Pass the Pakora

Added on Friday 7 Sep 2012

Photo: glasgow lord provost. Vote for Glasgow - and pass the pakora

It's Curry Capital of the UK time again, with Glasgow preparing to win the title for an unprecedented fifth time, and helping to make the pitch for the title will be leading West End restaurateurs Monir Mohammed of Mother India and Satty Singh of Mr Singh's India.

Joining them will be a representative of Neelim restaurant in Dumbarton Road, Scotstoun, a venue described by Trampy and the Tramp's award-winning curry house blog as "a gem of an experience"; and the rest of Glasgow will be represented by critically-rated Merchant City restaurant KoolBa.

As detailed over recent months, Monir Mohammed has created in The Glasgow Curry Shop in Ashton Lane what amounts to a shrine to the glory of Indian restaurants in the city down through the decades, and anyone who needs a gentle reminder of how far the local scene has developed over the decades will soon be treated to a mass of memorabilia, photographs and anecdotes, recounting the fabled heyday of Gibson Street and much more besides.

Meanwhile it turns out one of the exotic savoury treats available at Mr Singh's India (and possibly elsewhere) is a major favourite of Glasgow's Lord Provost, Sadie Docherty. We're talking about haggis pakora - and I totally agree with her on this one: it is a truly sublime combination.

The Lord Provost is fully backing the city's curry capital bid, urging people to vote for Glasgow by September 21 - and has made it very clear to this column that so far as the Docherty family is concerned, Glasgow simply doesn't have a serious rival when it comes to curries.

She adds: "The success of Asian restaurants over the years has led to great competition, and a willingness by restaurateurs to continually adapt - so that now you find quite a few places cooking with less heavy oils to counter the idea that Indian food has to be fattening.

"But Indian restaurants have been family-friendly places for a long time now, and I remember how when we went out to an Indian restaurant John didn't fancy the curry dishes, and the staff made him up some fish fingers - but accompanied by a curry-style sauce as a dip. He liked that so much that he went on to become a great fan of Indian food."

The Lord Provost says she's thrilled Glasgow has become renowned across Britain as "the" place to enjoy a curry, seeing it as yet another potent attraction for visitors hoping to enjoy something unusually special during their trip to a city also famous for its unrivalled shopping amenities, its architecture, museums and vibrant nightlife.

"I hope the many Glasgow people who visit and enjoy Glasgow restaurants will keep casting their votes every year for the annual city bid to regain, yet again, the deserved title of Curry Capital of the UK," she adds. Can we make it a fantastic five awards? Voting closes on Friday, September 21, and you can find all the details at

Welcome to Hanoi

Stravaigin 2, one of the West End's most illustrious trendsetters in the matter of global cuisine, has shut - but don't worry, because it has only closed to make way for what many will see as a logical attempt to cater for the growing West End taste for Far Eastern dishes by launching a whole "new" concept.

In Glasgow we have Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Korean restaurants ... but the Ruthven Lane site of Stravaigin 2, as was, is now to become The Hanoi Bike Shop, specialising in Vietnamese cuisine, and should be open in a few weeks time.

It's maybe an indication of just how diverse the international cuisine offer has become in the West End that few people I've mentioned this development to have seemed particularly surprised, but folk are definitely intrigued.

Stravaigin 2, like its sister in Gibson Street, has been a trendsetter, bringing genuinely different taste sensations to a city dining milieu otherwise largely dominated by trad Franco-cookery, Italian and Indian restaurants.

One of its major successes was the regular Indonesian night, and it's possibly as an extension of this idea that the owners, at the Ubiquitous Chip, have decided to push the sampan out and embrace a complete cuisine within a single venture - there will still be unlimited western and eastern variety on offer at the Gibson Street outlet.

And of course there will still be cutting edge Scottish cuisine at The Chip.

When you consider it's only a few years since a (failed) catering awards scheme labelled anything that wasn't British or west European as "ethnic" - a risible slur on some of the world's greatest culinary repertoires, redolent of a thick-as-mince suburban-snobbery attitude to dining - it's plain to see we have come a very long way in a relatively short space of time.

