Chef saves the day

Dull menu but chef gives us sea­son to be cheer­ful

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

If you know a restau­rant Ron should review, email ron­mackenna@fast­mail.fm

PHO­TO­GRAPH BY COLIN MEARNS

Ron strug­gled to find some­thing in­ter­est­ing at Mharsanta but the mince and tat­ties made his day

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