Take the time to explore Glasgow’s food trail, and you'll discover there’s a lot more to Scottish cuisine than haggis
I’ve never been a whisky fan, but when Iain McCallum, the manager and master blender of the Auchentoshan distillery, handed me a class of amber liquid to try, it would have been rude to refuse. For the past hour Iain had been showing us around his workplace on the outskirts of Glasgow, leading us past gleaming copper stills into a warehouse filled with wooden casks where the distilled barley spirit is stored for at least three years before being designated whisky.
The glass in my hand shone as Iain described the legend of the angels’ share, explaining the disappearance of a few mouthfuls of whisky from each cask due to evaporation. I followed the angels’ example, allowing the smallest sip to slip onto my tongue, making my lips tingle and a delicious warmth spread down my throat, so clean that it didn’t leave a trace of an aftertaste. I realised I had been converted.
But there’s far more to Glasgow gastronomy than the so-called ‘drink of life’. In fact, in recent years a host of high class eateries has sprung up. We were staying at ABode, a chic hotel in the city centre housed within a converted Edwardian building. As well as having its own Michael Caines restaurant, the hotel (one of the trendiest in Glasgow) is within walking distance of a huge range of fantastic bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants.
To give us a taste of how international Glasgow’s tastes have become, our host, Martha, took us to award-winning Japanese restaurant Nanakusa (441 Sauchiehall Street), where we sampled delicious dishes such as deep fried king prawns, temaki sushi and edamame - tender salted soya beans that shoot from their pods at the slightest squeeze. Nanakusa attracts crowds of pre-party people on Friday and Saturday nights, while a more sedate clientele arrive for the restaurant’s cookery courses.
Cookery schools are the current craze in Glasgow, and on our second day we went to Peckhams (65 Glassford St) to find out more. The school is housed above one of the city’s most popular delis, and teaches you how to get the most out of the region’s finest fresh produce as part of team-building exercises, corporate functions, family celebrations, school outings and, increasingly, hen parties. Dressed in aprons that we were given to keep, we sliced, mixed and sautéed amid fits of hilarity – fortunately our teacher was a seasoned chef capable of transforming the most disastrous attempts into a wonderful meal.
At the end of the lesson, we sat down to eat our creations: a red and yellow pepper soup, chicken stuffed with wild mushrooms followed by the highlight, a traditional raspberry cranachan, comprising oatmeal, honey, cream, raspberries and a generous slosh of whisky.
The afternoon was spent exploring the West End’s food emporiums. Within the space of a few bustling streets we discovered the bakery-heaven of Kember & Jones (134 Byres Road), the decadent infused oils and vinegars of Demijohn (382 Byres Road) and the wonderland of colours and aromas stacked within Heart Buchanan (at number 380), a deli selling every ingredient you can dream of as well as fully prepared feasts.
After so much snacking, we knew we needed to build up an appetite to do our evening meal justice, so we strolled over to the palatial Kelvingrove art gallery and museum, a red stone building complete with turrets. The gallery houses a huge collection of national treasures, including masterpieces by Dali, Titian and Rembrandt, oh, and a real Spitfire. The museum is known as one of the most romantic spots in the city, attracting countless courting couples since its inauguration in 1901.
Feeling inspired and, remarkably, hungry yet again, we headed for the quintessential Glasgow eatery, The Ubiquitous Chip (12 Ashton Lane). The Chip opened in 1971 and has been serving up traditional dishes using local ingredients ever since.
Though the establishment includes a bar and brasserie offering more affordable dishes, we opted for the salubrious surroundings of the courtyard restaurant and I spent much of the meal looking out for celebs such as David Tennant and Kylie Minogue, both of whom have dined there. Despite being enclosed, the courtyard gives a sense of being outside, with vines climbing the walls and water running into a pretty pond.
This is a great place to rediscover old favourites – my Scotch egg starter was a single quail egg wrapped in the finest sausage meat possible, while one of my companions tucked into a main course of the vegetarian haggis that has been a Chip staple since it opened. The creamy oatmeal ice cream was a perfect finish to the meal and a great example of just how good Glaswegian food can be.