I’m just back from holidays and have returned to the usual bursting inbox. There’s an inordinate number of emails about ‘girl dinner’ - a viral TikTok trend which we’d traditionally call a picky bits tea. Basically it’s a plate of bits and bobs such as bread, olives, charcuterie, cheese, nuts, fruit and veg, arranged in a pleasing way because…social media.
I've yet to understand why it’s just for girls but it has garnered media coverage from the New York Times to the Independent. It’s the type of food I associate with really warm weather, when you can’t be bothered to get roasting in the kitchen cooking dinner.
It’s also not new, and a precursor to restaurant style small plates or sharing dishes, which are making something of a comeback. It’s this concept that makes up the menu at Sylvan, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Glasgow’s Woodlands that’s been quietly gaining popularity since it opened in 2021.
The restaurant is owned by Colin Campbell and Jake Martell, both formerly of music venue, bar and vegan restaurant, The Hug and Pint.
We visit on a typically Scottish summer evening, the warm sunny weather of June has given way to a rainy July and it’s like a monsoon outside when we take our seats, and shelter, from the grey skies. Inside Sylvan is like a mid century modern living room, with a lovely feel to it.
Walnut wood shelving runs floor to ceiling on one wall, there’s suspended shelves with plants, and low globe style pendant lights.
The menu is compact, and entirely veggie or vegan. Our waitress explained that it’s small-ish plates, more medium sized, and advised it’s best to share three or four, which slightly scuppers our plans or around six, as it all sounds so good. We contemplated how to reduce our order to over a couple of cocktails - a zesty mezcal and grapefruit negroni (£9) and a cool and refreshing long drink of calvados with px and ginger (£9).
After discarding some of the plates we originally had in mind, we ordered babaganoush with almonds (£9), smoked tomatoes with yoghurt and chilli butter (£13), cauliflower with coconut sauce (£13) and roast pears with fried bread and stilton custard (£15).
The first dish to arrive was the babaganoush, and we could see why the waitress called these dishes medium rather than small.
This hearty portion was liberally topped with golden toasted almond slivers and parsley. A more refined, less chunky texture than I was expecting, there was however a delicate smokiness than punctuated this earthy, umami dish, which was scooped up with pieces of pillow soft, warm flat bread (£3.50).
Next up was the smoked tomatoes, which had a more sweet smoke than the babaganoush. The large, bright red fruits were served halved, topped with parsley and on top of rich, creamy almost cheesy yoghurt around which swam the chilli butter, which added a slight kick.
Almost as soon as we were served the tomatoes, the cauliflower arrived. I must admit, this isn’t my favourite veg but I love anything with coconut and this dish didn’t disappoint (it was probably my favourite). Three large chunks of roasted cauliflower sat in a bright mustard coloured sauce, topped with what looked like shards of very crispy onion.
The coconut sauce was reminiscent of a Thai yellow curry, and brought to life this once soggy Sunday night vegetable - a triumph. Finally we tucked into the roast pears, which were uniformly positioned on a large chunk of crisp sourdough and topped with herb and cheese flecked custard.
The sweetness of the deliciously ripe pears cut through the richness of the bread and sauce, and we made light work of this, the heaviest of dishes. Glad we didn’t stick to our guns and order six plates, we decided to share a dessert of coconut rice pudding with cherries and red wine (£8).
Served in a delightful vintage china bowl, the creamy, coconut infused rice was topped with jewel-like cherries that had been soaked in what tasted like mulled wine.
Served hot, this nursery pudding tasted festive, but delicious, and just what we needed to face the ongoing downpour still raging outside.
There wasn’t a dish we didn’t enjoy during our meal, and while it’s summer, what we picked could have been a satisfactory start to an autumnal dinner.
The summer produce is there, but it’s been given a comforting edge (salads and lighter dishes are on the current menu for if the sun ever reappears).
Sylvan offers a decent, delicious alternative to eating meat that’s filling and surprising. Plus the restaurant is one you’d want to linger in, no matter what the weather, making it easy to see why it’s become such a well-loved eatery.
With medium to large plates of pure joy, there’s really no reason to embrace girl dinner when this is on your doorstep.
20 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6UR
0141 332 9310