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Archive for February, 2009

Dressing up for dinner

It isn't scheduled to open until the end of March but I am curious to see how Hummingbird turns out. A new venture on Glasgow's Bath Street, it is a G1 project that looks as though it will be a cross between a bar, a restaurant and a spring break beach party.

Spread over four floors, it promises an eclectic food menu, a beach bar, private fridges, a hot tub and, I kid you not, bikinis for sale. If I squeezed into a bikini then I would win the prize for the world's worst tranny and I suspect that it would have a terrible effect on Hummingbird's food sales. Recognising that many people are in a similar position, Hummingbird will also provide a dressing up box. This strikes me as a great idea and a fantastic way to break the ice on a first date.

The only potential problem is that choosing which costume to wear might slow the meal down. Choosing which starter to eat can be tricky enough without the added complication of deciding whether to dress up as a pirate or a cowboy. It certainly puts a whole new slant on being dressed for dinner.

If you can't wait for Hummingbird to open then here are a few suggestions for restaurants that either have a touch of the theatrical about them or which actively encourage their customers to dress up. In Glasgow, Arta could be the set for a Zorro movie while the Curry Karaoke Club has a great selection of wigs and, if memory serves, falsies available to diners.

In Edinburgh, Zucca's location in the Lyceum means it is no stranger to the smell of greasepaint while Le Monde's capital cities of the world design theme just begs for a spot of dressing up.

Television doesn’t get tougher than this

Tonight's the night. After six weeks, the 132 wannabe chefs who started this fifth series of the new MasterChef have been simmered down to three and, at the climax of this evening's show, one competitor will emerge gravy-stained and victorious.

The repetitive formula of the show can be a drag and the way in which the judges try to make eating seem macho gets tired pretty quickly but it is still must-watch telly. Even if final competitor Mat Follas does look disturbingly like Ming the Merciless, the passion and skill which the final three have shown is breath-taking stuff.

No matter how interested you are in eating food or cooking it, one of the most enjoyable features of the show has little to do with either. The real star is the nonsense Gregg and John spout as they shovel in a forkful from the 2000th dish of the season and try to come up with a fresh way of describing it. Top marks to The Guardian for their Masterchef Random Gibberish Generator.

If MasterChef doesn't poach your pears then you could try out 5pm's latest members in Glasgow. The Ashoka Southside and Ashoka at the Mill can satisfy your curry cravings while Minsky's at the Hilton dishes up the flavours of a New York deli.

Bottoms up

A just released report from Oxford University appears to show that women who drink a large glass of wine a day increase their risk of certain types of cancer by up to 25%.

I could swear that it was only a couple of weeks back that we were being told that a glass of red wine a day could have benefits for our hearts. Puzzled? I am. Just as confusingly, after years of being warned about the dangers of cholesterol in eggs, it now seems that it is perfectly safe to once more go to work on an egg. Unfortunately, you’ll have to skip the smoky bacon as some experts reckon that smoked meats may be harmful. Glancing at a bacon butty used to mean an extra five minutes on the running machine. Apparently, it is now almost as dangerous as washing with Bisto and jumping in a piranha tank.

When did food and drink stop becoming something enjoyable and become the enemy? The fight back against food fascism starts here. If you are bored with being told to feel guilty because you fancy the occasional doughnut then just eat it. All things in moderation is the key to healthy and happy eating; not worrying whether or not the next pie could be your last.

Here is a very small and in no way exhaustive selection of 5pm members that have interesting wine lists. If you want to, go and have a glass. It won’t kill you.

In Glasgow’s city centre, Fifi and Ally have an interesting list that doesn’t follow the pack. Alternatively, go west. As the name suggests, they take their wine seriously at the Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens.

In Edinburgh, Iggy Campos, the owner of Iggs, is an enthusiastic wine lover and it shows in his restaurant. A little out of town in Aberlady, Malcolm Duck looks after an extensive cellar at Duck’s at Kilspindie.

Flipping ‘eck

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day which means that not only is the air full of pancakes but the papers are full of dubious puns on the words ‘batter’ and ‘toss’. Metro got the day off to a flying start with a story about chefs at the Hilton Grosvenor in Glasgow building a 75 cm high stack of pancakes. At 2cm higher than the previous record, this was enough to get the chefs in to the Guinness Book of Records. Or, as Metro put it, ‘Tossers make world record bid’.

On a slightly more educational note, The Daily Mail managed to unearth a maths expert who has come up with a mathematical formula for making the perfect pancake. It might be correct but surely nothing would erase the fun faster than doing a spot of algebra before whisking up the batter.

Even the perfect pancake pales in comparison with the Brazilian way of celebrating Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. The Brazilians get several days of sun, samba and fiesta. We get a maths professor setting us hard sums before we get so much as a sniff at a pancake.