Again, though, we've Asian restaurateurs to thank for today's gratifying crop of international cuisine offers. Without these early Punjab-originated entrepreneurs we could still be mouldering in some sort of Rigsby-esque cultural twilight zone, with nothing to look forward to but boring meat-heavy dishes loaded with sugar and butter and swimming in cream.

Anyway, as has been remarked to me, you can buy a pint of Guinness in Vietnam (where there's a huge Guinness brewery, and Irish theme pubs) - so why not Vietnamese food in Glasgow?

Vietnamese cuisine is reputedly one of the healthiest in the world, offering the proverbial vegetarian's paradise (along with dishes which centre on fish, poultry, pork and beef), but while unique also carries many important trace elements of other cultures - for example we have the failed colonial occupation of France to thank for a species of Vietnamese baguette, and even the arrival in Vietnam of the humble onion, whose name in Vietnamese translates as "Western shallot".

There's inevitably a hefty dose of Chinese culinary culture in there too, and even Indian-derived curries - but the country's three main regional styles are entirely distinctive and have to be approached as a totally different proposition to other Asian cuisines.

Running the show at the quaintly-named Hanoi Bike Shop will be two talented Aussie chefs, with plenty of inspirational experience of Vietnam, and exuberant and original cuisine - on such a prestigious site - is practically guaranteed. Watch this space.

Viva Mexico!

There's just a little sense o deja vu during a first visit to Taco Mazuma's new, larger outlet on the site of the former Baguette Express in Byres Road, because while it's obviously a thoroughly Mexican proposition the fast food approach is strikingly similar - in fact identical - to the previous format.

Basically you choose a format, whether burrito, fajita, quesillo, etc, then the filling - marinated chicken, shredded beef, and so on - then add salad. It's a quick assembly job involving three or four basic choices at each stage, delivering a fairly impressive range of options so that you never have to have exactly the same combination twice.

After Baguette Express closed there was a sadly ill-fated attempt to turn the place into a Smoothies parlour, selling little more than juice drinks and a few sandwiches, but the disastrous summer made this a forlorn proposition and the place drew practically no customers during the time it was open.

Taco Mazuma, moving in from its previous tiny unit next door, is a much surer bet, and is visibly gaining solid trade within a few days of opening.

The demise of the short-lived Mexican venture at the bottom of Byres Road means it can cut a certain unique dash, albeit in fast food format, and having tried a burrito with extra-hot filling - warning, not for the faint-hearted - I'd cautiously say the venture could be on to a winner.

However there are a couple of minor minuses. It's usual to see Spanish ventures decorated with cheesy imagery of flamenco dancers and bullfights, and we don't want that sort of thing, but Taco Mazuma is devoid of any decor at all.

Fair enough, it's a fast food joint, but it does have table space for about ten or twelve diners, and could enliven itself just a little with a little flourish of Mexicana here or there .... a nice big print of a work by Diego Rivera would be a start, or even just a portrait of Carlos Santana. Bunches of plastic dried chillies, a view of Mexico City - anything but blank walls would be an improvement.

And whereas the late-lamented Baguette Express frequently played cheery Latino music to warm a miserable winter's day, Taco doesn't seem to have a sound system up and running yet - and some peppy Mexican rhythms would surely help to attract a little attention.

Finally, there's no coffee. Apparently this is because it would take up staff time, in what could be a busy shop, and because there are umpteen places (true) within yards where you can get a coffee.

However a Latino prospect without coffee is a bit like mince without potatoes, a simple coffee offer would not be hard to do, and it would also generate healthy profits from diners who don't really enjoy a main meal that doesn't end with a decent coffee.

It could be the owners are worried that some people might just treat the place as a coffee shop, cluttering up space which could be used to accommodate main meal diners, but if that's the case they only have to make it clear that you can only order a coffee with a meal.

Given the place is split new, however, these are suggestions and not criticisms - I just hope that as time goes by we start to see a little bit of homely Mexicana creeping into proceedings, and possibly, eventually,

some added variety to the standard-offer quartet or so of Mexican fast food staples.

Homage to Valencia

Still on the subject of matters Latin, what had been The Goat pub on west end Argyle Street has been transformed in rapid time into Che Que Bo! - which arguably has one of the city's most unusual themes, albeit in a very low key sort of way.

