WE all have our obsessions. We overdo an ingredient until we tire of it. In my household we’ve reached peak Ottolenghi after an earlier frenzy. We’ll doubtless revisit it, but just for now, I’ve had it with roasted cauliflower and tahini salad, and the pomegranate stains on the kitchen walls are beginning to bug me. Of course it’s good to make maximum use of seasonal bounty. I’ll happily eat blood oranges daily until April when they peter out. My arms are open for Jerusalem artichokes, wild garlic, and Yorkshire rhubarb. They have my attention for the time being. But if you don’t want to get into a rut it has to be said that it’s good to shake up your food shopping list from time to time.
Now Tibo, the popular indie bistro in Glasgow’s Dennistoun, is clearly a creature of habit. Certain ingredients feature several times over the menu. Number one is charred leeks, Number two is beetroot purée. I can see the logic there: they’re both widely available, rarely out-of-season, plausibly locally grown, and cheap. Number three is pistachio. No worries, I never get enough of them. Number four is iceberg lettuce- no excuse for that these days. Number five is truffle, a scent that walks a fine line between sickening and seductive.
Nibbling our truffled crisps — I mean, who can resist homemade crisps — I’m wishing that they’d left out the truffle oil. It’s more pungent than a forest of dried fungi and overbearing, whereas the crisps, amber brown, and not dissimilar to those fried freshly in a French market, are fantastic. Leave well alone I say. All they need is salt.
Our first encounter with the charred leeks is on a starter of barley risotto with fried scallops. Their presence seems a bit random here but the risotto is nice enough, the scallops small and sweet. The other starter, a thick, solid slice of worryingly grey duck terrine, turns out to be herby, peppery, and more than acceptable in a rustic sort of way. Here’s our first tumble of crushed pistachios, the first spatters of beetroot purée, along with some first-rate sourdough toast.
Then it’s back to the leeks again. Their burnt slipperiness does no favours for the wild mushroom and truffle ravioli, already challenged by their presentation in a mushroom broth when all they really need is heaps of butter and Parmesan. And there’s the truffle again, stamping its attention-seeking foot over the plate. I’m intrigued by the Ceilidh burger: kale, quinoa and mixed bean patty with beetroot purée (my, there’s a change!) and coriander slaw. It’s dispiritingly dark with a greasy patina and tastes like a falafel, minus the spices, and inexplicably sweet. The slaw is essentially just red cabbage with the odd beansprout and slice of spring onion through it. When I read ‘coriander’ I want to taste coriander. That’s the Ottolenghi habit showing. And structurally, to tackle this burger in a oner is a recipe for jaw dislocation. I pick at it unenthusiastically instead.
Pistachios sneak their way into puddings. They’re scattered over two large halves of adeptly poached pears, and lend heft and nutty texture to a pleasant pistachio ice cream that’s not a mile away from an Indian kulfi. Three small, dry squares of olive oil sponge only clog up the plate. Too arid, too dull.
And while the pears are great, the other dessert isn’t. Apples, said to be caramelised but in fact leathery, lacking apple flavour and relying on their butterscotch sauce, sit on dry muesli, with a mouse brown ice cream that’s supercharged with cinnamon, and a ball of something creamy, rubbery, and otherwise unidentifiable that must surely rely on gelatine. Maybe it’s a super-firm pannacotta.
Looking around us, the place is busy with people enjoying plates heaped with less ambitious food- pizza, full breakfast, eggs Benedict, French toast and bacon, and so on. Tibo has clearly earned its reputation and local following with affordable food and friendly service. I’m sure that 99 per cent of people go away from here happy. Me? My verdict is “so-so”.
Maybe I’ll revisit when Tibo has emerged from its leeks, beetroot, and truffle period, hopefully by the summer.