As a Glaswegian living in the capital, I’ve noticed my social forays back home seem to almost always involve dinner, drinks or both in Finnieston. When I left many moons ago, it has to be said, Finnieston was, for me, mainly a neglected stretch of Argyle Street glimpsed from the bus while heading back and forth from the city centre to the west end. On the north banks of the Clyde, it seemed to be frequented by dock workers in search of a not so salubrious night out.
In the last decade though, low rents and its proximity to the university have helped transform the area. New eateries seem to pop up in converted shops as quickly as you can say cauliflower is the new kale (which I understand it is this spring). Crabshakk is a virtual old timer in Finnieston, but remains one of the best restaurants in the area.
The Kelvingrove Cafe is another regular haunt for those among us who enjoy a cocktail and casual dining. I would advise, however, that if you are going late at night, take a torch. I remember a pitch-black dining experience at the Kelvingrove Cafe where we shone our phones on the menu to order and every mouthful was a mystery.
If Finnieston’s newly crowned status as hippest place in the UK, according to one newspaper, is not enough to reel me back west, then news that one of my other favourite restaurants, the Ox and Finch on Sauchiehall Street, is up for a Scottish Variety Award clinches the deal (it won Best New Scottish Restaurant a couple of days after our visit).
I’m meeting friends there on St Patrick’s Day. None of us are Irish but our waiter’s welcome has enough of the brogue to encourage us to attempt our best Gaelic greeting. He responds with what sounds like encouragement and thanks. Then again, he could have been questioning our parentage and we’d have been cheerfully none the wiser.
The place is owned and run by a former head chef to the McLaren Formula One racing team, Jonathan MacDonald.
The high ceilings, open kitchen area and part urban/rustic interior provide a comfortable, if slightly noisy, backdrop for what its website describes as contemporary, relaxed, sharing dining. Customers are encouraged to choose two or three plates from the menu and specials board which are then delivered tapas-style to be enjoyed by you and your dining pals.
"An attempt to fork a mouthful of my friend’s black Angus flank steak with spiced cucumber and mint salad was headed off with a warning growl"
Now while I’m not averse to a dig in, it needs the collective agreement of at least a majority of the table. We, therefore, failed miserably as carers and sharers, guarding our plates with the ferocity of snarling pitbulls.
An attempt to fork a mouthful of my friend’s black Angus flank steak with spiced cucumber and mint salad (£9.50) was headed off with a warning growl. The combination of flavours were obviously a hit as the dish was devoured in less time than it took for the majority of the table to plump for a bottle of the Picpoul de Pinet (£25). From the Languedoc region, the wine went down particularly well with the fresh crab and crayfish cocktail, avocado pomelo and chilli (£6.50).
If I failed to get more than a sniff of the steak, I did manage, however, to snaffle a smoked ham hock and cheddar croquette (£4.50), its crisp shell containing a pungent oozing smoky delight. I would have attempted to take another croquette hostage but I was told this was only a goer if I sliced up my slow-cooked chicken, wild garlic, savoy cabbage and bacon (£7) and passed the plate around. It may have sounded like a relatively simple dish but the taste was the equivalent of meeting an old pal and discovering she was moving to Australia with a man ten years younger – a delightful surprise. I declined, therefore.
There are some surprises too on the drinks list, from organic lager with a hoppy, lemony scent (£2 for a half pint) to wild beer (£4.50). I imagine both go down well with the “beat generation” types that now frequent Finnieston. There’s plenty for wine enthusiasts too – some of us also raised a glass or three of the oaken fruity Rioja (£26 a bottle).
Having managed at least to share the wine if not the dishes, few of us had room for dessert. One of us did manage the Affogato with biscotti (£4.50), the creamy vanilla gelato topped with a shot of espresso. The caffeine hit was enough to give her a second wind of enthusiasm for the UK’s hottest and hippest hang out.
We’ve arranged to meet up again later in the month. And yes, we’re heading to Finnieston.
The Ox and Finch
920 Sauchiehall Street,
Tel: 0141-339 8627