We got embroiled in a small territorial dispute whilst in Glasgow, namely - coat wars. Normal customers like to yield sovereignty of their coat to the cloakroom whilst comfortably ensconced in the restaurant of their choice, but though I’m happy to cede control of the rain-soaked Mac, I have a wee problem losing the jacket. In one evening I’d fought off five different incursions from tiny slips of girls who seem unaware that the jacket is camouflage for those of us who’ve taken maturity hard to the hips. Long jackets cover those strategic areas that sheer, flimsy blouses just don’t reach – not that anyone was looking? Mr Ed, the Bar Guru, certainly wasn’t. Immune to feminine charms, he seemed to think I was his mother, which would make me about 76 years old. And balding. Ah well, the Arabs have a saying: the ass, in the eyes of his mother, is a gazelle. To some men, every mirror reflects Brad Pitt aged 25. Ed didn’t want to surrender his jacket either which, since it’s denim, was bringing down the tone of the place. At least mine is YSL (from the Christina Onassis range).
Actually I don’t know why I bothered hiding my flanks, we were in the perfect place for big-time, rear guard action. Le Chandon d’Or is the new venture from Scotsman Brian Maule, who after nine years as head chef at swanky Le Gavroche in London, has moved ‘back up the road’ and opened a restaurant in Glasgow. The other female gussied-up Glaswegians had thrown off their battle fatigues and kitted themselves out in strappy frocks and sleeveless sequinned tops, wobbly arms and all. Red suits, apparently, are also having an unprecedented fashion moment north of the Border. In London, my fortysomething friends imagine they’re about fourteen and would be wearing a handkerchief and a pair of heels, but in Glasgow they seem to act and look their age. I love this town.
The restaurant is set across the upper ground floor of a double fronted town house and simply decorated with cream walls, nicely spaced tables, and those tall backed banquettes as though expecting customers from the land of giants when, the truth is, most people are so vertically challenged it’s a wonder they can reach the fag machines. The menu is equally short, straightforward and with few of the descriptive and culinary falderals you might expect from an old Gavrochian.
As we all know, the two certainties of life are death and taxes. However, in restaurants, though you hope to avoid death (except by chocolate), the certainties are tax and seared tuna. Le Chandon d’Or is no exception – starters include the usual roll call of country pate, scallops with lardoons and, of course, seared tuna. Amongst the main courses on offer are roast chump of lamb, chicken with tarragon, fillet of duck with raisins and peppercorn sauce, and some commendably restrained fish dishes such as monkfish with fish bullion and Halibut with sauce vierge.
If you were a jaded London eater you might say the menu was uninspiringly standard. If you were sweating your guts out in the kitchen trying to lure the middle-class, middle aged Glaswegian into your restaurant, you might say the menu was stout, honest and timeless, concentrating on offering fine unfussy, food. Sometimes you just want the certainties and wish that kitchens would stuff their barigoules and paves, right up their panache, sharp end first.
We got going with crab salad and a bowl of pea soup. The crab was sensational, a bright, zingy concoction containing chunks of glassy crab meat offset with diced avocado, lemon, dill and tomatoes, idling in a pool of tomato gazpacho. No surprises, but perfectly balanced. I pulled the short straw with pea soup, which, although silky smooth with a cat’s tongue rasp of texture, lacked complexity and was shy of flavour.
Next up was sea bass, served in a bowl without enough room to breath, let alone dissect, laid on top of crushed potatoes with anchovy jus, which the anchovies saved from the same bland fate as the soup by parachuting onto the tongue at unexpected intervals with big bursts of saltiness. Ed’s choice was a stunningly proportioned classic - Scottish sirloin in red wine sauce - half a cow served with all sorts of unadvertised extra vegetables which has him cradling on his stomach, begging for mercy. ‘Was yer main course all right for you,’ asked the waitress anxiously, looking at his leftovers: ‘the chef gets worried if anything comes back.’
As we repaired to the lounge for a fag break (smoking is not allowed in the main dining room) yet another waitress followed, asking: ‘Are youse not having dessert?’ I tell you, this restaurant takes no prisoners. Defensive behind clouds of smoke, we capitulated to poached melon with nougat glace – or nugget as we say in Scotland, and a passionfruit moussey thing, undulating tremulously on the plate. As opposed to us, totally uptight and strapped firmly inside those damn jackets. Maybe it’s time to think about corsetry. For Ed, anyway.