Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Scottish odyssey comes to a close

The name of Stravaigin, which has sat on Gibson Road at the heart of Kelvin
bridge since 1994, means ‘to wander’ and its ethos of “think global, eat local” seems to match perfectly.

The influences on its food may be wide, but it aims to be as local as possible when it comes to sourcing produce. And the menu is evidence of just what variety that can mean.

It was the final stop on my whistle-stop tour of Scottish gastronomy and a unique experience it turned out to be.

Arriving in good time, I was shown into the basement dining room. There were just two other diners, as I sat in a snug, warm corner and dived into the menu.

I’d hoped to find scallops and black pudding – as suggested by the online version of the menu – but they’d apparently been struggling to get any of quality and this was off the menu.

So instead, I finally did something that I’ve been tempted to do before in restaurants, but always backed out of, as though it would look ‘bad’: I choose two starters.

In fact, it allowed me to try more soup. This time, chef’s special of “Ramsey’s smoked ham hough and split pea soup”. Ramsey’s are “butchers of distinction since 1857” from Carluke.

Surprisingly, there was a real lightness to the dish, with pea shoots lending a freshness to the pea base and garlic croutons that were as light as air. The ham flaked beautifully and the whole thing had no saltiness about it, but a very pleasing pepperiness.

And on the side there was a bowl of lovely moist, chunky cumin humous, with bread that's made by Andy Wilson of differentbreid.

Roast parsnip and Lanark blue cheese fritters, with a thyme aioli and dressed leaves, followed. A nice combination that was surprisingly filling.

By this time, the other two diners had finished and left. The entire dining room was my domain and mine alone. And in between courses, I chatted with waitress Eleanor, who shared my foodie enthusiasm and was delighted to provide unexpected company – something she’d rarely have the chance to do because they’re usually a great deal busier.

My final course was a “Belgian chocolate cushion” – that’s a light sponge, heavy only in the glorious bitter richness of the chocolate, to you and me – which came with milk and honey ice cream and pistachio sabayon. Very nice it was too: the intensity of the sabayon was astonishing.

And then it was back top the hotel and packing for my return.

But what impressions did I bring away with me from this little odyssey?

Scottish produce was as good as I’d hoped to find. And I’d include the black pudding and haggis I brought home, plus the steak pie I ate while standing in the chill air on Crow Road. I won’t include the food I ate at the hotel.

Most memorable single course was, I think, the Marrbury smoked salmon at Rogano. It epitomised the whole philosophy of excellent produce and it also arrived at exactly the right moment for me, after reading those comments from Raymond Blanc on tasting.

The best meal was, without doubt, Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery. Fish and game of a really superior quality – and super prices making it incredible value.

I don’t think I’ll forget that woodpigeon for some considerable time.

The cullen skink at Rab Ha’s was great too – I’m going to try to reproduce that before very long – as was the pea and ham soup at Stravaigin.

So on the basis of what I experienced, Scottish food is in rude health. And the belief in the quality of ingredients and the simplicity of preparation is at the heart of it – and thank goodness for that!

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