Joanna Blythman’s restau­rant re­view

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food + Drink - Joanna Blythman is the Guild of Food Writ­ers Food Writer of the Year 2018

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.

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