The Left Bank, Gibson Street

Posted November 25, 2007 by m.
Categories: food

On Friday night some of us toddled down to The Left Bank in Gibson Street. Having wandered past it earlier in day on a somewhat ill-advised hunt for even more bike kit, I recalled that the food had been rather good the last time we’d visited.

Outside looking in, the Escher-inspired layout always begs me to go inside and explore. The first time we went, we’d been seated in a mezzanine cubby that made us worry that the waiting staff would forget about us (didn’t happen). This time, after an initial communication mismatch with the front-of-house staff, we were seated in yet another mezzanine level. This, it turns out, is one of the really good things about the restaurant — small almost self-contained seating areas lend the illusion of privacy and exclusivity. So, it’s a bit West End, but in a good way. But what about the food?

One of the reasons I like coming here is that they keep changing the menu. It can be a bit on the pricey side (for those of us still fighting our latent working class tendencies) with starters averaging about £4 and evening mains running from £9 to £20. That said, the fixed price menu (so West End they misspelt it in French) is rather good value — 2 courses for £9.50 or three for £11.50.

This time around, I had the char-grilled chicken skewer on gado gado noodles; my eating companions chose the Aberdeen Angus steak, a vegetarian option with truffle oil that I no longer see on the menu and another vegetaraian option that I don’t remember. All were excellent and it’s probably worth pointing out, albeit from my carnivore status, that this restaurant appears to cater a wide range for the veggies among us. Indeed, the menu is littered with little bullets indicating that a vegan option is available.

But let me tell you about pudding! Any half-way decent restaurant must have good desserts; it’s the Zeroth Law of Gastronomy. And most restaurants usually make only a half-way decent effort to comply with this law. Not the Left Bank! They do things with sugar and flour you wouldn’t think would be edible let alone taste as good as they do (leastways, the same experiments in my kitchen would probably lead to hospitalisation). Put rosemary in the ice cream? Astonishing! Bake mango and douse it in banana cream? Fantastic! Put salt in the apple cinnamon fudge pudding? Genius! Across the board, everyone agreed that the Zeroth Law had been upheld; I almost demanded to be taken back to the kitchen to tell the chef I had promoted him/her to demi-god.

Worthwhility: 9/10. The food and the surroundings far out-weigh the effects of the marginally off-hand front-of-house staff.

Smorgasbord

Posted October 30, 2007 by e.
Categories: Uncategorized

This weekend has been something of a gastronomic odyssey. From Friday evening to Tuesday morning, I had two dining companions in the shape of my parents. As they were on holiday, they were on a mission to dine like some sort of aristocracy. And so we did!

    Friday: The Salon

I’d already eaten dinner by the time the folks rocked up in Glasgow, and as it was late, they weren’t wanting anything vastly substantial. Therefore, we ended up in The Salon (formerly Gong, just off Byres Road in the West End) ordering a selection of tasty-sounding nibbles off their bar menu – goat’s cheese crostini, seafood salad, feta and olives, that sort of thing. When the dishes arrived, they were utterly tiny for their size and menu description. The goats cheese crostini surprised me especially, as it turned out to be a single, soggy crostino suffocating under a big round chunk of goats cheese (Watch out for the goats cheese – it will turn out to be a theme for the weekend) but my parents seemed happy enough. I’ve eaten at the Salon before, and both times now

Worthwhility: 5/10. It was alright, but food doesn’t back up the cost or pretentiousness factor.

    Saturday Lunchtime: The 13th Note

While out shopping, we stopped for some lunch at The 13th Note, a noted gig venue and vegetarian food provider of great repute. We ordered a varied selection of foccacia-based pizzas and some of the legendary spicy chips, which arrived in good time accompanied by lots of salsas, salad and tea. The pizzas were incredibly tasty, and I don’t think my dad (a confirmed meat eater) was even bothered that no animals were harmed in the making of his lunch. I’ve never been disappointed with the 13th Note – everything I’ve ever had there has been a winning combination of awesome and wholesome.

Worthwhility: 10/10. If I’m in town and want to stop for lunch, it’s the first place I think of.

    Saturday Evening: The Brasserie at Oran Mor

I’ve eaten at this place before, but I wasn’t sure how the menu would work with my new vegetarian lifestyle. Luckily, there was a lovely starter of pear and stilton rocket salad for me which was really very nice, while my parents had chicken and sundried tomato terrine, as recommended by the friendly and attractive waitress (an advantage that Oran Mor is multiply blessed with). Mainswise, I had a goats cheese filo parcel thing with roasted vegetables which was tasty, but I thought lacked imagination. There’s so much more to vegetarian food than goats cheese and roasted bloody Mediterranean veg. My parent’s dishes of lamb and beef looked much more thought through, even though I can’t actually remember what was going on with them, other than my mum’s dish came with some lovely baby pak choi.

