Marco Pierre White has pitched up in Glasgow, and there's no missing him.
His larger-than-life image straddles the windows of the Hotel Indigo like a colossus. Inside, the walls are plastered with brooding black and white portraits of the 1990s chef pin-up. A further portrait of White, this time looking volcanically mercurial - keffiyeh scarf wrapped round his head gripping a large kitchen knife - occupies half the menu. You see, menacing kitchen implements - cleavers, knives - are part of MPW's demonic look, creating that volatile undercurrent of danger that dictators prize. He could've given Kim Jong-il lessons in the cult of the personality.
Back in the day, MPW was a hot chef, but now the word "businessman" suits him better as he lurches from one commercial enterprise to another, haemorrhaging the respect that hot-shot chefs accrue. The MPW brand took a decisive nosedive when he became brand ambassador for Knorr, and tried to convince us that chicken was best cooked with a crumbled stock cube rubbed into its skin. Then he signed up as brand ambassador for Bernard Matthews turkey. "Ever since I was a young boy I've been an admirer of turkey and particularly Bernard Matthews, because he is without question one of the great farmers of the last five decades," he told us. But MPW's signature dishes for the Matthews label bombed and had to be axed after six months.
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On his website you'll find a long list of MPW restaurant locations, from Dublin to Dubai, by way of Stratford and Sheffield, to Birmingham and Bristol. Now it's the turn of Glasgow to be colonised by the MPW empire in the form of a wearisome steakhouse. It's not as if we need another of those, and who wants steak sourced by the man who appears to rate Bernard Matthews as the cream of British farmers?
On the crucial point of provenance, the menu is opaquely coy. Steaks are "fine quality" from a "native breed", which is about as illuminating as saying "nice carrots from a field". Country of origin? Aged, if so, how? Which breed exactly?
Actually, even if the meat had an A1 pedigree, it was impossible to tell, because an overpriced rib-eye (£26.95), ordered medium rare, had been burned to bitter blackness on one side, leaving only a centimetre of residual pinkness on the other. It came with "real chips" - podgy fingers of spud where the starch had turned to sugar, fried to an oaky brown - and a greasy battered onion ring. In a word, dreadful. The crab cakes were even worse, two dog biscuit-sized balls of greasy mash, with barely a strand of crab meat visible, armoured in breadcrumb/panko-type coating and dwarfed with a ramekin of cloying mayonnaise that had an odd plasticity of texture. If MPW did indeed mastermind the menu, how did such a mean, misconceived dish pass muster? What a money-badly-spent sickener, at £8.25. And if you chopped up finely the leftovers of your Sunday roast duck with vegetables, you would get something like our MPW potted duck, but you wouldn't be able to taste it with the MPW piccalilli, so vinegary it could bring tears to the eyes.
Two further dishes - pork belly in mustard sauce with a cake of bubble and squeak, and a dark chocolate mousse with biscotti - managed to raise the standard up to that of a competent if unexciting hotel dining room. Sherry trifle "Wally Ladd" (named after a one-time kitchen colleague of MPW) was the one dish that was, incongruously, really quite good, the sherry-soaked sponge in a cherry compote, layered up with emollient custard, whipped cream heavy with vanilla, flaked almonds and pistachios. Based on this, I'd say track down Wally Ladd and bring him to Glasgow and sort out this latest MPW venture.
Hotel Indigo (itself a chain) may be a hard gig for any chef, with a problematic location in Glasgow, but the last meal I had there, when the restaurant was called Limelight, was way better than MPW's pathetic, and I sense cynical, effort. There's more to running a restaurant than putting your picture up on the wall.