Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Summer Eating in Glasgow

When the sun is blazing in the sky and a heatwave is sweeping the city, what do we Glaswegians do... venture outside of course. Sunshine and rising mercury is not a common occurrence in Glasgow, especially in July. Our summers of late have been dampened by heavy rainfalls and temperatures barely staying in double figures, with umbrellas and Macs outselling bikinis. Therefore, when we wake up to glorious sunshine and can feel its heat penetrating our window pane, our immediate reaction is to hunt down those short skirts and vest tops that are hidden away in the backs of wardrobes, dig out the sunglasses and head out into the sun, where we will lay all day in the hope that our ghostly white legs will darken to appear almost normal, at best, tanned.

A heatwave in Glasgow is a strange phenomenon to witness, mostly due to the fact the population of the city appears to double almost instantly. Cafes, bars and restaurants are bustling with activity, especially in those 'cosmopolitan' areas such as Merchant City, Royal Exchange Sq, Ashton Lane, as well as any eaterie which conveniently hosts an outdoor terrace or beer garden. Parks and green spaces are filled with a sea of multi-coloured excitement, with children playing games among groups of teenage girls in matching bikini tops topping up their tans, and old couples resting on park benches, with an obligatory handkerchief or newspaper protecting their heads from the sun. Ice-cream vans happily sing out their chimes, tempting the young and old to sample their frozen delights and cool off in the sun; a 99'er being the most popular choice by far.

The sunshine it seems, brightens up more than the sky on days like this. Everyone appears happier and everyday woes are cast aside to make way for enjoyment and fun. Throughout this week I myself have part of this strange phenomenon. I have been thankful that my summer job allows me to finish at lunchtime, giving me the rest of the day to bask in the glorious sunshine. The sun I've discovered, makes you do very strange things indeed. The past week has seen me transform from an indoor, book reading and I hate to say it, boring 22 year old, into an outdoor social animal who has developed a sudden love for eating out in the city. Don't get me wrong, I have always enjoyed the occasional nice meal out with friends, but this week has seen me dine out EVERY NIGHT. This is an almost alien concept to me, as someone who typically needs a week to recover from such an event. However, this week I have sampled the delicacies of several establishments in this fine city and am very glad to have done so.

My first venture was to a hidden gem within the city, tucked down a little lane off Buchanan St, and alas aptly named. 'The Chippy Doon the Lane' was a delightful little surprise on a Monday afternoon. A lunch date with the uni girls called for somewhere different and fun, a change from our usual Wetherspoons or Yates pub chain lunches. I must admit, the thought of visiting a 'chippy' for an afternoon catch up with friends was not what I had in mind, but a good friend's insistence that this place was 'something else' intrigued me enough to give it a bash. Not being a lover of greasy chips or battered fish, I was apprehensive at the selection that would be on offer here, and so was pleasantly surprised when I saw the menu.

After much deliberation I opted for the Cajun Spiced Salmon Fillet with Garlic Butter and Lemon with a side salad, priced at a very respectable £6.45, while friends unanimously chose the Haddock Supper, again well priced at £7.95. We sat on the outdoor terrace nursing our cold drinks as we waited patiently for our meals to arrive. The sight and smell of other diners receiving their orders only increased the girls' hunger and it was smiles all round when their suppers finally arrived, encased in cardboard newpaper-esque parcels for that 'authentic' chippy feel. We spent a lovely afternoon on the terrace enjoying our beautifully cooked cuisine and catching up with each other. The girls thoroughly recommend a fish tea and apparently the home made tartar sauce is to die for... I'll leave it for you to decide. All I can say if the food is exquisite, atmosphere relaxed and intimate and the staff are very helpful. On this particular day they were short staffed and two poor girls were rushed off their feet, however, they didn't charge us for any of our drinks as we had to wait so long for our meals. Gold stars for service, food and decor however we all felt the desert menu was rather disappointing, offering only three choices. Perhaps something to look into in the future, but I would still urge anyone who is in Glasgow for the day to venture off 'doon the lane' for some lunch or a little super, you won't be disappointed.

