pubs, or even just in Glasgow, to visit this depressing , scabby dump and ask themselves: Who the hell is responsible for this unmitigated disaster?

Just watch your feet don't stick to the carpet if you're brave enough to actually venture inside this ghastly licensed house of horrors. Whose surviving original features, unparalleled in the city, silently mock the fitba rowdies and neds who swill, uncomprehending, amid the faded glories.

Photo: curlers. Save The Curlers?

Meanwhile back in Byres Road, after all that self-righteous huffing and puffing, the same firm stealthily preparing the transformation of Tennent's is already hard at work rebranding yet another venerable Byres Road bar - The Curlers.

Anyone passing it over the last week or so will have noticed that it has already been renamed as The Curlers Rest, while some sceptics have been waiting for the signwriters to add the letters aurant to complete the picture.

The Curlers was the first pub in Byres Road, at a time when the road did indeed lead to byres and when the customers - in the 19th century and before - were, essentially, drunken fermers.

In fact it was because of the bad ways young students might fall into while imbibing in the company of bibulous rustics that Tennent's Bar grudgingly won its licence from the city fathers back in Queen Victoria's day.

Once upon a time it was a drovers' inn, and according to legend (which I've never seen substantiated) Charles II conferred upon the establishment the permanent right to open on a Sunday because it had given him food and drink after he'd been on a curling expedition at Bingham's Pond - a completely preposterous yarn which is probably completely true.

In the 60's it became the place for Glasgow's literati to hang out. Until the 90's there was a sepia coloured mural in the public bar depicting all the kenspeckle (lovely word, that) people who used to be its habitus, including the legendary Jack House - whose works included Square Mile of Murder, in which the dreadful deed once committed in Ashton Lane is faithfully recorded. That mural, which should have been installed in the People's Palace, appears to have been junked.

In the 70's the tempo changed somewhat. The Curlers became a favourite hang-out of motorcycle enthusiasts of the type known as Bikers, and generally speaking had a robust and lively clientele whose natural exuberance of an evening frequently led to the police being asked to keep an eye on things. To put it bluntly, it was like one of those bars in films where the navy is fighting with the army and then the MP's arrive.

Then, after a reasonably quiet spell, during which (I dimly recall) the upstairs bar at one point assumed a bizarre faux-Parisienne decor scheme, somebody had the bright idea of conscripting it into the It's a Scream pub brand, aimed at students.

This began with cartoonish iconography and lots of loud, primary colours, all intended to suggest that this would be a fun place to get incredibly drunk for hardly any money at all.

After vigorous complaints this wildly irresponsible pitch was dropped, and the offer became more sensibly geared towards value for money pub grub, of the childish sort which students, kiddies and Americans enjoy - lots of chips and burgers and pizza.

However student pubs, broadly speaking, don't really work any more, because the facilities the students have in their own licensed refectories are frequently both better and cheaper.

The old Exchequer bar down on Dumbarton Road (that long pub opposite the gates of the Western) had also become an It's a Scream, after its failed incarnation as one of the ghastly Firkin pubs, and was again a total failure, permanently empty. Now it's probably doing a turn as Boho nightclub, and is lost to pub world forever.

So The Curlers is set for its latest revamp, and for starters has been painted a weird sort of duck-egg blue which makes it somewhat resemble one of those houses in Balamory.

It has also been given the a-historical and superfluous word Rest in its title, perhaps as part of a conscious attempt to induce a soporific and tranquil ambience to a venue which - in decades past - would not have been out of place amid the licensed hostelries of Dodge City in its heyday.

Previously it had carried an inn sign depicting The Scream by Munsch, while The Curlers remained its unofficial name for oldies unable to break the habit. Before it closed it was one of those venues I don't go into - because it's guarded by door stewards. Tennent's has never been guarded by stewards, as it doesn't have a problem managing patrons, but this one evidently did, giving us a wee flavour of the wild n'woolly city centre in our own back yard.

With this chequered past, it could be argued almost anything calculated to induce a civilising influence might be a good idea, and I'm fascinated to learn that the pub is keen to advertise what appears to be shaping up as a well above average food offer, in what is clearly set to become an upstairs restaurant.

Spies tell me that the drink prices will reflect an aspirational trend, possibly dissuading some of the yahoos who flock to these parts at weekends (and perhaps even obviating the need for stewards); that the internal staircase is to be hugely upgraded, and that a lot of cash is being lavished on the project generally.

