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Ron Mackenna: Hutchesons, Glasgow

It is no secret that Glasgow is hardly overloaded with choice at the top end of the market.

Prices apart, the food at Hutchesons is as handsome as the surroundings in which it is served. Photograph: Mark Gibson
Prices apart, the food at Hutchesons is as handsome as the surroundings in which it is served. Photograph: Mark Gibson

Embarrassingly, there still isn't a single Michelin star in the whole damn city. Then Hutchesons here comes skipping into town lifting its crinoline skirts to flash its listed-building status dining room, double-height ceiling and the sheer richness of the saucy decor that has already been met with the sort of reverence last seen when the aliens met the claw in Toy Story. It is pretty, even stunning.

In here a few weeks ago with Gibbo, Goffy and Frank - every one of us having previously sat in this very hall long ago when it hosted union meetings for The Herald and Evening Times - we were impressed. In fact we left talking about the decor … and the prices. But the food? Apart from the odd Fred Flintstone-style steaks called tomahawks at £78 that went by to a table of what sounded like merchant bankers, it was not too memorable.

Tonight? As tables fill and waiters introduce themselves by name; as a birthday meal for Gordon Jackson QC takes place over there; and as we pick our way through starters of Highland game terrine and asparagus and poached egg? Better. Definitely better.

That game terrine, while still carrying a chill from the fridge, is a meaty, rich, dark and multilayered affair with lovely light toasted brioche and a dressed salad. The slow-poached hen's egg with truffle hollandaise and asparagus is gently flavoured and nicely put together.

Garry has a steak tartare with french fries for a main course and while the egg yolk comes separately the meat itself is cutely seasoned with a slightly sweet cast to it.

Indeed, the subject of the skinny fries prompts a brief exchange with the waiter who finally concedes they may be indeed be fried from frozen, as I cheekily suggested.

There's no need to be embarrassed. They are really good, far better than the poorly flavoured and over-large handcut non-chips I had last time. Newsflash to chefs: the Rooster is not the only potato in the world and the thick potato oblong is not a chip.

Incidentally, both times I've eaten in Hutchesons I've struggled to pick something from the menu. There is a selection of steaks, but who doesn't offer that these days and it's impossible to gauge cooking ability from a steak.

There are also the understandably pricey seafood platters - around £70 for two - which rightly or wrongly I associate with the visitor end of the market. But that's not the problem.

The problem is I'm not that keen to pay £8 for a starter of smoked salmon when the menu description doesn't even bother to say where it came from. Or £16 for an otherwise unspecified Shetland salmon fillet, presumably farmed. But how? By whom?

It's a similar story with the generic-sounding duck and the chicken dishes. If you charge at a certain level then you can expect harder questions about what is being served. And let's not forget that terrine I had for a starter was pennies short of £9.

I have no great complaints about the tuna nicoise salad. The salad is well assembled, the dressing pleasant and the large thick tuna steak seared as lightly as I asked, but I wouldn't come here just for it.

It's been by no means a bad meal - but somehow it's still ordinary. A couple of days ago at Heston Blumenthal's Michelin-starred pub The Hinds Head in Bray a main course cost roughly the same as in here and two superb courses at lunch could be had for £17.50. It makes you think.

It's a fabulous setting here, then, and bold pricing. You can't yet say the same on either front about the food.

Hutchesons

158 Ingram Street, Glasgow

(hutchesonsglasgow.com, 0141 552 4050)

Menu

Steaks, seafood platters and a slim selection of bistro dishes. Frankly a bit dull. Needs more imagination. 3/5

Atmosphere

If the National Trust did bistros this is what they would look like: sumptuous, sophisticated and beautiful. 4/5

Service

Good, friendly staff who introduce themselves by name. Tendency to approach table too often for the inevitable drink upselling. 4/5

Price

Can easily spend £9 on a starter and hit £20 on a main without going near the steaks. Priced to suit the setting. 3/5

Food

Unadventurous but well presented and has flavour, though it won't blow your socks off. Is the kitchen overwhelmed by the decor? 6/10

TOTAL 20/30

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Food and drink

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