For dessert, we ordered creme brulee which purported to be enhanced with Tia Maria, but was actually flavoured with delicious and surprising ginger, and a lovely apple pie thing.

All in all, very good stuff. I’m looking forwards to my work’s Christmas lunch, which is going to be held there in December.

Worthwhility: 8/10. Nice, but could do with a bit of a shakeup on the veggie side.

    Sunday Lunch: Bar Gandolfi

Cafe Gandolfi has always piqued my interest. It’s in the Merchant’s City, it’s hiding behind a very discreet dark green facade and you see lots of very smart looking families disappearing through the antique revolving door. I resolved to take my parents there in order to sample the foody goodness within, and found a very smart looking restaurant with incredibly funky wooden tables and a lovely menu. Unfortunately all the tables were already occupied, so we were sent upstairs to the bar part, which served a slightly cut down version of the cafe menu. We ordered a beetroot and gorgonzola risotto, a broccoli and baby potato curry, and cod loin with saffron potato cakes. All arrived looking gorgeous, delicious and rather wholesome – the beetroot had stained the creamy risotto an entertaining shade of Barbie pink, but I found this cute rather than off-putting. Accompanied by the bar’s fine range of European beers, this was an excellent and slightly posh lunch without too painful a pricetag. I’d like to come out here again, but I’d definitely reserve a table.

Worthwhility: 8/10. Go for it. It’s poshlicious.

    Monday Lunch: Brel

Three days into our gastronomic tour of Glasgow, I was starting to flag, but my parents were still going strong. Lunch at Brel had serious gastro potential for them, but also chance of respite for me. I went for a goats cheese and pepper sandwich (the sole veggie option) and the leek and potato soup, while my parents had two of the various mussel options – traditional marinere and a saucy spinach/bacon combo. I hadn’t been faced with anyone eating bacon in front of me since I’d quit meat, and I have to admit that the caramelized porky delicious smell nearly made me crack. But I didn’t. I ate up my (slightly thin and disappointing) soup and munched on my extraordinarily substantial sandwich. The mussels were apparently tasty, but looked a bit sad and small, but I suspect this is because they’re locally sourced and that’s just how big they are this time of year.

Worthwhility: 6/10. It’s not bad, it’s very close to work, but I’d probably only clamour to go back if I was eating meat (and specifically mussels) again.

    Monday Evening: Cafe Andaluz

Cafe Andaluz was the first place I ate out as a vegetarian – and it was a slightly mysterious cheese filled experience. Every dish was either based around or liberally sprinkled with melted cheese, and it all got to be a bit much by the end. However, this time we were able to select from the wider menu: cous-cous filled aubergine, patatas bravas, manchego tart, moorish monkfish steamed in paper, grilled sea bass, some sort of beefy salad thing. We also had a big vegetable paella, which was very delicious but had a lot of incredibly out-of-season guilt-inducing asparagus through it. Couldn’t they have gone with some delicious wild mushrooms, some marinated artichoke, maybe some fennel? Cafe Andaluz is good, but only if you’re in a small enough group to be able to choose from the full menu.

Worthwhility: 7/10. Good stuff, but with a slightly ‘conveyor belt’ feel.

A Midsummer Night’s Entertainment

Posted July 15, 2007 by r.
Categories: theatre/comedy

In an effort to maintain and extend our burgeoning intellectualism, a few of us attended a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Botanic Gardens last week.
Bard in the Botanics, as it’s known, has been running for years now and I’ve always meant to try it out. Now that I’ve been to one, I’ll definitely be back.
Check it out; I’m revealing the ending in the prologue….

Anyway, on to the actual review. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an engagingly barking tale of unrequited love, set amidst playful fairies and mischievous sprites who gleefully interfere with the plot. Basically, it goes like this:
Hermia doesn’t want to marry Demetrius – her father’s favoured suitor – being in love with another man; Lysander.
Helena is in love with Demetrius, but is confounded and hurt by his repeated refusals to get jiggy.
Demetrius likes Hermia…probably not as much as Lysander does, but still enough to marry her.
Oberon, the fairy king, is annoyed with his queen Titania and orders Puck (a jocular little pixie) to sprinkle some, ahem, love-juice on the eyes of Demtrius so that he falls in love with Titania.
Inevitably, Puck drugs Lysander by mistake, who then falls for Helena.
In attempting to correct this, Demetrius also becomes obsessed with Helena.

