Friday, May 04, 2007

City Merchant, Glasgow

On Tuesday work took me to Glasgow and I was disappointed when one of my favourite Glasgow eateries (The Babbity Bowster) had taken final food orders by the time we arrived. I had been looking forward to it. The next contender would have to be seriously good to haul me out of my well of disappointment. We stumbled upon the City Merchant. It looked busy. Always a good sign late on a Tuesday.
The restaurant is so named as it is located in the area where wealthy merchants once built their mansions and opened up fruit and fish markets. Their website informs me that the area also housed many inns, some of 'notorious ill repute'.
The City Merchant is essentially a seafood restaurant, specialising in local, typically Scottish produce. On being shown to our table we passed a large fish counter housing a dazzling display of dressed crabs, gleaming lobsters and bright-eyed fish. Promising. As I am unable to eat shellfish, I selected a rather conventional starter - smoked salmon with home-pickled cucumber and granary bread. It was the best I have had in some time. Mildly smoked with a wonderful melt-in-the-mouth texture quite unlike the shiny, fluorescent variety so often found in even the best supermarket ranges. And the pickled cucumber was the perfect accompaniment. My colleague opted for the crab which was good, but not as good as the salmon.
The restaurant also caters for the carnivore with a tempting selection of Scottish beef and game. We had both had our heart set on something meaty. I opted for the duck with was served with a marmalade sauce and potatoes 'seasoned with prunes and ginger'. This was less successful. Quite how one can 'season' potatoes with prunes, I have no idea! The duck itself was delicious - flavoursome, tender, a little pink. But it was completely overwhelmed by the sauce which was just too... marmaladey. Sweet, sticky and cloying. Not at all good. It would have been improved if the duck skin had been crispy too. My colleague's venison with herb and black pudding dumpling and a rowan jus was, however, 'just the trick'. The venison was meltingly tender and cooked to perfection. I was sorry that he was a colleague. If not, I would have had a serious case of 'wandering fork syndrome'. It looked excellent.
Puddings were traditional and good. We sampled 'selection' including cranachan ice cream, clootie dumpling and chocolate mousse. This time I was allowed to sample the clootie dumpling. It was very good indeed, reminding me somewhat of a spicy and slightly lighter version of bread pudding. I opted for the baked cranachan Alaska. This impressive creation featured a fresh berry tartlet topped with the aforementioned cranachan ice cream and smothered in a just-baked meringue. Superb. Although I would have preferred a traditional sponge base rather than the rather try pastry case.
The wine list was fairly comprehensive although the selection by the glass was a little uninspired. We started with a very mediocre Chardonnay from Argentina and then moved on to a slightly better red from Spain's Priorat region. The oak seemed a bit clumsy but it was reasonably good.
The restaurant has an irritatingly naff tagline 'Discover the value of good eating'. Good eating - yes. On the whole it was good. However, I wouldn't say it was especially good value. Our bill came to £105 for two, including wine. Not astronomical by any means, but certainly not a bargain. I'll settle on a fair price for some good Scottish favourites.

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