AFTER a meal at Pickled Ginger, Glasgow’s newest sushi restaurant, you learn a few things about table manners in Japan. You can, if you like, eat sushi with your hands. Once you’ve finished, you can set your chopsticks across the soy saucer, perpendicular to the bar, to let staff know you’re done. Dunking your sushi rice-first into soy sauce is a faux pas; doing the same with wasabi might be something worse.
Eating at Pickled Ginger isn’t necessarily complicated or fussy, but, if you set great stock by looking like you know what you’re doing, then the dos and don’ts on the A3 paper menus are pretty helpful.
There’s an odd – but not uncommon – tension between the observance of sushi etiquette and the restaurant’s clubby interior, a wash of pale maple and glowing reddish lanterns amid thick black and orange lines. Pickled Ginger is a place to socialise. It’s a little too compact to expect the sharpening of chef’s knives and the clinking of glasses to be the loudest noises you’ll hear during dinner most nights. On some weekends, DJs play simmering house and disco, and sloshing cocktails are served alongside thick black slates of raw fish and rice.
But I visited in the fading light of a Tuesday evening with a friend, when the restaurant was relatively quiet. Staff in black polo shirts shuttled quietly between the bar and the kitchen; a couple more were chatting perched on stools after clocking off. Only a booth, at the far end of the restaurant’s L-shaped interior, and a nearby table were occupied by fellow diners.
After a serving of miso soup sprinkled with spring onions (£3), we ordered a couple of plates of tempura squid (£7): three battered, rust-coloured coils on a giant, pillowy lettuce leaf. The squid was slightly firmer than I’d have liked, but too soft and it would have been dominated by the batter around it, which was just about crisp enough. Next came the pork and tofu egg gyozas (£5), which were close to spectacular. They were big, crunchy, chewy and slicked with a faint brush of oil. The rich, spicy flavours inside hung around for a while, but there was no rush.
As delicious as they were, the gyozas’ heavyweight taste turned out to be a poor choice before sushi, whose flavours are more subtle. We were presented with thick, finger-length slabs of tuna and fatty salmon sashimi (£7.50; £6), accompanied by smaller helpings of salmon nigiri (£3.30) and avocado maki (£2.50). It was beautifully presented. If we hadn’t begun to pick at the flesh off the slate with our chopsticks right away, it might have been whisked off down the road to a glass cabinet at the Kelvingrove.
Sushi, I find, takes a bit of concentration to enjoy properly – even once you remove chopsticks from the equation, you really need to engage with it a bit, rather than just slopping it down the hatch with a scoop of wasabi paste. The sashimi pieces were disarmingly tender; the seaweed exterior of the maki rolled on the tongue like a tyre tread; the rice was firm, but gave way like a snowdrift to marching boots on the second and third bite.
Despite the plethora of options elsewhere on the menu, Pickled Ginger only does two desserts – we opted for the chocolate mochi, a “rich chocolate ganache surrounded by mochi rice cake” (£3.95). Three doughy balls of chocolate on jammy pools of strawberry sauce were garnished with a physalis. I thought they tasted like really dense marshmallows; Eilidh’s description was less flattering (“it tastes like a chocolate slug!”). We both agreed that it was good, at least.
Opposite the restaurant, a five-storey residential block stretches across much of St Vincent Street, and in front of it some temporary metal fencing protects civil engineering work. Either side of Pickled Ginger, there isn’t much else going on. The restaurant has a lot of work to do to uproot people away from the strip of bars on Argyle Street. But as remote as it may be from the party, everything else is in place to make it a success.
Small dishes £3-£8
Bento boxes £11-£14
Sushi maki £2.50-£4 (six pieces)
Nigiri £2.50-£3.50 (two pieces)
Rolls £5-£7.50 (four pieces)
Mini rolls £5-£6 (six pieces)
Temaki £3-£3.50 (minimum two pieces, price is per piece)
Gunkan £3.95 (minimum two pieces, price is per piece)
Sashimi £6-£7.50 (six-eight pieces)
Sushi platters £9.95-£53.95 (for up to five people)