More room at the inn

Edinburgh is rumoured to have more restaurants per head of population than any other city in Europe. They are about to be joined by two more over the next few months as a couple of hotel chains deliver new openings.

The Missoni fashion company is making a move into the hotel business and opening the first of its designer-styled ventures on the Royal Mile at the end of May. Housed in the former council building, the hotel has been some five years in the planning. A bar and restaurant are said to be part of the plans along with some 130 bedrooms. Further openings are scheduled in the Middle East.

Beating Missoni to the finish line is the new Apex Waterloo hotel which is aiming to open on the 16th of March. Also housed in a former Edinburgh council building, the Waterloo will bring the number of Apex hotels in the city to four. Regular 5pm fans may have already visited the restaurants at the Apex Metro and the Apex Metro West End.

The hotel will feature a new lounge bar and restaurant called Elliot’s. It promises Georgian windows, reflective glass mosaic tiles and views over Waterloo Place.

Let them eat burger

There is a great story emerging today about the head of a private equity firm who decided to punish his wealthy executives by making them eat burgers.

Apparently, the Permira company were having their annual jolly at Pennyhill Park in Surrey when the chief executive overheard some of the firm’s top brass whining about the food they were served at the restaurant’s Michelin-starred restaurant.

After lecturing them on how they might like to think about how lucky they actually are, top dog Damon Buffini ordered the restaurant to serve his staff burgers the following evening. Promoting a little humility among financial whiz kids seems a great idea in the current climate but burgers don’t fit my definition of humble pie.

Done well, a burger is thing of beauty rather than a punishment exercise. In Glasgow, the Ad Lib restaurants, Baby Grand, the Bank Café Bar and Restaurant Bar and Grill in Princes Square all lay on burgers worth mentioning.

In Edinburgh, those from the Olive Branch, Porto and Fi, Amicus Apple and Wannaburger all have their fans.

Back in Glasgow, the G1 Group’s Ketchup burger chain recently expanded from its West End base to open a new branch in the Southside. An Edinburgh branch is expected within the next two months.

Spice it up

With Balbir Sumal opening his Tiffin Rooms restaurant in Charing Cross, Glasgow has just strengthened its position as the curry capital of Scotland.

Balbir’s latest venture draws inspiration from the tiffin boxes which Indian workers use to carry their lunches in. Like an Indian version of a Japanese bento box, each layer of a tiffin tin contains all the different component parts of an Indian meal.

I’ve not been yet but it’s always good to see restaurant owners widening the gene pool of any city’s eating out options. Many cite Balbir as a godfather figure on Glasgow’s curry scene and, as the man who originally started the hugely successful Harlequin chain, they have a point.

Whatever part Balbir may have played in introducing Glaswegians to the delights of a decent curry, the city has embraced the idea as tightly as Duffy clutched her Brit Awards last night. Thanks to innovative places such as the Dakhin, Dhabba, the Mother India restaurants and Koolba, which won the Best Indian prize at the recent Scottish Restaurant Awards, Glasgow can claim to be on the cutting edge of curry.

Now, anyone for tiffin?

Scottish Restaurant Awards – Photos

Troubles over truffles

I nearly choked on my toast at a story in The Independent today. It reports that an un-named business man refused to settle his £3500 restaurant bill after he and his five companions scoffed a claimed 300g of white truffles at just under a tenner a gramme.

The diner disputes the restaurant’s stance that the truffles were weighed before being prepared. The businessman, whose business is obviously blissfully untouched by the credit crunch, is said to have offered to foot half the bill. The chef refused the offer and the dispute looks as though it will head to the courts.

I have had to swallow hard before paying one or two enthusiastically priced restaurant bills but nothing near three and a half grand. The Great Truffle Tussle has provoked some restaurants into drawing up a truffle code of conduct where the fungi is weighed in front of the customer and the price agreed before the meal is prepared. Although the process seems to stop short of both parties having to sign a legally binding contract, I imagine that the hassle of it all doesn’t exactly help create an atmosphere of warm and welcoming hospitality.

Dine Out For Less!

There are amazing dining deals on 5pm - the restaurants are really looking to entice customers to dine out and so many of them are offering even better deals than usual. Have a look at Mama San, Red Leaf, Bunker in Glasgow and all the City Inns - Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, London and Manchester. And in Edinburgh check out the fab offers at Cafe Andaluz, Bellini and Zucca.

By the way there is also the Lancome promotion - you can book a restaurant  and then take your 5pm booking ref number with you to the Lancome counters in both House of Frasers in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Jenners in Edinburgh, to receive a complimentary make over and Lancome samples.

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