Meanwhile, a play within the play is periodically cut to, with one of the characters having his head turned into an ass’s head by Puck.
Titania (also now drugged) falls in love with the ass-head chap, and things become ever more ridiculous.
Finally, the spell is removed from Lysander and Titania, but left on Demetrius so that he may truthfully return Helena’s affections.

So, pretty straightforward really.

Given that the cast were playing at least two parts each, it actually made a surprising amount of sense, and the characters were well delineated. I’m hardly an expert on theatre, but I thought it very well performed. I particularly liked Puck, as the effective compère of the whole thing. It was also genuinely funny, which I wasn’t expecting.

If you’re looking for a vaguely intellectual evening’s entertainment, you probably can’t do much better. Just make sure you take (or rent) a seat… and hope it doesn’t rain!

Kokuryo

Posted July 15, 2007 by r.
Categories: food

After numerous false starts involving the restaurant being too busy, a small cadre of us finally made it along to Kokuryo to sample its Korean fare.

The menu showcases a wide array of tasty sounding Oriental treats – including sushi – and an extensive list of set-menus if that’s your thing. They also offer many of their dishes as vegetarian versions, for all your cabbage-hugging comrades’ needs.

Predictably eschewing the set options, we plumped for an assortment of random stuff: I opted for a fishcake starter and spicy seared pike mackerel (actually mackerels – there were two!) for my main course. Both were excellent; I really wasn’t expecting two whole fish, plus soup, plus rice at that price point. Nevermind the fact that it was really rather delectable. All the other meals were similarly generous and double-plus-tasty-good.

Food matters aside, the service was friendly and attentive (tea refills!) and the atmosphere as convivial as it was cosy.

Given that Kokuryo’s main competition in the Oriental-food-that-isn’t-Chinese market is the well established Ichiban, I think it’s worth doing a quick comparison:
The food? Kokuryo’s selection is significantly larger and wider, not to mention fresher and more exciting.
The price? Ichiban may be marginally cheaper, but Kokuryo represents considerably better value for money. Ichiban may be £2 cheaper, but you only get about three choices.

In my view, there’s no competition: Kokuryo gives Ichiban a sound drubbing in every department except physical size. I’m not qualified to judge the authenticity of either cuisine, but my tongue knows tasty and I am using my tongue to type this….

Overall then, I definitely recommend it. The only downside is that the diminutive size and (deserved) popularity mean you’ll probably have to book.

Spidey (non)sense

Posted May 20, 2007 by mattpitkin
Categories: movies

The third installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man franchise became the top grossing opening day film ever when released a couple of weeks back, but it’s taken me a bit of time before getting out to the cinema to see it. However, today I decided that having seen, and enjoyed, the first two films I should give this one a go and add my contibution to the pile of money it’s made.

The film starts off pretty much where the last one left off (it even gives you a quick “previously on Spider-man” style update in the opening titles.) Peter’s/Spidey’s mate Harry is still rather pissed with him (for reasons I wont say in case you’ve not seen number 2), but him and MJ are still very loved up. Thing’s aren’t all happy in the relationship though as MJ think’s Peter/Spidey’s getting a bit up himself – and she’d be right to. These things lead to much tension and many problems, with Peter trying to deal with many issues involving love, friendship and revenge.

Now the previous films have always been rather schmaltzy when it came to the emotional scene’s between Peter and MJ (or Peter and his Aunt May), but I don’t remember them grating on me as much as in this film. The main reason I think they grated was due to Tobey Maguire’s face – throughout these sort of scenes he has a dopey confused look about him, like a faithful, but stupid, dog that can’t comprehend what his owner wants him to do. These scenes in part make you cringe, and in part make you want someone to give him a slap. Then there are the scenes, done for comedy effect I assume, which see Peter/Tobey becoming a badass (strutting about and playing it smooth with the ladies) – these really do make you sink into your seat and wince. The humour in Spider-man is supposed to come form Spidey’s witty one liners, and Peter’s interactions with J. J. Jameson, not by making him look like a twat. Now how I’ve described things may indeed be how Maguire meant to play the whole thing (Peter/Spider-man is supposed to be the architypal geek-cum-superhero after all), but it mainly annoyed me.