Meaningless to anyone much outside Spain, Che Que Bo! is (apparently) a standard greeting or catchphrase among fans of Spanish soccer side Valencia, so what we have now is a football-themed tapas bar, and one with a little implicit joke worked into its fabric.

Anyone who remembers The Goat will recall there was a stuffed goat in the window - and it is still there. It turns out that "the goats" is the nickname ascribed to Valencia fans by their rivals, and so - as a little bit of cheeky whimsy - the goat is still there in pride of place.

A brief visit one late afternoon discloses smart-but-casual diners ordering tasty-looking tapas dishes (which, from the menu, appear to be a mixture of regional favourites and Spanish standards) while deeply mournful Valencian music plays in the background - I hope they have something a little more cheerful on the sound system next time around.

Spanish wine will inevitably be a main seller here, one with masses of potential, and while different in style and tempo from the old Goat the Hispanic vibe rather suits the vast picture windows, tall ceiling and lounge-about seating of the interior - as will the sizeable outdoor area during the warmer months. More on this interesting transformation another time.

Meanwhile I hear a well-known Byres Road Italian dining proposition is opening a venture in Argyle Street opposite Crabshak, marking the latest interesting arrival in an area some persistently argue is "the new West End".

Partick Cross frenzy

Back down at Partick Cross - with an all too brief visit to the Three Judges - it seems this area is about to go through one of its periodic upheavals, and all in the most positive way.

Months ago we exclusively revealed that the nae-luck site next to Tony Macaroni - the one that's been everything from a south-east Asian fusion concept to a Mexican cantina - had been acquired by its larger-than-life next door neighbour (an Italian restaurant empire emanating from East Kilbride and now spreading steadily across the west of Scotland).

Luckily we were right, and that move is about to happen, as a large billboard - after many months of hoarded-up mystery - finally informs us. The venture will be "bites and a bar", we're advised, which effectively means it will be a pub with tapas-style light dishes as an accompaniment.

Given the undoubted success of Tony Macaroni, about which I've never heard a bad word - except from the odd sulky food reviewer with grandiose notions of what Italian cuisine should be - I think the bar version could work very well.

There are some fine traditional bars within yards of that site - The Judges, The Lismore, The Dolphin, Gallus - but nothing in the cafe-bar line, and this could bring a whole new seam of trade to Partick Cross.

Meanwhile the former owner of the one-time Memories Bar, on the other side of the road beside the Judges, is turning that long-moribund unit into another new restaurant, which despite its quiet location could do extremely well from patrons of the local pubs who know both the site and the genial personality behind the venture.

Also new is The Curry Pot Indian takeaway - again immediately beside the Judges, but on Dumbarton Road, on the site of a former takeaway which had sadly lost its way over the years and was ripe for replacement.

It is sparklingly clean and cheerful, and boasts Indian dishes of the sort mama used to make, with no additives or artificial ingredients. Discerning Three Judges clientele - who have inevitably given it a try - reckon it's a very worthy addition to the scene.

Photo: fantinel prosecco bar. Prosecco comes to Hillhead

Prosecco bars have apparently been popping up on every street corner in central Milan this summer as the latest cosmopolitan continental drinking craze gathers pace - and now Scotland's first ever prosecco bar has opened in Byres Road, at Paperino's to be precise.

Prosecco, if you didn't know, is an Italian dry or extra-dry white sparkling wine, and is just the sort of thing fashionable Milanese like to be seen sipping - with characteristic restraint - while engaging in witty and erudite banter about the great issues of the day ... such as why an ancient and patently dodgy Danny de Vito lookalike managed to rule their country for so long, after a fashion, amid justifiable and widespread concern among Italian matrons for their daughters' virtue.

Since the only other venues within easy range making a serious feature of wine are The Chip and Booly Mardi's, this unassuming but arguably quietly stylish little outpost of north Italy is possibly a welcome addition to an area otherwise dominated substantially by charity shops, fast food joints and ice cream cafes.

It offers customers "an ideal meeting place to come and enjoy a superior quality prosecco at a sensible price with a bar snack, treat themselves to a cocktail with friends, or catch up over pre and post dinner drinks."

Fantinel is a family-owned Italian-based wine and spirits company based in Friuli crafting the only DOC prosecco produced in the prosecco grapes native region ... so now you know.

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