Bell Jar


IF NETFLIX ever make Glasgow noir The Series starring Peter Mullan and maybe Ewan McGregor as psychopath bar owners with a sideline in organic poppy growing on nearby Victoria Park then I think I have found the perfect location for them.

On a dark, dank November night just swinging the door into the Bell Jar’s one-watt electric lighting is enough to send a shiver down this fat old food critic’s spine.

From outside it looks like a tough old Glasgow pub in a tough old Glasgow district and inside, well, it still looks like a tough old Glasgow pub. But one that just opened yesterday. If Ruth Ellis or the Kray Twins were sitting in one of the snug tables up the side sipping something sugary from the 1950s I wouldn’t be hugely surprised, though I try not to look too closely as I linger at the long low bar for a moment or two.

But when I do head towards a table in the back and pass couples sitting murmuring quietly I realise that it’s food not booze that’s in front of them. And is that a shaggy old collie dog sitting quietly under that table where those three women are shooting the breeze?

By the time I’ve started and then completely finished a creamy, crumbly and tangy peat-smoked haddock potato and leek gratin and turned to a lamb shoulder lasagne with goats' cheese I wonder, am I’m being seduced by the whole vibe in here.

Okay, that really was The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey playing quietly on the sound system when I arrived and now as I move onto a cumin drenched pilaf with pomegranate, almonds and big fat prawns it’s Regina Spektor’s Ode To Divorce.

And, yes, the barman did actually say, when I had to ask for some cutlery earlier, that they’d taken the knives and forks off the tables tonight because there’s a big game on and they may get some of the football crowd in. Lol, as we never actually say in newspapers.

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But the truth is I’ve made two or three sweeps at eyeball level of tonight’s other occupants and come to the conclusion that to a man and woman they look like completely gentle folk. There may not actually be anyone wearing dungarees, except in my mind of course, but I’m thinking allotments growing wholesome stuff, people out eating decent stuff.

I’m not drinking but I’m starting to think that if I were I could easily while away a good few hours in here completely shut away not just from the outside world but possibly the whole, mad, bad 21st century. Except on the plate, of course.

Reassuringly, the carrot, celeriac, pumpkin seed and apple salad that has been supplied for the sum of £3.50 is a bowlful of shredded, dressed and textured freshness. Even the rosemary roast potatoes at £2.75 turn out to be a decent effort made in that little square kitchenette where the bell rings and the hatch fills whenever the chefs have done their thang.

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It’s not flawless mind. While the lamb in the lamb shoulder lasagne comes in large, moist and unctuous chunks, there’s not enough cheese to make any impact and the reheating of the pasta is frankly a little bit patchy. Is lasagne ever a good idea on a menu unless it's all going to sell from the tray within a relatively short time of it coming from the oven?

There wasn’t a single drop either, that I could see anyway, of the promised salsa verde in the otherwise pleasant pork belly in cider, served with more of those pretty damn good potatoes.

I was actually going to ask which spuds they use given that in Govanhill here there’s a real good organic vibe ground-swelling, but then I remember that I long ago filed that particular question under: things that make you look very weird.

The Bell Jar then? A surprising seductive slice of strangely comfortable cool in Govanhill.

Bell Jar

21 Dixon Avenue


Menu: Prawn pilafs. Peat-smoked haddock and potato gratin, salsa verdes, pork bellies. Not what you expect in a 1950s-style pub. 4/5

Service: Very pleasant, helpful and informative. Hard to fault. 5/5

Atmosphere: Moody old Glasgow pub brought back to life as a kinda cool, comfortable eating place. 5/5

Price: The menu tops out at £6.50 for that lamb shoulder lasagne and generally hovers around the £5.50 for (large) small plates. Good value. 4/5

Food: Good gratin, and good salad, punchy flavours and plenty of evidence of serious attempts made to make the menu interesting and enjoyable. Not perfect though. 7/10