Saturday night in Glasgow has always been a bit special, and the tradition of putting on the style is alive and well. Leave it as late as midweek to book a table at a decent restaurant that weekend, and you’re up a gum tree.
Fortunately, Fratelli Sarti has three restaurants in the city centre, so if classic Glasgow-Italian hospitality lights your candle, you’re three times as likely to strike lucky if you have left it late. Just as well for some.
Sarti has been called a chain simply because there is more than one establishment of the same name. It’s a harsh categorisation. This institution is more like its name suggests – a band of brothers, each nurturing the family’s speciality in his own neighbourhood.
Frustratingly for this tortured description, there were actually two Sarti brothers who cooked up the legend – but let’s not get too hung up on the detail.
Walking into the Wellington Street premises is a pleasure. The trattoria buzzes with an authentic Italian vibe. Waiting to be shown to a table allows the opportunity to cast an eye over the imported produce on display, and heightens the anticipation of what is to follow.
The menu raised expectations further. Yes, pizza and pasta are prominent, but the choice goes far beyond those staples, and offers originality and intrigue. At around £15-£18 for a main course, it isn’t a bargain night out, but if that’s your objective, go to a real chain.
So far, so good. Now, could my starter live up to its billing? The blueshell mussels in garlic, chilli and tomato, steamed in white wine (£7.65) were “the world’s finest” according to the menu. Had something been lost in the translation, we wondered, when it transpired the mussels were from Loch Fyne? This was a high-end offering, rich in flavour and properly prepared… but finest in the world? Let’s settle for “mighty Fyne”.
"I had hoped for a bit of magic, but not a disappearing act"
Our other starter was Bresaolo Punta D’Anca, marinated in Barolo wine and served with rocket (£8.50). It came with no grand pretensions, and that’s just as well. The thinly shaved beef fillet was overwhelmed by rocket and Parmesan shavings, and with lemon juice added, the beef could barely be tasted.
The main course menu was filled with temptation, yet thoughts kept turning to the specials board.
While Tagliatelli Abracadabra isn’t the classiest of names, the combination of porcini, king prawn and rocket did conjure up something alluring. Sadly, this trick turned out to be an illusion, because only two king prawns were served up on an unremarkable bed of pasta – a disappointment, frankly, at £15.95. I had hoped for a bit of magic, but not a disappearing act.
Pleasingly, the other main course we chose turned out to be a rabbit from the hat. Well, more of a chicken than a rabbit, but that’s the pesky detail getting in the way again. There had been hesitation between osso buco on a bed of risotto Milanese, or Galetto alla Diavola, a spatchcock poussin with roast potatoes (£15.85). A nod from the waiter settled the matter, and soon the poussin was winging our way. It was a simple combination, but flavoured confidently with chilli, garlic, rosemary and a thin gravy (a side-salad at £4.65 turned out to be unnecessary). This dish alone made the journey worthwhile.
After a hit and a miss in each of the first two courses, it was only to be expected when the desserts produced the same outcome. The home-made Tiramisu (£5.50) was hardly spectacular. In contrast the cannoli (£5.65) – pastry shell, chocolate-lined and filled with a ricotta cream – proved scrumptious. It’s heavier than the average dessert, but don’t let that put you off.
For about £65 excluding drinks, our meal had its ups and downs, but the overall experience is certainly to be recommended. “I like to do something special on a Saturday night,” said Dee Hepburn’s Dorothy to the school magazine reporter, much to the frustration of John Gordon Sinclair’s smitten Gregory. Dorothy would have loved Fratelli Sarti. Bella bella!
ALSO ON THE MENU
It’s a big Italian mamma of a menu, offering antipasti (three categories including a sharing platter at £26), soup menu, bread menu, insalatone (main salads), primi piatti (three categories – lots of pastas), pizza menu, secondi piatti (your big meat and fish dishes, with one veggie option sneaked in), contorni (lots of vegetables and side salads) and of course sweet dolci and formaggi of the day. In fact, there were 15 separate menus under various headings. On the plus side this allows for much mix & matchery, but it can also feel slightly overwhelming.
The fish menu was varied: hake, sea bass, salt cod, and shellfish a plenty, while the meat menu featured home-made meatballs, hams, roast pork belly, pork ribs ... veal. Endless choices.
Is it possible to provide truly excellent cuisine when a menu this size is going to really test any kitchen on mere achievability?
Main courses £8.25-£18.95