Central Market51 Bell Street,
0141 552 0902
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Setting out its stall
Review published on 19/11/2012 © Sunday Herald
What a breath of fresh air. Central Market wafts onto the Glasgow dining scene, getting the gastric juices flowing with its thoughtful menu, wisely chosen ingredients, confident service, accessible approach to wine, and capable cooking. Its just what Glasgow needs. Of late, the citys indie eating out scene has seemed a bit stagnant. The same old names theyre good, but you always need new blood to up the game and a series of chain openings that are all about style and shareholders profits, have made it seem a bit dreary.
Had it not been for one flunked pudding, Central Market (the name is inspired by the fruit, vegetable and cheese markets which once thrived in the area) would have earned 10/10. The food, for once, is not behind the curve but keeping up the pace with its modern British style predicated on seasonal, sensible produce.
There is something purposeful and fresh about the whole set-up. The kitchen is entirely open, the ultimate in culinary transparency, and with its floor to ceiling windows, the dining area is bright, airy and contemporary, just like the food. One sniff was enough to give me the nerve to order the sardines, a disastrous option if the fish isnt spanking fresh. Mine were beauties, four of them, char-grilled on the bone, unfussily served with a smidgen of smoky chipotle chili oil and squeeze of fresh lime.
And this marine delight was no one-off. The roast ling (fleshy and flaky, like the best cod) left me in no doubt that Central Market has both a very fine fish supplier and chefs with high standards. The luscious ling, served with venus clams and butter-browned Jerusalem artichokes, all anointed in a barn-storming seaweed butter, was a memorable dish, up there with what you might be served at the pilgrimage-worthy Captains Galley in Scrabster.
A starter salad surpassed its description, as swooningly soft baked shallots lay in sweet, companionable proximity to peppery cresses, earthy roast beets (purple and yellow) and soft, amiably acidic goats curd. The floury butter beans, softly clad in tomato juices spiked with smoked paprika and slivers of ham hock were rewarding enough to eat on their own, with a lick of olive oil perhaps. They didnt really need the Iberico pork shoulder fillet on top, but considering the dish cost just £12, why complain about gilding the lily?
Side dishes were not the usual afterthoughts. Its weird to think that many of our once staple winter greens are now so rarely served in restaurants that they may soon take on the status of endangered heritage vegetables. In this context, shredded Brussels sprouts, fried with lardons of fat bacon, felt like a much bigger treat than the usual air-freighted Peruvian asparagus, and wrinkly, clapped out Kenyan beans. And those waxy, pink jacket-roasted Anya potatoes were in another league from those dreadful, tasteless baby boilers that haunt bad restaurants.
One dessert was utterly blissful: fragrant, blushing slices of tender poached quince, with a little natural yogurt, toasted hazelnuts, and cracked hazelnut brittle, reclining in its perfumed juices. The other, custard tart, despite having a nice interior, was a structural disaster, due to its flabby, soggy pastry. The latter just wasnt up to scratch, no surprise there; the kitchen doesnt have enough cool space for a pastry chef to swing a cat. Next time, Ill go for the safer bet of the orange and poppy seed cake with clotted cream.
In fact, several dishes still intrigue me. I like the sound of the crispy beef brisket salad with pickled carrots. If I ever fancy a steak again in my life (pigs might fly) then the hanger with Béarnaise and fries at £13 sounds like a steal. And what a good idea to partner smoked mackerel with black olive tapenade and pickled lemon. Oh, and the bread is proper bread. As for the wine, it comes in themed flights, so you can compare and contrast to your hearts content, at a very moderate cost.
Review published on 28/01/2013 © Sunday Herald
So I slave over a hot oven making my patented pizza-dough-bagel rolls for packed lunches and what happens? Number two son comes home saying he wants shop-bought for his playpiece from now on as the pizza-dough-bagel roll took him the whole break to chew through. Sigh, though I suppose he has a point. Who wants to spend their whole lunchtime eating boring and hard-to-digest food?
Theres a better approach here in Central Market, where theres a bit of whoosh-flash-panache about the cooking. This crispy beef brisket salad is certainly like no salad Ive ever seen, and no brisket Ive ever tasted. Yes, there are leaves. I count four. Yes, there is a dressing. Mustard, in arty little squirts, or are they dollops? Or even squits? Youve seen them on Masterchef anyway.
But the main ingredients are slivers of brisket, coated in breadcrumbs, fried, decently seasoned and stacked loosely atop each other. Theyre crisp, very tender and taste of beefy brisket. Along with the pickled carrots and that mustard dressing its all actually quite way-out unexpectedly delicious and very original.
Now, hands up, honest injun. I did not expect originality to be a major feature in what at first glance looks like yet another plate-glass-cafe-cum-restaurant hanging about a street corner in Glasgows Merchant City. But as soon as I came in I was struck not by the menu or the waitress trying to propel me to a duff seat in the corner but by the number of people bustling about in the open kitchen area. Cooking.
OK, I may have glanced at the oysters on ice and the champagne in buckets posing on the bar and thought: Oh, come on, who is buying that hoopla nonsense these days? But the eye was then drawn to a proper-looking kitchen amid a sea of lovely shiny white tiles with stark black grouting.
Then there was the mac n cheese. At £3.95 nothing more than a mere side dish, or so says the menu with its too-cool-for-school fonts and complete absence of pound signs before the prices. Is it Marshalls Macaroni? I cant quite work it out from the twist. Proper bechamel sauce, anyway. Whack of gruyere throughout, sprinkle of creamy ewes cheese called Berkswell the waitress told me that one was in there some salty pecorino, peas, yes, peas throughout, mustard in the mix, grilled breadcrumbs atop and hey ho its a delicious meal. Really lovely.
Now, youll want to know about the Iberico pork shoulder with ham hock and butter beans. I would. I mean, Iberico pork shoulder? From the black-footed Iberico pig? Shoulder blade cut meant to be seared at super-high temperature and served sliced and medium rare? Risky. First glance? The dish looks too wet. Way too wet. The pork shoulder, seared and sliced and stacked beautifully as it should be, is almost drifting amidst a sea of jus, sauce, gravy or stock whatever you like to call it. I said I would like it pink but not bloody, and to my jaundiced eye that looks bloody. But Ill give them this: although the pork is a bit chewy and the sauce indisputably watery, the flavours are certainly there.
There are delicious chunks of soft, sweet and slightly salty ham hock, slivers of super sweet stewed peppers, even a deep smokey undertaste to it all from what I take to be a very good paprika. And that pork is porky. Well just disagree on how to cook it: I think every slice needs a flash. Its flawed but its original, which is double points in my book, and flawed but original can still equal pretty good. And all this in a plate-glass-cafe-cum-restaurant hanging around a street corner in Glasgows Merchant City.
All-round? Refreshingly different and good.