I perhaps should have known that taking a pair of sarcastic teenagers to sample a vegan menu was going to excite comment.
“All right Gwyneth. Who are we, Apple and Moses?”
The reference to the clean-living lifestyle guru Ms Paltrow’s eccentrically named children wasn’t lost on me, but being in the presence of such searing wit made it doubly important that the place turned out to be good – if I didn’t want to endure further brickbats.
You could accuse The Hug and Pint of having an eccentric name of its own. I was wondering if it might spark a chain of themed venues – The Whisky and Kiss, The Gin and Tears, The Buckie and Headbutt, but apparently it is was inspired by Glasgow indie rock band Arab Strap’s album Monday At The Hug & Pint, about a fictionalised idealistic pub.
"This Vegan comfort food felt like the promised hug"
It is at the city end of Great Western Road, teeming with students and young folk, who I’m sure make up the regular diners here.
It isn’t a big place, the restaurant upstairs is primarily a bar with a good selection of quality ales. The music venue below holds 100 and has been busy since its launch in the summer.
Looking at the line-up of acts due in the following weeks, their mission to be a small but important addition to Glasgow’s music scene seems to be working; it is a nice mix of dance music, folkies, DJ sets and guitar bands.
But we were here to sample the food.
If the staff are any indicator of its wholesomeness, I’d say they are doing well; The Hug and Pint is staffed by shiny happy folk with friendly beards, cheerful hair and unthreatening specs.
They are all tall, lithe, young and look very healthy – a good sign. And perhaps it is only carnivorous waiters who sometimes can give off an air of exasperation with early diners who have kids in tow; here there was nothing but charm and enthusiasm for the food.
They really wanted us to order something we would enjoy.
There is no set menu, just a blackboard with four or five main dishes and a couple of sides which changes as and when they are used up.
The prices are very reasonable, five or six pounds for a main, which turned out to be a substantial portion. It has the feel of a pop-up restaurant and you can see your dishes being prepared in the tiny kitchen.
The cuisine is described as Asian street food, with Thai, Indonesian, Korean and even some South American influences in the seasonal ingredient mix.
As there were three of us, and four dishes on offer, we ordered all of them plus a side of salad. Although that is greedy, sharing the plates always makes it seem less so.
Red chilli aubergine with pickled cucumber and sticky rice was a good starter and set the theme of dishes well balanced in both taste and texture.
The aubergine was meltingly soft, the sharp crunch of the cucumber pickle was a good counterpoint and the chilli made it nose-runningly hot.
Sweet and hot tempeh with kimchi was the first of the dishes that set me googling the ingredients.
I didn’t know until that point that tempeh was a sort of firmer tofu, made of soy; here the strips had a meaty texture.
The sauce was again balanced by the sharp kimchi, which always tastes much better than its definition, being fermented pickled cabbage.
The stand-out dish was the coconut soup with cassava and rice dumplings. The potato-like cassava was served in noodle thin strips while the smudgy dumplings dissolved in the creaminess of the sauce.
This comfort food felt like the promised hug.
Sweet and sour tamarind plantain and rice was our least favourite, it verged on being too sweet although one of the party, who recently had a month of plantain on a trip to Costa Rica, said that the dish was certainly the best thing ever done with the banana-like veg.
Special mention should go to the puffed rice salad, which looked like a small bowl of Rice Krispies, Bombay mix and diced veg, which was phenomenal. The puffed rice and crisp noodles were laced with tomato, cucumber, red onion and coriander and zinged with lime juice.
It tasted like it could cure most modern ills, and is certainly one to order if you are ever suffering from a full-on hangover.
The Hug and Pint might not be – quite – the ideal pub; it isn’t in the country for a start, which would disqualify it on my terms. But it certainly invites further investigation and adjudication.
An evening spent there, with a great ambience, good music, a few drinks and this fantastic healthy food to justify it all could make for an ideal night out. And I bet you would feel great in the morning.
Main courses £5-£6
Total £32 for dinner for three people including drinks
ALSO ON THE MENU
Because there are no set dishes, it would be a great place to come again and again, with something new to try every time.
The chef told me they rotate about 20 or so stalwarts with new dishes being added when invented.
The downside is that you can’t guarantee a past favourite will be on the menu, but such potluck will keep it interesting and give you a culinary education.