Glasgow isn’t necessarily the first destination that one thinks of when heading for a getaway, I suspect some old stereotypes come to mind. However, it has a vibrant city centre and, unsurprisingly, if you recall that it used to be the Empire’s second city, there are a number of cultural institutions worth visiting. Better still, the city has been undergoing a food and drink regeneration. No more than two nights are needed to see the city and, when it comes to where to stay, the Hotel du Vin is my choice. It was here that Gordon Ramsay had his Glasgow restaurant before he was forced to close it.
The Finnieston area of the city, centred on Argyle Street, is where a number of new bars and restaurants have been opening over the past few years. They’ve been gaining a well-deserved reputation for good quality food and drink, especially amongst the younger set, looking for micro-brews and clean, modern cooking. King among those in Finnieston is The Gannet. It has been gaining a reputation since first opening in late 2013. I ate there in 2014, as Finnieston was taking off, and even then it was leading the way. Now it has three AA Rosettes.
The décor is suitably modern with stripped back brick walls and grey paint. As is common these days, there’s a buzzing bar that serves some light food at the front while the restaurant is behind. The restaurant is divided between the back room and a mezzanine, where I have eaten, and found the service to be delightful.
The menu is modern British in style, featuring the best local and seasonal produce. When last I was there with my family, we ordered as starters the sweetbreads, the pickled herring, the egg, pea and radish salad, and I chose one of the specials: the fried pressed pig’s head. All these dishes were faultless. The sweetbreads, despite being described as crispy, were cooked to perfection when so often such treatment results in them being overdone and tough. The herring had a subtle pickle to them, while the salad was light, refreshing and flavoursome. My pig’s head was also perfectly prepared, and lifted by the pickled veg which were not over powerful from too much vinegar.
The mains were just as good. My sister had the agnolotti, which she enjoyed, while the three of us had the lamb with barley risotto, mushroom, and scorched leek. This dish could only have been bettered if there had been a hint of heat to the lamb from cumin, or perhaps a bit of mustard running through the risotto.
For dessert one of our number had the cheese selection. Scottish cheese is one of the discoveries that a trip to the Highlands provides. There are a handful of very good ones, though in general I’d say there is still some way to go before they reach the level of some of the best English and French cheeses. The Eton mess was wolfed down, while I had the caramel fondant, which was very impressive and thankfully not over salted as so often can be the case with salted caramel.
The Gannet really is a must if you’re in Glasgow. I was left with a feeling of enthusiasm for the culinary renaissance in the city.
Halfway between Glasgow and the Isle of Skye is Port Appin on Loch Linnhe, just behind the Isle of Mull. Here you’ll find The Airds Hotel, a Relais Chateaux, with its eleven rooms and three-Rosette restaurant. Set right on the edge of the loch, the views across the water are spectacular, only outdone by the quality of the light and the colours it gives off.
As an escape for a weekend or just a night en route to Skye, it’s a perfect place to stay. The two lounges, complete with roaring log fires, are full of comfy chairs and sofas, with the rooms, conservatory and restaurant all set up to ensure the best possible views. The conservatory is filled with flowers and acts as the entrance to the hotel; it also makes for the most perfect setting for afternoon tea when the sun is shining.
The hotel has held its three Rosettes for twenty-five years now, and has done so under a number of chefs. Currently the head chef is Chris Stanley who was previously at the Glasgow Hotel du Vin; previously David Barnett, now of The Torridon was head chef. The menu reads as classic British, but is served with a modern twist. As you’d hope for the area, it is heavy on fish and shellfish with lighter game making up a decent proportion of the meat dishes. Helpfully, given the remoteness of the hotel, dinner is included in the room rate.
Among the dishes I had over the three nights I stayed were a large piece of stone bass that was succulent and translucent, and the beef fillet, which was accompanied by tongue, always a nice touch. One dish of particular note was the West Coast scallops with caramelised cauliflower purée, a classic dish that was elevated to something new and interesting with the addition of Nori crackers and a kombu butter sauce. Much has been made of deconstructed pies, and many are silly, but the breast and leg of quail were served up as one, despite not been advertised as a pie. The meat and its egg came sat on top of a disk of pastry in a black bowl; when broken through, a bright, almost radioactive, orange carrot velouté is revealed. It’s such a memorable dish that, despite not ordering it myself, it’s the dish I remember the most.
Everything that came out of the kitchen was clean, crisp and cooked with precision and delicacy. No dish represented this more than the Loch Linnhe langoustine that was part of a special tasting menu. Simple and stripped back, it was a single large tail with a little puree and langoustine oil to go with it.
Stunning views and spot on food – oh, and an ample supply of whisky – it’s hard to know what more one could ask for from Scotland.
The Gannet 1155 Argyle Street Glasgow G3 8TB 0141 20422081 http://www.thegannetgla.com/ The Airds Hotel & Restaurant Port Appin Argyll PA38 4DF 01631 730236 https://www.airds-hotel.com/