Joanna Blythman’s restaurant review
Mitchell Street in Glasgow could make a convincing location for a film set in Manhattan, a moody backdrop for Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver. But it isn’t Los Angeles by any stretch of the imagination. Never, in fact, was a location less LA, but I am searching for my sunshades as I soak up the dazzling ambition of this venture.
It must have been a no-expense spared exercise to transform these threadbare premises that once housed Chop Chop into a glamorous nightclub straight out of LaLa Land.
Who needs mood-altering drugs when you can step in here? It’s brought to you by Rusk & Rusk, whose restaurants (Spanish Butcher, Hutchesons et al) have improved Glasgow’s restaurantscape, and you have to admire people who take such big risks. Half-hearted this is emphatically not.
Strangers to the Californian dining scene, we peruse the menus like anthropologists mapping out fieldwork with a little-known tribe. Barbecue Octopus with “soy watermelon, avocado and crispy wild rice”; fried boneless chicken wing taco with “peanut salsa macha”, celeriac, blue cheese, coriander and lime: we’re struggling to imagine the net effects of so many eclectic combinations of ingredients plucked from such diverse cooking cultures. We go round and round in circles.
Even the steak here comes with “whipped con carne butter” and watermelon and green tomato salsa. Hispanic, Asian, Mediterranean threads weave in and out the menu.
The regulation dose of fashion shines through in dishes such as “grilled avocado – Ponzu, EVOO [extra virgin olive oil] & wasabi [Japanese horseradish] creme fraiche”.
If only I was convinced that there’s someone in the kitchen with the skills and experience needed to translate these cool descriptions into something I want to eat.
And had we stuck to the Sunday “dirty brunch” menu, I might have been more inclined to give the kitchen the benefit of the doubt.
From it we lap up the Sriracha and lime tuna tostada, which would make a healthy, palate-cleansing breakfast after a hard night out: crisp tortilla spread with avocado, what is essentially a tuna tartare, with a tremulous fried egg on top, its runny yolk blending in with the chilli heat of the sauce.
Also from this menu we choose soft shell crab Benedict. The crab, deepfried, is surprisingly OK as a topping for a decent muffin, competent Hollandaise, and the starchy corn in the sweet relish works surprisingly well with the crab and the toasty muffin.
It’s when we go to the main menu that things start coming adrift. Like many restaurants, vegetarian options here are poor value for money compared to the omnivore dishes.
A cauliflower “main course” for £13? And for £14, the chickpea panisse [south of France chickpea fritter] with cauliflower and almond puree, lentils, squash and fried kale – although it looks a million dollars – is essentially dull; something to eat dutifully because it ticks that trendy “plant food” box.
Apart from the excess salt in the panisse, this dish is as introverted as the star anise and molasses beef short rib is gratingly extroverted: hyper-smoky,
Never was a location less LA but as I soak up this venture’s dazzling ambition, I’m searching for my sunshades
unappetisingly dry meat that smells like coal tar soap.
It’s been partnered with sour orange segments and sliced Nashi pear, the latter a texture questing for taste.
“Garlic Copenhagen” is an unusual, not unpleasant proposition, like an Aberdonian buttery, only swamped in garlic butter and topped with a peppercorn and oregano-dusted burrata mozzarella.
Ramen Mac & Cheese, on the other hand, is an unqualified disaster. Gluey noodles, a mouth-mugging, super-salty sauce that looks like liquefied orange plastic, a black truffle mulch that brings another bawling presence to the plate. It’s like a Halloween joke that no-one is really meant to eat.
Solid panna cotta, tasting not of lemongrass, as promised, but of cream that’s spent too long in the fridge, comes with a buttery “black tea crunch” with Thai basil leaves through it. It’s downright weird.
Maybe in LA, with its magpie-like acquisitiveness for world cuisine, they’d partner Gianduja (hazelnuts and chocolate) with pink grapefruit, heap on the coriander leaves and add in crowncracking nut brittle. But you know what, guys? Like too many of So LA’s dishes, it doesn’t work for me.