Cafe Gandolfi64 Albion Street,
0141 552 6813
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 23/12/2002 © Sunday Herald
Seven thirty on a Friday evening at Cafe Gandolfi. It's the end of a hard week and we're looking to unwind, to treat ourselves in a reassuring, undemanding way. Doubtless the couple at the next table have the same idea, except that they have their toddler daughter in tow. While her parents talk and relax over their meal, their fluffy-curled daughter is eating her way through a bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Her technique is slow but effective. Pick one strand up with two fingers, hold it up like a string in line with the mouth, then bite the middle out, leaving yourself with two floppy ends perfect for the next two mouthfuls. Her hands are in the bowl.
She fits right into Cafe Gandolfi. Not because it has one of those cynical 'kids' menus with offerings emanating from some pet food factory, but because it is a profoundly civilised establishment that can cope with all types and ages of people, making them feel at ease and giving them what they want. Breakfast, cup of coffee, trad meal, more adventurous meal, light lunch, superior sandwich -- Gandolfi offers the lot.
I remember being desperately impressed by Gandolfi when it opened in 1979. It seemed to bring a whole new dimension of sophistication and deep-rooted style to Glasgow. They do not try to organise life into neat, uniform templates -- tables of four, or perfect couples or idealised nuclear families. Their free-flowing contours reflect the untidiness of social relations. And that's just what Gandolfi is like too. An easy-going, reliable establishment with considerable character, so flexible it is no wonder that it is well-frequented and particularly suited to repeat business.
I liked the simplicity of my starter salad, just beetroot, cherry tomato, meaty olives with fresh and varied salad leaves tossed in vinaigrette. Slightly more complicated was the other salad of honey/sesame/soy flavoured chicken with pickled cucumber, toasted pine nuts and avocado. The free-range meat was moist and fleshy, the whole dish full of exhilarating flavour and texture contrasts. I was also more than happy with two legs of exceptionally tasty duck confit. Though the skin should have been crisper, the meat fell away from the bone in creamy, unctuous morsels and a potato and leek gratin alongside was a good match.
The only wrong note was steamed mangetouts which seemed geographically out of sympathy with the spirit of this French peasanty offering. Rump of beef was served in an unusual way -- thick slices in thin casserole-type juices, flavoured robustly with a hint of spice, a load of root vegetables and broad beans. Unfortunately the latter had not been prized out their grey skins, making for dull colour and muddier flavours. But in total this was a satisfying main course, not to mention a filling portion; again a Gandolfi chacteristic.
A generous wedge of walnut tart pulled off the trick of tasting of fresh nuts rather than sugar, and had a good Eggy hold to it. There was a great Eton Mess too, that bashed up meringue, cream and berry dessert. The meringues were golden and chewy and there was a high ratio of fruit in relation to other ingredients. Generosity with strawberries, brambles and blueberries lightened it up and stopped it from being sickening. I can't say that service was fast or especially on the ball, but then I didn't mind.
It gave me time to trace the grain of the wood and pick out the tiny threads of copper on our tabletop. And if I'm back another 20 years on, I expect it will still hold my interest.
Joanna Blythman is Glenfiddich Food Writer of the Year Cafe Gandolfi, 64 Albion Street, Glasgow, 0141 552 8911