Other than Peter/Spidey/Tobey there was one other main thing that didn’t quite hold together. There were a couple of moments in the film were it seemed like they’d removed about 15 minutes of it and just left an unexplained gap. They may well be parts that ended up on the editing room floor to make way for more of the special effects filled moments, but it created a couple of disconnects in the plot.

Now I’ve not been particularly kind, but I did sort of enjoy the film – despite having to cringe through various moments. The effects were of a very high standard and it didn’t drag for a 2 hour 20 minute film. I was, however, more disjointed than the last two films, and obviously the effects don’t have the same inpact a third time around.

The plans seem to be to carry on the franchise for as many films as possible, but number three might have been Maguire last turn as Spidey. I think it’d probably be good getting someone else in to give a slightly different interpretation of the role.

Can You Stop The Rock?

Posted May 15, 2007 by r.
Categories: music

Can you bollocks!

Friday night saw the debut gig of local bands Look Up For Danger and their offshoot Corpse Full of Bees at the GU Research Club. Despite being their first gig, both performances were surprisingly tight, with excellent showings from all the band members on their respective instruments/vocal chords/drum faces. It’s a bit difficult to rawk out in the Research Club, but the sizeable crowd were definitely loving it; the atmosphere – especially towards the end – was fantastic. Personal highlights included Whole Lotta Love, Don’t Fear The Reaper, Last Caress and Born To Be Wild. The set ended with handfuls of woolly bees being flung into the crowd: rock and f*cking roll.

Afterwards, the evening continued with some impromptu DJ-ing courtesy of the band’s iPod. Never have I seen the Research Club so rawked out, buoyant and plain bloody mental. You want a room full of folk dancing to the solo from All Along the Watchtower? You got it. How about Insane in the Membrane, followed by Josh Wink? Minnie the Moocher followed by a rousing chorus of I Want To Break Free? Then how about some proper legs-in-the-air-hyper-skanking to Baggy Trousers? All these unlikely dreams, and many … many more came true.

I’ve had some truly memorable nights in the Research Club over the years, but I think I have to single out this one as my all time favourite. The gig was bloody fantastic, and the custom-made super-disco afterwards topped off an insane, wonderful evening. Here’s to next time…!

A Shure thing

Posted May 5, 2007 by r.
Categories: music, tech

I like listening to music on my walk into work in the mornings. It puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day, wakes me up, gives me some focus. For the past few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a state as my earphones (Shure E2cs) died and I’ve been unable to buy (decent) new ones due to temporary funding restraints. After a recent windfall though I decided to plump for the model up from my previous efforts; the Shure E3c. I was a big fan of the E2c model: they sounded fantastic and only died due to a series of increasingly unfortunate incidents involving myself, a BNC crimping tool, an easter egg, a soldering iron and a roll of electrical tape.

I should point out here that I’m no audiophile. But, I like the sound of some things better than others for no particular reason, and I’m willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for decent earphones, as I listen to music on the go a lot. The new Shures cost £60 from Amazon. I bought the white model (despite my general hatred for white earphones) as they were inexplicably £20 cheaper than the otherwise identical black efforts. Thankfully the reassuringly chunky cables are a nice dark grey, so I don’t look like a total wank.

It’s probably worth detailing the construction in its own right. If these earphones were in a fight with your average earphones, it’d be a proper mauling. They’re built like an earphone-brick-shithouse. Like Arnie, back in Raw Deal… only, earphones. Basically, these are not going to fall to bits over the course of any normal use. They’re also pleasingly dinky compared to their chubby little brother, the E2c.

It should also be noted that when Shure refer to their “in-ear design” they are very much not shitting you. These things go riiiiiight the way in, and come with a variety of different earphone sleeves (in different sizes and materials) to achieve a proper fit; not to mention a special tool to remove earwax.   Hardcore.

Sound-wise, I think they’re excellent; the only real downside being that they show off the questionable quality of some of my mp3s annoyingly well. The bass is possibly marginally less bassy than the E2cs, but this is a good thing for me as heavy bass pisses me off.

Are they worth the extra money though, given that E2cs can be had for less than £40? Well, that’s a tough one. Personally, I would definitely buy them again over their cheaper stablemate as I prefer the sound, the noise isolation is notably better and the smaller form-factor is appealing. However, I can’t imagine finding better earphones than the E2cs for <£40 so I guess it comes down to a simple question of how much you’re looking to spend.

Worthwhility rating: 9… if you like that sort of thing.


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