Kember & Jones134 Byres Road,
0141 337 3856
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Home and away
Review published on 23/04/2012 © Sunday Herald
After 10 days city-hopping from Madrid to Toledo to Cordoba to Seville and finally Granada, I felt as if Id had quite enough Spanish restaurant food to last me for a lifetime, thank you very much. I expect that the best food in Spain is found in peoples homes, but with the odd exception, eating out did not prove to be a joy. I mean, how much tortilla can a person eat? And how does one explain the Spanish fondness for Russian salad that looks uncannily like the stuff you used to be able to buy in tins?
True, Spain does have fabulous cured hams jamon. We found a shop that specialised in four-year-aged jamon from acorn-fed pata negra (black foot) pigs. Now that was the business. And those aged Manchego cheeses are a bit of alright too, especially with fruity quince paste to accompany. But in your average tapas bar it gets a little dull, to put it diplomatically, chewing through pretty humdrum jamon, rubbery Manchego, industrial bread spread with woolly, vapid tomato pulp, and piles of defrosted prawns that were probably shipped from our own west coast. Mind you, its probably preferable to the cloned microwave paella that turns up like the proverbial bad peseta in cafes and bars.
So returning home to Scotland and walking into Kember & Jones, in Glasgows west end, I was never going to plump for the Spanish platter (Serrano ham, chorizo, Manchego and Murcia cheeses, olives, almonds and quince), nor for that matter the British, French or Italian equivalents, all priced at £12.95. However wise the buying and sound the provenance of the plattered items, when I eat out, Im rarely looking for assemblies of ingredients I could buy and eat at home, and at less expense.
Two things had taken me to Kember & Jones, and it wasnt the platters. First, I have a soft spot for the place. It feels homely and reminds me of the French salon de thé with its savoury/sweet menu: a little quiche or gratin with a bit of salad perhaps, followed by a slice of cake or tart, all in a domestic cooking style. Second, I wanted to taste the hot specials that make K&J feel more like a plausible evening option, not just a lunchtime place.
It was probably a mistake to choose the sweet potato, chilli and coconut soup. Blended soups rarely deliver the romance of their descriptions. Perhaps predictably, the aforementioned elements had lost their character. It wasnt awful, just an innocuous orange mass. If a competent cook had made it at home, it would probably have tasted better.
A more ambitious restaurant-like main course of monkfish roasted in cured ham suffered from the curse of the omnipresent sun-blush tomato, or some similar product, mashed to paste between the fish and ham, producing an over-the-top, brashly herby, larger-than-life presence that killed the fish and fought with the ham.
And then there were savoury tarts, or quiches. In the pastry department, Kember and Jones is competent. Both the goats cheese and crab tarts had crumbly, well-fired casings. But a further tricky element of a quiche is the egg/cream filling that holds the central ingredients. The secret is to get it to set, but only just, so that it oozes slightly when you cut into it. This filling was egg-heavy for my taste, more inclining towards the school dinner egg and bacon flan camp, or, for that matter, the well cooked tortilla/frittata consistency, providing too much competition for the crab and goat cheese that should have stolen the show.
Most of K&Js savoury dishes come with a polytunnel-load of the same salad leaves. The eating experience would only improve if this kneejerk dependency was shaken up for more varied, interesting accompaniments.
If the courgette and lime cake was light on the lime and heavy on the baking soda, the sublime treacle tart, washed down by Robert Wilsons first class Darjeeling tea, was a reminder of why I like K&J. But this is a place that could do well to review what it does and freshen up its performance.