Food and Drink
Five pages of ideas to make the most of your Sunday
It takes heaps of stamina to keep a restaurant going year after year. Hobbyists and dilettantes drop off in the early years; timeservers and copycats inevitably lose ground to attention-grabbing newcomers. In today’s testing catering world, only committed restaurateurs with the energy and vision to constantly refresh their offering survive.
Italians, who seem to have good food encoded in their DNA, have a head start. Even so, I can only admire the sheer innovation shown by some of our oldest Italo-Scottish families, notably Carina and Victor Contini in Edinburgh, and Giovanna Eusebi in Glasgow.
They never rest on their laurels and keep notching up the quality, always drawing on their traditional roots, yet never allowing their creativity to be choked by them.
And it seems to me that the food at Eusebi is now even better, and more strikingly different, than it was last time I visited, when it was already quite wonderful.
To be honest, I’d probably visit Eusebi just for the quick transfusion of contentment you get from simply being in such an atmospheric, patently successful restaurant.
But so much is new to me here that I absolutely have to try it. The intriguing baccalà (salt cod) mousse turns out to be frothier than the Northern Italian baccalà mantecato. Slices of pickled raw courgette – cut at an oblique angle and arranged like flower petals – are layered over a green salsa verde. Topped by a spanking-fresh courgette flower, its orange-green interior uncurls to yield flakes of smoked haddock. This dish is refreshing, healthy, special.
Appetites revved up we turn to the charred white peach with whipped ricotta. Eusebi makes its own ricotta; now that’s commitment for you.
The cheese is so infinitely superior to the imported Italian ricotta we can buy in the UK that you could eat it straight, totally unadorned.
But then you’d miss the beauty of Eusebi’s presentation, the juicy peach that’s still rose-pink in the middle where stoned, the flattering crunch of the toasted, flaked almonds, and the glorious extra virgin olive oil with fried rosemary leaves that makes this dish decisively a starter, not a dessert.
Now we marvel at the Ceci. Were chickpeas ever so fit for the catwalk? Chickpea purée, potentially plodding, is emulsion-smooth and electrified by the citrus blast from thick kumquat purée.
Its crudités – a word that too often augurs cack-handed, limp carrots and stringy celery – are a treat: peppery radish, just-harvested carrot, nutty cauliflower, lemony marinated fennel, and quarters of finger-thick courgettes, so young and tender we can even eat the knobbly ends that attached them to their parent plant.
Rabbit saltimbocca, made with saddle stuffed with a lightly livery farce then rolled in sage leaves and Parma ham, looks like a million dollars too.
The meat, although lean, is thoroughly infused with the herb, and succulent. And with it comes the bonus of a crustily golden potato gratin – not the creamy sort, more like the French classic, pommes Anna – and tapering roasted carrots with rainbow hues.
Oily, soft spinach glistens on the plate, light gravy encapsulates Puttanesca flavours: capers, olives, chillies, anchovies.
Eusebi’s pasta is made from scratch daily, and you’d have to be an absolute moron to confuse it with the standard filled pasta sold under the heading
The cheese is so infinitely superior to imported Italian ricotta that you could eat it straight, totally unadorned
of “fresh” in Italian-themed chain restaurants. Agnolotti, crimped pillows of silky, yellow pasta, contain that fantastic ricotta, this time fragrant with lemon zest, and slip-slapped about in nut brown butter with a handful of toasted pine nuts and a controlled explosion of crisp-fried sage leaves. They’re utterly sublime.
Restaurants in Italy are never big on dessert; here, at Eusebi, they’re straightforward and honest.
Pistachio cake, satisfying in the way that chestnuts are, rubbly and moist with polenta, or maybe just the nuts, is leavened by a tart lemon curd and fresh cherries poached in a faintly cinnamon syrup.
The same white peaches we enjoyed as a starter we welcome again, this time as a pleasant pudding partnered with voluminous mascarpone, fresh raspberries, and broken meringue.
Eusebi shows stamina and strives constantly to be better than before, no standing still. These are precious qualities that stand out a mile.