The Ubiquitous Chip's restaurant menu grabs my attention.
Pine nut curd, pickled parsley root, shellfish oil, truffle polenta, horseradish gel, and muscat jelly all sound worth investigating. I was just about to book a table when I clocked the prices. Roast fillet of lythe (pollack) for £23.95? OK, it comes with sautéed squid, potato dumplings, smoked garlic purée, bouillabaisse sauce, and garlic chips. That's possibly worth it if the fish was line-caught, and from a fishery not consigned to 'don't eat' status on those sustainable fish species lists, but otherwise, I'm not feeling the urge.
I do appreciate that venison, given the availability of deer in Scotland, becomes absurdly expensive by the time that it is shot and butchered, nevertheless, Galloway roe deer with golden beetroot, confit fennel, wild mushrooms, and kale seems a bit steep at £26.95. (We're talking haunch, not fillet). For this money, I'd want sight of CVs showing the cooking credentials of the kitchen team before I opened my wallet.
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But the Brasserie menu is altogether more approachable - starters and desserts in or around the £4-7 band, main courses never climb above £17 - yet studded with curiosities. And yet you still get to eat in the unique space of the Chip - that well-used, nicely worn Glasgow institution that's so comfortable in its own skin - only you're up in the roof where you can lob peanuts at diners in the restaurant proper below.
On a Friday night, the Chip was exhilaratingly busy, oozing its winning cosmopolitan charm, and playing to a full house. Picking up the phone the day before left me with a choice of a 6pm or 10pm start in the Brasserie. There's an awful lot of eating going on in the Chip, which puts the kitchen under pressure. The tables do the restaurant equivalent of hot desking, and there are groups to deal with; a party of around 16 people sat opposite us. Perhaps this helps explain why our food came sluggishly, and not quite hot enough. By the time we left, I reached the conclusion that many dishes on the Brasserie menu have too many elements for their own good. Such an intense operation needs simpler dishes that can tolerate the occasional eye off the ball.
It was a treat to be offered Renfrewshire asparagus, but since it was more like thinnings (sprue) than mature spears, and so liable to blacken quickly, chargrilling wasn't the wisest treatment. It came dusted with a salty yellow crumble of cured egg yolk - crunch always works with asparagus - but two flat, sugary wafers of 'tomato meringue' were terribly misconceived and weird to eat. Thankfully, a similar looking confection going by the name of "crab biscuit" tasted a whole lot better. It acted as an irregular wafer base for some reasonable crabmeat, but was top-heavy with green apple julienne, blobs of what might have been a brown crab mayonnaise, rather too much dill, and a brown, tasteless gel. And did I blink and miss the promised "soused fennel"?
Slow cooked Inverurie lamb leg, rolled lamb belly, wild garlic purée, and borlotti beans would have made a great main course had it not been served pointlessly on a black slate, which did nothing for presentation and allowed the lamb to cool to the point where its palpable fattiness was upfront. In a rendition of the classic mackerel and rhubarb pairing, the fish was soft-skinned - more steamed than pan-fried - the 'puffed" quinoa simply tasted like gritty, uncooked quinoa, and the explosion of raw spinach on top cried out to be tossed in the vivacious lemon sauce that was splashed on the plate.
Away from the heat of the stove, the dessert department came up trumps. A rich egg and rhubarb custard crowned with gingery crumbs was all the better for its straightforwardness. Ignoring the alarming brown skid marks on the plate - surely a case of fine dining manqué? - a humid chocolate and ale cake slipped down a treat with malt barley ice cream and rugged chunks of peanut brittle.
If it could just dump its fine dining baggage, the Chip brasserie could only improve.