With the girls feeling a little hard done by at not rounding off the day with a sinful desert, we decided to head to Di Maggio's in Royal Exchange Sq for a more generous desert menu. Not being one for indulgence after an already filling meal, I grudgingly sat down at the outdoor table to peruse over a menu. We finally ordered a selection of deserts including some Toffee Crunch Eggstravaganza, Crusty Apple Pies, Chocolate Fudge Cakes, the amazing Caramel Shortcake Sundae and I myself chose a Raspberry Cheesecake. As we waited in the sun for our deserts to arrive we noticed Elaine C Smith at the table next to us, tucking into a very delicious looking meal. My friends were suitably starstruck at sitting next to this Scottish Celeb and we continued to people watch until our deserts appeared. After saying I wasn't really in the mood for a desert I realised I was lying and amazed myself by eating more than half of this gorgeous cheesecake before my stomach cried no more. Don't get me wrong, it was bloody gorgeous, but one would have to starve for the day to be able to consume such a delicacy in full. Quality of the deserts in Di Maggio's is definitely high, however, the quality of service from some of the waiting staff left a lot to be desired. One gentleman was very helpful in accommodating our large group of girls in the small outdoor area and was very friendly, however some of the female members of staff need a lesson in manners and could do with smiling occasionally. One waitress sprayed my friend with a bottle of water/detergent whilst cleaning a table next to us, and not as much as a sorry. Not good enough Di Maggio's. If we venture here again it will only be due to the quality of food and the hope that your staff were maybe having a bad day.

My next dining out experience was a more back to basics experience while treating my younger brother after a hard days shopping at Glasgow Fort. My little brother, being the fussy teenager that he is, demanded we head for Pizza Hut, possibly the least healthy establishment in the place. After choosing a table outside, as it was turning out to be a very warm summer evening, we were presented with the menu by a very cheery waiter (you can tell they need the tips in this place). We settled for a Chicken Supreme Pizza for my brother and a trip to the salad station for myself. I'm glad I opted for the salad, as it was after this we spotted an item on the desert menu we couldn't resist. Hot Cookie Dough Desert. And yes, it really does taste every bit as good as you would imagine. Neglecting the thought of how many calories this delight contained, we shared it between us and I am so glad I tried it. I never have been a fan of Pizza Hut, but I think I may be visiting again, even if it is only for desert. They serve up this sweet treat on a large saucer, containing a half cooked chocolate chip cookie, with a dollop of slowly melting ice cream and chocolate sauce. For anyone who is a fan of Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream, this is a hotter, sweeter more intense version. For anyone else who is just a fan of deserts, pop into Pizza Hut and give it a try.

Next stop on the eating out extravaganza was Wagamama in the City Centre. I went here with two very good friends as we were looking for something different, and we were very happy with our choice. One thing you will immediately notice as you take your seat in Wagamama is the speed around you. The waiting staff race around table scribbling on your placemats (I'll get to this in a minute) and you sit at long tables next to strangers, almost like when you were at school. This was all a little weird at first, but we soon got into the swing of it. When you order the waitress writes the numbers on your placemat, helpful as I couldn't pronounce what I had ordered and wouldn't have known which dish was mine when it arrived. We also had to request cutlery, as we were not getting the hang of chopsticks at all. I ordered some Gyoza; a selection of steamed, grilled chicken and vegetable dumplings, served with a chilli, garlic, sesame and soy sauce. I also ordered some Yaki Soba; teppan fried soba noodles with chicken, shrimps, egg, beansprouts, peppers, white and spring onions, garnished with fried shallots, pickled ginger and sesame seeds. The service was very fast, and food exquisite. Not somewhere to go for a quiet meal, but ideal for a fun evening with friends to sample something a little different, albeit a tad more expensive. We will definitely be returning soon.

Last on my list of eateries I graced this week is Frankie and Benny's at Glasgow Fort. This was the setting of an informal family meal and works out at excellent value for money. I decided to go all out here and have 3 courses, throwing diets out the window and ignoring my built in calorie counter. With such a great selection of food on offer it was difficult to decide on my courses. I eventually settled for Little Italy Mussels for starter, Oven Baked Pesto Salmon and Mamma's Apple and Rhubarb Crumble for desert. The food was absolutely amazing and my only complaint is that there weren't enough delicious mussels in my starter! I must admit I did struggle to eat my desert, but only because I enjoyed the first two courses so much. Everyone was very pleased with their meals and my parents couldn't believe the bill when they saw it, they were expecting it to be a lot more. I also sampled some delicious cocktails at the bar before we left, and will definitely be returning here very soon. The family friendly atmosphere and great service and prices make this an ideal place to visit after a hard day's shopping.

Hopefully you get the chance to sample these delights if you are in and around Glasgow, and hopefully I will be visiting some more soon. Will be in touch.