I sort of mourn the passing of the Curlers of yesteryear - the one whose louche ambience attracted artists, writers, and sic-like hooligans - but that was a very long time ago now and something was clearly needed to rescue it from the dire licensed yoof playpen it had become.

A Curlers Rest for grown-ups could be a positive move, and could - finally - see the unique building assume some of its late 18th century (I think) glory: the set of the upstairs windows recalls the building which housed Cafe Bayan in Argyll Street, and also that of Hielan Jessie in the East End, and quite apart from the architectural attraction its upstairs aspect has a brilliant view of Byres Road - and Ruthven Street, leading up to my own pied-a-terre in Dowanhill. Work seems well advanced, so we'll find out soon enough.

Photo: sofias. Meanwhile in Tuscany

The last interesting new licensed arrival in Byres Road (neatly turning this column into a Byres Road special) is very close to The Curlers on the other side of the road, on the site of what had been the mystifyingly successful bistro Antipasti. Clearly it was time for a change, and the venue has re-emerged as Sofia's, which boldly proclaims that it is Tuscan and which appears to be aiming for a mid-market audience who like a bit of south-European culture as long as it's done in a Scottish sort of a way - hence the 2.60 Bacon Butty (sic) advertised on the menu.

Everybody likes Tuscany, it seems, although any resemblance between Old Siena and Glasgow is confined to the Tuscan-esque Trinity tower, overlooking a vile, decrepit 60's office where I was once incarcerated in the name of work, and you'll find references to Tuscan culture scattered promiscuously across the city, and - in the local context - in La Vita Spuntini a bit farther down the road.

So is this another Italian restaurant? No, not really. It's a Glasgow restaurant with an Italian leitmotif, conjoining choices like calamari with more everyday Scottish fare - a menu for all seasons, to be sure, with something to please everybody.

Curiously a peek in the window the other day, when it was very busy, revealed at a glance that about a dozen Antipasti regulars were all sitting there in more or less the same table spaces they had occupied before. More on this venture another time.

July, 2010

Perfect Companion

Photo: innis and gunn. Just a brief mention of our sponsor Innis & Gunnthis time, as most of the successes for the brand over the last few weeks have been in the Canadian market, where an endless stream of rave reviews from beer connoisseurs show it is developing very strong presence as the Scottish speciality product of choice.

Quite besides its stunning award successes it has been a red letter year for the brand in terms of furthering awareness in the home market, as witness its steady expansion into quality outlets across the West End.

Meanwhile in the posh bit of Leith the Malmaison recently hosted a dinner where the renowned Heston Blumenthal successfully matched the orange, spicy underlying character of Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Finish Oak Aged Beer with a robust pork dish, following on from similar pairing experiments in Canada - where it was matched with Elk (I don't think even Stravaigin has served elk venison yet, although I may be wrong).

According to The Scotsman, which takes a keen interest in matters culinary, the beers chosen for the salmon and the up-market fish and chips "flew in the face of the convention of not using oak 'if you can squeeze a lemon on the food'.

Admirable Criterion

I'm finally at liberty to spill the beans on the exciting new restaurant opening hinted at some time ago by restaurateur Allan Mawn, who has already revolutionised Dowanhill with two adjacent but completely separate successes - Pinxto tapas bar and bar-restaurant Velvet Elvis.

Having acquired yet another site on the same stretch he has been beavering away behind the scenes on a third project, which like the other two will be licensed and aimed at a "quality without the fuss" market of discerning diners. It will be a tribute to the Criterion Cafe in all its art deco glory, but with a food and drink offer pointed towards evening as well as through the day trade, and will feature some special decorative touches such as original booths with stained glass partitions - and quite a lot more besides.

It is a theme which Allan has clearly been keen to get involved with for long time, recalling (as usual with this operator) the glories of other places and other times.

The ultimate art deco parlour is of course Nardini's in Largs, but it's a vast proposition compared to the sort of bar-restaurant milieu Allan has in mind, and as someone with a solid track record of producing unique and engaging interior decor schemes this one - a definite one off - should be a bit special. I've said so many times before, but it is remarkable - particularly in challenging times - how this end of the greater West End has come alive thanks primarily to Allan, the ladies at Bibi, and the new cafe immediately across the road from Pinxto where Cherrybean used to be.

