In almost 13 years of reviewing restaurants, encompassing well over 600 articles, this column has only ever given two perfect tens – one to Paul Kitching’s quirky 21212, and the other to Martin Wishart’s classy Edinburgh brasserie, The Honours. So it is no exaggeration to confess that my recent visit to Wishart’s much-hyped new Glasgow version of The Honours almost reduced me to a state of puppyish excitement.
Wishart has long been one of the nation’s stellar culinary figures, but his star has particularly been in the ascendant since he decided to expand from his eponymous and mildly starchy Leith mother ship. His fantastic cook school has been a slow burn, but when he launched The Honours in Edinburgh (named after the Scottish crown jewels) in 2001, this son of Shetland entered another world altogether. The Honours initially attracted slightly mixed reviews but has since settled down into the sort of sustained excellence that means it is invariably full (fuller indeed than Restaurant Martin Wishart). Even more successful has been Wishart’s collaboration with the Cameron House hotel on Loch Lomond, where his second restaurant has claimed Wishart’s second Michelin star.
Put simply, everything the man has touched has been a success, and so I expected the recently opened The Honours in Glasgow to be no different, even though I bore in mind the fact that each of his restaurants has experienced teething troubles. The new venue is in the basement of Malmaison, a former Greek Orthodox Church, which in turn is one of Glasgow’s most spectacular settings for a restaurant. With the exception of two huge and rather gaudy paintings depicting Glasgow’s industrial heritage (and yes, I know a lot of people love them), the refurbishment of what was once a dark, borderline oppressive space is a thing of genuine beauty which has created a more opulent environment than the more utilitarian Edinburgh version.
Gone is the sense of being confined and enclosed, in has come sumptuous interior design based around a more open-plan format, all supplemented by Wishart’s usual attention to detail. Throw in some decadent round booths, floor-to-ceiling mirrors into the kitchen, a light and airy reception area and a rather swanky bar area for cocktails or aperitifs and the result is exactly the sort of sophisticated but laid-back ambience that immediately puts this at the top end of Glasgow’s dining options.
If the first impressions were relentlessly positive, so too was the opening salvo to our meal. An unfeasibly silky Cornish oyster with a topping of iced pink champagne was a suitably self-indulgent opening to a meal in such surroundings, with Bea then choosing a starter of sea bream tartare while I went for the trademark Honours Salad. As the menu from 27-year-old Glaswegian head chef Andrew Greenan – who works alongside wife and sous-chef Zoe – is essentially the same one as that produced under head chef Paul Tamburrini in Edinburgh, I knew what to expect, or thought I did.
Bea’s tiny portion of sea bream came with slivers of red pepper and crème fraîche and was gorgeously fresh, light and moreish; exactly as she had hoped. My salad, however, was a bit of a car crash, mainly because the poached egg was lukewarm in places – not surprisingly as a large part of the white was barely cooked. It had, said Bea, the uniquely unappetising appearance of bile. Whatever the case, it should never have made it out of the kitchen.
Our main courses were a similarly mixed bag. This time it was Bea who looked askance at her plate, on which sat fillets of John Dory with leeks and mussels in a curry and Sauternes sauce. The white fleshy fish was marginally undercooked, although not enough to warrant serious censure, but both the curry and Sauternes elements to the sauce were underplayed to the point where she couldn’t taste any curry at all.
My ox cheeks à la Bordelaise were, however, as close to perfection as makes no difference. These two super-tender slabs of beefiness exuded deep, booming flavours of commendable stridency, and were served alongside velvety pommes purée. If you’re looking for a fail-safe winter warmer for a dreich day in Glasgow, then look no further.
Pudding followed suit and left both of us unsated. This time, my Honours sundae of toffee and caramel ice cream, honeycomb, candied banana and pecans failed to push any buttons. It certainly sounded great but the reality was rather more mundane – although I have been spoilt by spending 15 years within horribly easy reach of the Nardinis’ art deco palace in Largs and this struggled to match the quality I routinely found there. Bea was no happier with her rather runny crème brûlée to which the burnt topping lent a bitter taste.
All in all, our first visit to Glasgow’s The Honours was a rather perplexing evening, unlike the transcendent experience of its Edinburgh counterpart. The service was as attentive as ever, the surroundings virtually faultless, and with a prix fixe menu at £22.50 for three courses, the prices are surprisingly affordable (although I absolutely loathe the practice of adding 12.5% “voluntary” service to the bill without so much as a by your leave). Yet any new restaurant lives and dies by the consistency of its kitchen, and here The Honours was found wanting. Let’s hope Martin Wishart’s knack of speedily identifying teething problems and then solving them hasn't deserted him.
Main courses: £16.95-£33
Puddings: £7.50-£7.95 (cheeseboard £9.50).
Prix fixe: (Mon-Fri, 12-2.30pm and 6-7pm) £18.50 for 2 courses, £22.50 for 3 courses