SO HERE we are in the centre of Glasgow, in the last week of the school holidays, trying to grab a final family day out before normality resumes. It’s Scotland in August, so the heavens have opened – not just the usual drizzle that we have come to expect, but solid sheets of rain which have turned the city streets into rivers. And we are hungry.
Resembling three drowned rats, we take refuge in Merchant Square, the Victorian Old Fruitmarket building that was transformed into a venue for independent restaurants and bars some years ago. At the weekend, this place has a real buzz about it with the middle of the square used for craft and design fairs. Surrounded by a number of bars and restaurants, it’s the perfect undercover city centre weekend hangout.
Understandably, as it’s a Monday afternoon, when we visit, the square is quiet, though there is still a cosmopolitan air. With the three of us all wanting different types of food, we eagerly scour the various menus on display outside each eaterie.
In the end we all agree on Fanelli’s, which has seating open to the square, allowing the most nosey of us to quench our thirst for people watching while dining.
There are a number of menu options, from à la carte to lunch, pre-theatre and children’s, all of which offer a range of pastas, pizzas and salads. Though it’s after 3pm, we find ourselves still able to take advantage of the lunch menu, which is available from noon to 5pm. Having been trailed through the sodden streets, the Other Half admits he just wants comfort food and plumps for fish and chips. Chicken Milanese gets my vote, while Mini-Me says she would like her time-old favourite, tomato pasta.
Surprisingly it’s not on the children’s menu but, on asking, our waitress says chef will be happy to rustle that up for her.
Clearly fed up with adult chat, Mini-Me’s eyes begin to glaze over. Noticing this, the manager promptly comes across with a quiz and colouring-in sheets to keep her entertained. As it’s not overly busy, she stops to chat, regaling us with stories of her journey and career change from freelance trombone player in London to running Fanelli’s in Glasgow.
We can’t help but smile, appreciating her enviable high spirits and good nature, not to mention her Glasgow patter, which is both endearing and entertaining on this wet Monday afternoon.
Finally, lunch is served. Mini-Me smiles broadly at the large bowl of tomato pasta placed in front of her – she promptly devours it, licking her lips then, resembling Oliver from the Dickens classic, longingly asks for more. Instead, we offer her a bowl of fries, which duly arrives and is polished off with the same gusto.
The Other Half nods with approval too at his fish and chips. The chunk of fish has a subtle flavour while the batter is light, crispy and golden, just as it should be. The chips are served with a healthy offering of piquant tartare sauce. My chicken Milanese is a large portion of lightly breaded meat cut into slivers, and a small bowl of pomodoro sauce with a delicate hint of spice – which gives me the happy choice of dipping or pouring it over.
I choose to dip. The chips go down well too, with a good crunch on the outside and fluffy potato on the inside.
The sun begins to shine through the glass roof towering over Merchant Square. Our mood has been lifted, along with our hunger. Sadly we don’t have time for a dessert though, again all having different palates, we plan to try the tiramisu, lemon tartlet and the mascarpone and Nutella calzone next time.
Our bill comes to £35.95, of which £16.50 is for drinks and tea – including £4.25 for a pint of beer.
Fanelli’s has lots of ingredients right, from the reasonably priced daytime menus to a good mix of classic and more adventurous dishes – squid and baby octopus feature in the frutti di mare sharing platter (£14.50 for two or £28 for four).
And the staff certainly brightened our damp day with their good humour and service.
What to have?
The pre-theatre menu is extremely good value with two courses for £8.95 and three for £10.95, while the lunch menu offers a soup and sandwich deal for £6.50 (the sandwich consists of a choice of focaccia, ciabatta or crusty Italian loaf with a variety of fillings).
On the à la carte menu the haggis cipolla rossa pizza (haggis, red onion, pomodoro and rosemary – £8.95) sounds intriguing, as does the gamberoni pasta (king prawns, chilli, sun-dried tomatoes, wine and olive oil – £10.50) and butternut squash and ricotta cannelloni (£8.95). The dessert menu has something for everyone, including cheesecake, which changes daily, a range of sorbets and a cheeseboard for one or to share. This place is all about sharing, whether it is the food, the chat or the experience.
Main courses £7.25-£13.50
Puddings £4.00-£5.00 (cheeseboard £5.50)