Cafe Gandolfi


I EAT alone. Shetland cod, its skin bubbled and golden, florets of cauliflower soaked in tangy Korean gochujang, a Korean red chilli paste of such high fashion that when I go home tonight I’ll switch on the telly and Nigella will be caressing a tub of it.

There’s no music in Cafe Gandolfi today just the burble of a handful of lunchers, the voice of an American-sounding lady over there, birthday gift bag on the floor, further down two lawyers muttering, but in my head Keane’s Somewhere Only You Know is playing on repeat.

I walked across an empty land. Well, almost. I got right across the river, past the Briggait, and all the way up King Street, without a meeting a single person.

I walked because of two things:

1) I had just been reminded the restaurants are open again in my bit of the Central Belt and immediately got off my mark

2) I didn’t think I would find a space to park at full-fat lunch hour. The Merchant City is actually eerily empty, Albion Street full of empty bays, Cafe Gandolfi (officially a restaurant) may be suddenly open again but either the traffic wardens are still chasing everyone out of town or nobody yet realises the doors have reopened.

I have smoked haddock rarebit to start, toasted sourdough from the Freedom Bakery, nuggets of fish, like jewels, beneath the puffed and grilled surface and wonder at just how slightly post-apocalyptic and surreal this all feels.

When I walked in the door there was no queue, when was the last time it was like that, just a roomful of that beautiful Tim Stead furniture, table after pretty table surprisingly empty.

I bumped into the boss Seumas, like I used to do, say, almost 30 years ago when the Evening Times' reporters regularly lunched here, and we had a laugh about how I could pick any table I wanted.

I’m served by Stuart who, too, has been here for decades, looking pretty much exactly like he did back in the day.

Where else is like Cafe Gandolfi, I ponder. A restaurant preserved unchanged right down to the people who work here.

And I’m thinking: if every lunch hour was this comfortable, this easy, if all restaurants were able to be slipped into like a comfortable old pair of trainers, none of that booking nonsense, internet guff, no jostling for tables, lunch could really be a thing again.

I had actually Googled a few restaurants before setting out: even Ox and Finch, normally booked up for months ahead, claimed to have tables available for today. Crikey. We’re living in a golden lunch moment.

Today’s special anyway, arriving in a burst of fresh herby green, coiled and spun, tagliatelle with spinach and broccoli pesto, chilli flakes, olive oil, burrata oozing creamily across it all. Is the pasta itself made with the spinach, I ask the waiter, as I twirl some onto my fork and he sprinkles parmesan over the pasta.

No, it’s just so completely coated with the pesto it looks that way.

Earlier I had asked where the lime, sesame and coriander was on my plate of cod, I know times are tough, supplies difficult to get, the Government shutting and opening places with little warning causing chaos and all that , but the dish called out for it.

That prompted a visit to the kitchen, a back-stage conversation, and the report back: they’re mixed in with the Gochujang paste. Hmm. We leave it at that because ultimately it’s a simple light dish that I have no absolutely other issues with.

There’s a creamy Basque cheesecake to follow, an almost fluffy texture, figs dribbled with honey on the side. And a bill to be paid.

Cafe Gandolfi has never, ever been cheap but I’ve worked my way through lunch pretty much for three people, in a quietly calm restaurant, with elbow room and space to relax in, while watching the world slip back into life. I have zero complaints.

If only all lunches were like this.

Cafe Gandolfi

60 Albion Street


0141 552 6813

Menu: Includes Pastrami sandwiches, ox cheek, salads. Scottish ingredients with a modern flair that Nigella would certainly recognise. 4/5

Service: The same people have been serving here for literally decades. Calm, friendly, chilled and comfortable – impossible to fault. 5/5

Price: Cafe G has never been cheap, thank goodness, and that hasn’t changed. That rarebit £7.50, the cod £14, all day prices (until 6pm anyway). 3/5

Atmosphere: Surely by now Glasgow’s most iconic restaurant, with that soothing Tim Stead furniture and a calm, comfortable aura. 5/5

Food: Light dishes, a delicate touch, Gichujang cauliflower, grilled cod fillets, Freedom Bakery sourdoughs. They know what people want. 7/10