The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

HAV­ING been tread­ing these culi­nary boards for a while, I’ve adopted a cun­ning strat­egy when­ever I’m stopped by a Her­ald reader and they praise and sug­gest a restau­rant. What did you have to eat, say I. Nine times out of 10 this is fol­lowed by ahs and ums and ends up with some­thing like: I can’t re­mem­ber but it was good. Now, if you can’t re­mem­ber what you ate could it ac­tu­ally have been that good?

Any­way, now be­ing the time of year when I have to look back, I’m go­ing to ap­ply ex­actly the same rule to my­self. What food sticks in the mind from 2017? Straight out of the traps, then, is Bil­son

Eleven in the east end of Glas­gow. The city is on its knees and beg­ging for a top-notch, fully Scot­tish, fine-din­ing su­per­star and this could yet be it. That sweetly spicy, smoked­had­docky cur­ried skink; the scotch egg with the salt-baked beet­root ... I could go on. The just-baked bread, the pot­ted lamb with turnip foam, the cracker with horse­rad­ish and salmon. And the last two were just the amuses bouches. Tar­tan flair a-go-go, then.

Ad­mit­tedly they could maybe chill out that tres for­mal tweed-suit and curly mous­tache schtick – even two-starred Miche­lin restau­rants are get­ting down with the kids nowa­days – but it gets my thumb­sup. And I couldn’t care less what any­one else says.

Talk­ing about ser­vice the next stick-inthe-mind meal was along the Clyde coast in poshly pithy He­lens­burgh. Sugar Boat: yes, I hate the lost 1970s disco name too, and first im­pres­sions were a bit weird. That’s be­cause it treads the gang­plank be­tween blue-rinse cafe and full-bifter fine diner.

The ser­vice was so per­fectly pitched I’d de­scribe it as flaw­less were it not for the fact ser­vice is the one area of Scot­tish restau­rant life that has im­proved across the board, so for­get that.

Here were the sur­prises, though. That stick­ily, sweetly unc­tous rolled pork fil­let with ham-stud­ded cas­soulet, slices of sausage along­side, and the cod fil­let with sam­phire. And they made it look so ef­fort­less.

What the Miche­lin in­spec­tors will make of the up­stairs-down­stairs cafe cum restau­rant vibe I have no idea, but they should se­ri­ously make some­thing of the food. It was that good.

Now, price isn’t ev­ery­thing, but it is im­por­tant. And price plays a part in the suc­cess of Six by Nico. Six cour­ses cost £25 when I went with my chum Gor­don. Squid crack­ers, had­dock bon-bons, chips and cheese – all of this and more be­ing a witty lit­tle cheffy take on Scot­tish food and one that ac­tu­ally pays off.

This is by my reck­on­ing Nico’s third go at get­ting it right – and this time he has. The hottest place on Glas­gow’s hot Fin­nieston strip. OK, so the staff were a bit breath­lessly ex­cited about the whole thing and not ev­ery course was a win­ner, but it was bold, in­ter­est­ing and worth ev­ery penny.

A men­tion, then, for the Loch Bay on Skye. Yes, eat­ing there does feel a bit like be­ing an ex­tra in Lo­cal Hero, but the seafood? Just when it seems there is noth­ing else to say on scal­lops along comes a trio – one grilled, one crusted and one raw – with a boom. And those prawns? Clean, sim­ple, fab­u­lous. Go there.

I would not hes­i­tate to eat in ev­ery one of these restau­rants again when off duty, and I can’t say that about many places.

Enough of the fancy stuff now. This year has seen the in­va­sion of the chain restau­rants into Scot­land. I know, it’s po­lite to sneer, but ac­tu­ally? The chain restau­rant is the apex preda­tor of the restau­rant world. Q: what do chains and Miche­lin-starred restau­rants have in com­mon? A: most of the things that lead to suc­cess. If Taco Bell or Tim Hor­tons or

Smash­burger float your boat (these three mutts didn’t float mine af­ter open­ing in Glas­gow) then also spare a mo­ment for Bill’s – that oddly suc­cess­ful thing, a chain that feels like a lo­cal restau­rant. And hey it’s OK to ad­mit it.

Surf Dogs on the south side of Glas­gow de­serves a men­tion for show­ing the po­ten­tial to be­come a chain, as well as for its sauer­kraut dog and crispy wings stick­ing firmly in the mem­ory.

The bi­jou and un­pre­ten­tious Beirut Star in Go­van? I’ve got a soft-spot for all-out gen­uine, run-by-the-peo­ple-who-own-em


Clock­wise from main: Bil­son Eleven in the east end of Glas­gow; Smash­burger in the city cen­tre; Surf Dogs in the south side; Sugar Boat in He­lens­burgh; and Six By Nico on the Fin­nieston Strip

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