62 Miller Street, Glasgow
0141 248 4163
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Lunch: £10-£15 Dinner: £22-£38
Food rating: 7½/10
I WASN'T surprised to learn that one of the partners behind the Spiritualist has fitted out some of Glasgow’s best-looking restaurants. I can’t say that the decor blew me away; that would suggest a “look at me” grab for attention. Neither is this another faithful period refit. Although the Spiritualist has moved into a heritage building (the former Stirling’s Library) and makes the most of its pleasing proportions, this is no retro refit. It feels modern, in a calm way, and provides an expansive sense of space. I felt my breathing deepen and slow even as I walked in.
Of course this mood owes much to clever lighting, and to colour, a palette of ecru, buff and mousey brown with the odd dash not of predictable black, but of midnight blue. Upholstery with ziggy-zaggy chevrons echoes the herring bone parquet. Mirror-backed glass shelves lined with bottles add 3-D luminescence, as does the line of sleek, under-lit alabaster-like tables in front of the bar, which contribute an inside-the-Pharoah’s-tomb glow. Giant photographic portraits on the rear (two women, one man) create the effect of early Daguerreotypes. Are these “ghosts” from a Victorian photographic scam that reference the clairvoyant associations of the restaurant name, or real people captured by the earliest snappers? A huge antiqued, mottled mirror with silvering above the stairwell leading down again suggests the worn silvering of old photography.
So it’s thoroughly pleasant to be in the Spiritualist, and happily, the attention and taste lavished on the interior is not instantly sabotaged by the cooking, which is definitely above the current Glasgow average. The à la carte menu also demonstrates a capacity for independent thought, so there’s no slavishly faddy pit-smoked meats. There’s a solitary burger on the lunch menu, and that’s your lot. That said, the menu is a bit old fashioned. Whenever I see mention of “Mediterranean vegetables”, my optimism falters. And a spell check – “current”, “riata” – is in order. But overall, I wasn’t unhappy with what we had.
The grilled courgette, pea and goat’s cheese “cannelloni” was pasta-free: char-grilled slices of the vegetable made the rolls. Capers spiked the interestingly textured filling. A lick of tomato ragù and black olive and herb crumb added flavour accents. This was a dish that looked uninspiring but actually stacked up to be a pretty nice vegetarian starter, albeit a marginally overpriced one. (A few prices on the menu need rethought.) Beef Wellington in starter format was a blast from the past. Essentially a shrunken main course, it was big on truffled potato mash and drowned in sticky “baby onion jus”, but the pastry was commendably friable, the steak tender, and the forcemeat brought a smoky, barely hammy presence to the proceedings.
My herb-crusted sea bass was a lovely, chunky bit of fish, crisp-skinned with the whiff of the grill, suitably salty, and herby with a lemony gremolata-like presence. Its “shellfish cassoulet” just tasted to me like haricots cooked in tomato (I couldn’t pick up the crustacea), but, happy with the crunchy, salty watered samphire, and crisp-roasted inner leaves of tender kale, I wasn’t complaining. “Veal osso bucco”, however, was totally misconceived, basically a re-run of the mash, onion jus that had come with the beef Wellington, only in a more Marmitey gravy, with over-lean, and therefore dry, chewy nuggets of meat, and not a bone in sight. The whole point of osso bucco is the way the succulent meat, naturally rich in gelatine, falls off the bone, and the fatty marrow that effortlessly enriches its juices. So back to the recipe books for that one.
Maybe we blinked and missed the promised pistachios in an otherwise all present and correct salt caramel and chocolate pot. We struggled to cut the generous pink rhubarb in a rather good Eton Mess that used mascarpone in place of cream, fragile meringue, and actually had a reasonably fragrant strawberry sauce. Either chop the fruit or serve it on a plate. Our desserts were worth waiting for, although food arrives slowly at the Spiritualist. But why rush when the place is this congenial?