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Ron Mackenna: Bull Leader, Glasgow

And now for something completely different.

The approach is unconventional and the food not hugely filling but Bull Leader adds variety to the dining-out scene. Photograph: Colin Templeton
The approach is unconventional and the food not hugely filling but Bull Leader adds variety to the dining-out scene. Photograph: Colin Templeton

Well, slightly different. Actually not that different to what we all do at home: cook.

I know, a restaurant where you cook your own meal. It'll never catch on. Though - and I have just pointed this out to Paul and Popeye by way of persuading them to actually come in here tonight - the cook-it-yourself Mongolian hot-pot is hugely popular in China, and that involves tossing meats and vegetables in a boiling pot of hot liquids set in the middle of your restaurant table.

Here, in Bull Leader - nope, no idea what the name means and I didn't understand the waiter's explanation - we're not a million miles away from that.

There's no boiling pot in the middle of the table, just a very hot plate covered with a disk of greaseproof paper that's been heavily oiled by a waitress with a little brush.

The brush and the oil are among a number of little accessories including soy sauce, chilli oils and other seasonings that are brought to the table for us.

The idea is simple. Go to the buffet counter and select a number of raw items, bring them to the table and grill them on the hot plate.

Tonight, apart from us the customers look entirely of Chinese or Japanese origin, which is perhaps why the waitress is doing all our cooking for us as we look on helplessly, sip strange-looking coconut juice and listen to quite loud Japanese pop.

First impressions? Sprinkled with the spice mix provided at the tables, the prawns are quite nice.

Dipping the slivers of ox meat into the bowl of chilli sauce gives them a good bite. The smells rising from the plump chunks of white fish slowly sizzling before us are appetising (though I'm not sure exactly what they are) and the pork, beef and ox skewers are charring nicely and sending up aromatic scents.

There are also a few vegetables, peppers and mushrooms, slowly cooking at the edge of the hot plate.

It's a very civilised form of cooking. The plate is hot enough to ensure whatever is placed upon it reacts instantly and satisfyingly to the heat but it's not so hot that the food spits or overcooks, or threatens to misbehave and burn itself in any way. Even the disks of puffed rice cook up well, crisping on the outside and softening inside.

Sadly, none of us has picked any of the ducks' gizzards, sliced pigs' ears or ox hearts.

Nobody is rushing, either, for the dishes of sushi that are being constantly replenished by waitresses coming through the swing door at the back.

The restaurant is full now and it seems to be largely young couples grilling away while chatting.

We've persuaded our waitress that we can be trusted to cook and she has left us to it. Astonishingly, it's remarkably straightforward but now that Linda and then Marco have joined us late there's a clear design flaw. One grill between two people may be about the right size to keep the food flowing but one grill between five is far too small.

On top of that, delicious though a tad chewy as the grilled meats undoubtedly are, nobody is getting fat or even filling up on any of this.

It's a buffet, so for £17.99 we could sit here all night and just keep eating proteins until we could eat no more. But out there on Union Street the whole of Glasgow is still in the midst of its festive celebrations and somehow we have the urge to join them. Even though I only suggested this place as an antidote to the Christmas menu madness that was gripping the city.

Bull Leader, then? Different. Fun. Probably very healthy and quite slimming.

I suspect it's more for the East Asian community though.

Menu

There isn't one. It's a Japanese cook-your-own-meal-on-a-hot-plate joint. Prawns, fish, and pork mingle with duck gizzard and ox heart. 4/5

Atmosphere

Japanese pop music plays, crisp and very clean decor and ambience, a little bit fast-foodish but by no means unpleasant. 4/5

Service

It's self-service, though the very pleasant staff were anxious to help us by grilling our dishes as we watched. 4/5

Price

It's £17.99 for all you can grill. But the grill doesn't get any bigger if there are five of you. Best for couples. 3/5

Food

Good range of things to cook, with plenty of prawns and white fish not to mention sushi and other rice cakes. Fun and different. 5/10

Total: 20/30

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