Riverhill Restaurant

3 West Nile Street, Glasgow

0141 248 3495

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Lunch £7-28 Dinner £20-£28

Food rating 8/10

THE Riverhill restaurant opened its door in Glasgow with spring, and like that welcome change of season, it represents a breath of fresh air. Its arrival underscores that the city's eating out scene is on the up. Think back to 2013, which was the worst year that I can remember. The number of openings contracted, and with the exception of The Gannet, those that did appear made no lasting impression because they projected so little distinctive sense of what they were about.

The patient looked sickly, tentatively returning to health the following year, but that episode of infirmity seemed to have robbed it of its old sparkle. So 2014 became the copycat year, with few restaurateurs apparently confident enough to express any originality, instead pinning their efforts on the now tedious, but commercial, formula of burgers and steak. When the Ox And Finch opened last May, this was a promising indication that Glasgow could face the day without sucking on its pulled pork'n'fries comfort blanket. It showed that the city wasn't just a culinary groundhog day for the rodeo brigade.

Now, when you pick up the menu at Riverhill, you get a tingle of excitement. Instead of casting your eye down the menu and thinking, "been there, done that", you find dishes to stimulate your curiosity. The sphere of reference is global - a United Nations of gastronomic culture is referenced, but happily someone in the kitchen also has the taste, judgement, and culinary education to pull it off. When you're serving dishes such as paneer and pistachio couscous cake with preserved lemon chickpeas, tomato prune jam and wild garlic oil, there's a lot to go awry. In the wrong hands, that can turn into a student flat mess.

HERE'S RON MACKENNA'S VERDICT ON RIVERHILL

What would Riverhill make of cauliflower "skordalia", I wondered. (Skordalia is the time-honoured Greek dip of potatoes pulverised with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.) The cauliflower had been lightly puréed - a less starchy alternative to spuds - and didn't taste of garlic or especially oily, with tiny charred florets and toasted pumpkin seeds strewn over it. This brassica spin on the Hellenic favourite was served warm; true skordalia would be served as a cold mezze. So this wasn't a faithful treatment, but it made a thoroughly therapeutic appetite primer, with or without the fingers of toasted lavash (unleavened flat bread). It worked better than an other appetiser of rosemary dripping with sourdough bread, which might have been a nice idea of only the bread had been hot enough to melt the fat, but it wasn't, so the dripping (more like a white lard) left too much of a film on the roof of the mouth to be an experience one might rush to repeat.

Octopus arrived: meaty, black-seared tentacles from the grill with dark fried potatoes, bathed in a terracotta oil with hot, cherry tomatoes heated to bursting point, flavoured up with chorizo. There's so much cheap, orange, nasty chorizo about, but this one was subtle and authentic. A head-turner of a dish, and a bargain at £7. Horse whelk fritters played around intelligently with the theme of Jamaican salt fish fritters, served on a jerk (West Indian spice blend) aioli, cool crunchy squares of cho cho (like mooli or kohlrabi), and rather too many rings of pink pickled onions. The throbbing presence of Scotch bonnet chilli pulsed through the dish.

Incongruity rules here. The crusty-fried pierogi spilling their hot potato and cheesy guts, along with caraway sauerkraut, sour cream and caramelised onions, weren't a natural follow-on from the starters, nor was the Indian spice-baked fish Mornay. The latter could benefit from fine-tuning: perhaps a less mature, pungent cheese that wouldn't go head-to-head with the fish and spice.

But in the dessert department, all is harmony: grilled pineapple, coconut and lime sponge with matcha ice cream, and watermelon and rose syrup jelly, served with Turkish delight ice cream and baklava, were both exemplary. No surprise there to those familiar with the toothsome offerings at Riverhill's coffee bar round the corner. Thus far, the new Riverhill restaurant looks like another promising indication that Glasgow's eating out culture is bouncing back to rude health.