Chef saves the day
Dull menu but chef gives us season to be cheerful
IT takes a plate of mince and tatties of all things to stop the conversation, turn our heads, and make us suddenly re-evaluate this whole place. Let me put you in the picture here. Mharsanta is so box fresh that for the first few moments after we walk in everything is done twice.
Twice we’re greeted anew, twice we’re asked if we want drinks, twice we’re asked what we would like to order by different staff who are not actually falling over each other but are clearly keen to impress. No problems with that.
Twice I look at the glossy and completely generic-looking laminate menu and twice I say to Leo: “Doesn’t look like this is going to be changed very often, mate.” Hey, I’m nothing if not repetitive. And twice also we mutter that there isn’t a thing on this menu even slightly jumping out at us.
You know the feeling, don’t you? Of being in one of those characterless free restaurant-cum-cocktail-bar-cummorning-coffee-spot places.
Think airport restaurant or pub chain in disguise. Trying to be all things to all people, but being nothing to anybody. In fact I ask our waitress, a pleasant and helpful young woman, if this restaurant is part of a chain. No, she says, jumping back in surprise. Not that I have anything particularly against chains.
Later, on the way out, I’ll ask someone else if there is a secret Highland input, dark island ownership or Gaelic mafia masterminding the whole project, given that name. No, will be the reply to that, too. Oh, well.
We’re here anyway so let’s rewind and plough on through that menu trying to find something, anything, interesting. Chicken goujons (nah), sandwiches (nah), the dreaded margin-boosting nibbles plastered across the top of the menu. No thanks. Fish ‘n’ chips (publand staple), navarin of lamb (leftfield and nope), halloumi kebab, halloumi burger (double deep sigh).
We momentarily linger over the pork belly croquettes if only because I can’t imagine how they’re going to be anything but well, strange. I order them, just to prove I’m wrong. Then, at the last minute, I spot scallops arriving at the table next to us for a not-outrageous £7.95 and panic switch the order.
But let’s continue: haggis bonbons with whisky cream (groan), haggis Scotch hen’s egg (oh, OK, we’ll try that), bourbon ribs (are we in Kentucky?), catch of the day (the tiresome sea bream – so that’s also a no), navarin of lamb (now where did that come from?) and suddenly we’re almost through it.
I’ll take the mince and tatties, I say, as I realise I’ve reached the end of this one-trick road. Leo, who has gone back and is re-examining that navarin, makes a surprise snap decision to have the Mharsanta steak and sausage pie at £9.75 instead. Crikey. We’re sorted then. But should it be this hard?
The scallops are fine when they arrive with super-crisp pancetta, micro (make that too micro) cubes of black pudding and not enough of that promised pea puree to be even noticeable.
The haggis Scotch eggs may have been a big deal a few years ago, but nowadays? Meh, a bit old hat, though inoffensive.
I’ve forgotten to mention we’re in the Merchant City in Glasgow here. Is this menu aimed at tourists? Who knows? But we also ordered cullen skink pie, for the sole reason that it sounded weird.
Actually, after we scoff at what’s a bowl of soup with a puff pastry lid, it’s not bad. Fishy, potato-y and – here’s a clue for what’s coming next – well seasoned.
Those mince and tatties then? I take that one mouthful and immediately and honestly say: taste this. Whoever the chef is in here really knows how to season. The dish is excellent. And the sausage and steak pie is getting exactly the same reaction across the table.
Not much character here then, and a rather dull menu, but a pretty good chef.
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Ron struggled to find something interesting at Mharsanta but the mince and tatties made his day