Costa Enigma

Meanwhile back on the stretch of Kelvinbridge on Great Western Road just after Bank Street heading towards the bridge I hear the old Costa coffee shop (the one in a converted bank) is about to become a restaurant. I've heard a few colourful theories about what could be involved, but no definite information - however it could just be an interesting and useful arrival. There's plenty happening in this area, from food shops to delis, but while we're always being told the West End has too many restaurants I don't think that's really true of Kelvinbridge.

In the immediate area there's La Parmigiana, of course, and if you're at the top of Otago Street you're only five minutes' stroll away from about half a dozen beguiling choices, but a bistro of some sort right in the middle of the main drag around Caledonia Books and Grass Roots wouldn't be a bad thing.

Photo: gibson st gala. Festival Success

According to the Evening Times the West End Festival was the best yet, when you factor in new events like the Hughenden day and the enlarged family fun day in Kelvingrove Park, and I've no doubt many thousands of people had a great time on these two particular days.

But it wasn't a great festival at all if you happened to be in what most people see as the core West End, that is around Byres Road and Hillhead. It has the area's busiest concentration of shops, pubs and restaurants - and also the Festival's leading performance venue, Oran Mor - but other than events in Ashton Lane, special to that area, there was nothing like any sort of "vibe" about the place at any time.

I understand all the arguments about the difficulties of operating in a residential area, but when you consider the stunning success of the Gibson Street Gala (and with it, by happy coincidence, the Mela in Kelvingrove Park), you wonder why staging an event in, say Vinicombe Street and Kersland Street is apparently so hard.

As it was, "my" festival day was the Gibson Street bash, which thanks to the weather was excellent from every point of view - from the gourmet burgers and outside dining and drinking, continental bierhaus style, to the excellent assortment of stalls lining the cobbled lane to Tchai Ovna as well as right down towards the junction at Woodlands Road.

Stravaigin and The Left Bank must have been among the main licensed trade beneficiaries of the day, although inevitably that sort of mass catering occasion makes for one very frenetic working day - particularly when the kitchen carries straight on to its fine dining act in the evening.

Another spot which is used to being overlooked by the Festival is Partick, where the Lismore played host to one of the best pub-organised concerts I've ever seen, with what seemed like half the local population sitting in baking hot sunshine to enjoy a stream of talented acts - from Irish folk music to hits from progressive rock.

Remarkably for such a busy day most of the customers were so happy sitting outside with plastic tumblers that the main bar was verging on quiet, while the sun streaming in through the doors of the whisky snug at the top end showed off that matchless decor scheme to full effect - every bit as impressive as when Colin Beattie commissioned it from Ranald McColl, abetted by other artists, all those years ago.

Currying Favour

I was surprised but flattered to be contacted by another blogger, or rather bloggers, by the name of Trampy and the Tramp - an award-winning web column about the wonderful world of Indian restaurants. Tom Shields has already been invited on to the site to lend us his insight about the best places in town, and I was sort of reassured to see they're very nearly the same as mine -he particularly rates Balbir's and Mother India's venues.

One restaurateur recently told me there were only two Indian restaurant names in Glasgow, Monir (ie Monir Mohammed of Mother India) and Balbir, and I doubt that is very far wrong, although of course with the rider that there are a sprinkling of other talented players in there too - everyone has their favourites. Anyone with an opinion on the local Asian dining scene who has been around a while will confirm that while the 70's and 80's were boisterous, inexpensive and fun the food has only become the wonderful cuisine we can obtain today in the last 15 or so years.

I've often wondered just when the qualitative change began to take place, but I remember dining at Mother India about 15 or 16 years ago, when it was a far humbler and more studenty venue than today, and thinking:"This is the way it should be".

The Taj Mahal, Himalaya, Maharaja and Shalimar are all just so many golden memories - of the days when you could actually buy a very full meal for about £1.50 - while the Koh-i-Noor, though still represented on the street by a fine takeaway, was never quite the same after it famously collapsed into the River Kelvin.

For regular updates on what's happening in today's West End Indian restaurants along with the rest I recommend Trampy and the Tramp's column - just key it up and you'll see what I mean.


Meanwhile restaurant life on Byres Road is as visceral and unforgiving as ever, with a handful of really rated places - Blind Pig, Two Figs, and Vallee Blanche - lending some style to a local scene otherwise dominated by pizza, chips and burgers, none of which are ever that special. We might just make an exception in the case of Stravaigin 2 in Ruthven Lane, which boasts the finest burgers anywhere, or words to that effect - and which may just be true.

