A relatively new addition to the stretch of Argyle Street that also includes the Kelvingrove Cafe, Crabshakk and Old Salty's is Panevino - the latest venture from Italian entrepreneur Remo Crolla.
Crolla is best known for his other eatery - the Glasgow institution that is Little Italy on Byres Road. His new restaurant opened its doors for the first time in September 2012, and is set to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor helped in part by an eye-wateringly expensive wine dispensing machine that allows high-end vinos to be sampled by the glass as well as a marble-topped bar area designed to recreate the feel of an authentic Italian trattoria.
At the beginning of the year, Panevino launched a schedule of events specifically conceived to educate in its offerings as well as satisfy the appetites of hungry diners. On it appeared an 'intimate beer and food pairing event' that claimed to match artisanal Italian beers with the kitchen's tasting menu. It piqued the interest of a drink aficionado like myself.
Being seated round the bar is what it's all about at Panevino - it's been custom built for events like this and it shows. Aside from the obvious highlight that you don't need to speak to your partner when eating, it's possible to see exactly what each member of staff is doing at any given time, adding to the intimacy.
It is this behind-the-scenes aspect that feels like we're part of the glamorous underbelly of the business, with engaging bar and waiting staff providing a sort of constant, repetitive and somehow soothing background movement - slicing bread; passing glasses from the washer to shelves; or cleaning meat carving equipment. To say that having waiters cut up huge loaves of foccacia and prepare cheese and meat on platters right in front of us helps heighten anticipation for the night ahead is an understatement.
The antipasti consists of Dolcelatte and Pecorino cheeses, as well as various salamis served on individual platters. Each is accompanied by a little pot of honey which our host, Giulio Temporin, from Italian gourmet supplier Del Italia, explains is the traditional Italian way to do things. With the platter, the first beer of the night is served - Gradisca from Italian indie brewery Amarcord. Gradisca lends itself so well to antipasti because it contains active yeasts which add a hoppy bite, perfect to contrast against the creamy tones of soft cheese.
Next from the kitchen is smoked salmon ravioli in a white wine and cream sauce. This is the daddy of the pasta world: huge, fat discs of the stuff each with charmingly uneven crimped edges proving they came straight from the hand of the kitchen's experienced pasta maker. Temporin explains that the ravioli's paired beer is the only brew on the menu not from Italy. The Inedit, he says, has merited its inclusion on the list thanks to its staunchly foodie reputation. It is, again, flowery to the nose and taste and slices through the creamy texture of the pasta's sauce. A killer production from Spanish brand EstrellaDamm.
According to Temporin, north-west Italy's climate is unsuited to growing the hops that are so vital to the production of good beer. And so, our next brew - Nazionale - lacks the hoppy element that the previous two feature. The product of north western Italian brewery Baladin, the Nazionale is served slightly warmer than our first two tastings and has a fuller flavour. It works as a good foil to the third course of a homemade mini beef burger with reassuringly authentic looking chips. Not necessarily Italian, but then the menu didn't claim that the food would be: just that the each course would prove harmonious with its paired beer. And the Nazionale is absolutely that.
Our fourth and final savoury dish is the big one. Sea bream served with a monster-sized king prawn plus capers and vine-roasted tomatoes. And with this, comes another brew from Baladin - the Isaac. Named after the first son of Baladin's creator, Isaac's orange and coriander notes give sweetness to a dish which is - quite literally - straight out of the sea in terms of saltiness. At this point we note that each brew is served ever so slightly warmer than the last. It feels like we are mellowing with each beer, though that could be entirely unrelated to temperature of course...
Pudding and beer is something I admit I have been thinking about lately. Edinburgh's crop of indie breweries are producing rich, dark ales with notes of mocha and coffee, which to me sound ideal to pair with dessert. It seems that Panevino is one step ahead of me with its final offering: a chocolate ganache with black cherries buried deeply within. Also from Baladin is its accompaniment, the Elixir. It's less of a beer, really, and more of a wine-cum-whisky made with yeast ordinarily reserved for peaty Islay malts, hardly any hops and caramel and honey notes. At 10% volume, this is something of a sipper.
Matching food and drink is far from a new concept, but Panevino feels like it's doing some changing with its set-up.
With events planned over the coming months including wine and cheese pairing from two big Scottish independents, a masked Venetian night and a Sardinian themed evening, this is one restaurant in a street packed full of competition that's worth keeping a very close eye on.
For more details visit www.panevino.co.uk