With restaurateur Burak Soyuzinmez taking a year out to enjoy bringing up his baby son with his wife the former Mediterraneo has abruptly become Cup, with a low-key but rather fetching interior scheme and slim but elegant array of choices which seems to centre on refined cups of tea and quality cakes.

Can it find and keep its market during the long, draughty days of winter? I certainly hope so - this site in particular has had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra and while every new venture is fine, in one way or another, I suspect fickle customers and sky high rates make it a tough proposition to run to a profit all year.

Clark & Son

Last week I found myself touring a big new venue in Clarkston on the south side, a previously rather dull suburb which is in serious danger of becoming interesting. Previously Rascasse, which everyone seems to agree didn't quite work, the new venture is called Clark & Sons and is the brainchild of entrepreneur Ryan Barrie, who is responsible for critical success Citation in the Merchant City.

At the very least it's a bold attempt to bring local people something above-averages at reasonable prices - as witness a very well thought out list for sections like premium beer and rum - and has a "big statement" contemporary design scheme to match its rather elegant overall presentation. Good to see a bit of panache making it across the river to cater for previously bereft local residents, and particularly at a time when you'd imagine most operators would be battening down the hatches.

It's also encouraging to see it done by a local man, rather than by some giant corporation which has no real empathy with the area, and also to see someone apparently successfully combining family audience and post-8pm crowd in one well thought out proposition.

This is the latest welcome arrival in a string of venues of broadly comparable quality which have arrived in the last year or two, including (on the south side of Glasgow) Cookie on Nithsdale Road in Pollokshields; and The Merrylea Bar and Kitchen run by Gordon Yuill.

Whole Foods Market

Still on the south side, or rather across the border in Eastwood, the leafy but arguably verging on dull suburb of Giffnock is about to receive a major fillip in the shape of a Whole Foods Market store - it's a supermarket success from the USA which is said to make Waitrose look like Aldi.

Whether it lives up to the hype remains to be seen, but the notion of a supermarket that does a comprehensive job on organic and ethically-sourced products is certainly a first in Scotland, at least on this scale. Just up the road there will also be the new Waitrose flagship Scottish store at Greenlaw in Newton Mearns, twice the size of the Byres Road one of which we are all so rightly proud ... meaning the 'burbs have suddenly begun to acquire some definitely interesting new food shopping assets.

Cheaper Sheba

Some time I ago I mention the Queen of Sheba restaurant near Charing Cross had received a couple of mixed reviews - one very positive and one very negative - and wondered how the place would fare once it had found its feet.

Apart from the random brickbats and bouquets from fickle restaurant reviewers, the restaurant (175 St George's Road) is in a fairly quiet and far from glamorous location, meaning it's unlikely to attract much passing trade. And that could be why a placard on the window advertises the fact that prices are now lower (they were definitely substantially above the West End budget bracket before) and that "alcohol is available" - some of which may help to woo attention from a wider audience.

Photo: book club. Book Club Disaster

I mentioned before that Bo'vine in The Grosvenor had taken a pasting from restaurant reviewer Joanna Blythman - and it turns out she's not too enamoured with the Hillhead Book Club either.

I must admit I've only had a brief acquaintance of this latest experiment in mass catering for a "young but smart" audience, but I thought it might have definite possibilities as a stayer in a notoriously fickle market - particularly through its emphasis on value for money.

And I further admit I was thinking of the place more as a bar with option food rather than a restaurant, but it is the catering side of things that Joanna finds well below par.

According to her it isn't noticeably cheap, once you add all the various elements together, and some of the menu entries seem eccentric - or ordinary, but things you could have done yourself.

The main dishes aren't too dear, she says, but the starters and desserts are expensive - meaning your overall meal won't be a budget experience. She complains about paying three quid for what looked like root vegetable crisps straight out of the packet, and about "two nerve-tingling cold pears in an icy red wine syrup, served entirely nude without any other accompaniment." However amid all the put-downs she notes that "the bacon in the sandwich was rather good, smoky and crisp, as though it had been dry-cured", so evidently it's not a complete disaster.

It used to be the case that reviewers set about a place once it had traded for at least a few months, but recently they've been "done" within days of opening - and in the case of Bo'vine and Book Club in fairly damning terms. Book Club might become a bit more interesting, food wise, once it's had a chance to fully develop what is, after all, a mass dining proposition.

Meanwhile some kitchens have more than reviewers to worry about, as witness this sign outside Booly Mardi's in Vinicombe Street ... "

est in the first place.

Comments are now closed on this page