Siempre Bicycle Cafe162 Dumbarton Road,
0141 334 2385
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Tour de force
Review published on 08/10/2012 © Sunday Herald
There was a time when cycling was just a way of getting from A to B, but now it has been elevated to a lifestyle pursuit. Youll have noticed those informal huddles of cyclists by the roadside, oohing and aahing as they compare the smoothness of each others Shimano gears, the lightness of carbon pedals, the comfort of gel seats jauntily positioned on titanium rails, and the performance of Gore-tex overshoes.
This intense interest in cycling creates a fashion opportunity. Once upon a time, cycling anoraks had to make do with crowded bike shops run by oil-smudged mechanics, emporia laid out with all the space and design sense of a Barratts shoe shop. Your new-wave cycling shop, on the other hand, has moved up a gear or 10, and has learned from Cadillac Alley clothes shops how to display a small, sleek collection of covetable bikes and accessories with all the aesthetics and reverence accorded to exhibits in a design museum.
New to Glasgows Dumbarton Road, spacious Siempre, in the entrance to Kelvinhall tube station, describes itself impishly as a different type of chain store and an urban bicycle café that provides a range of bikes, distinctive cycle clothing, accessories and bike services. Tipping its hat in the direction of the wider community, it aims to be a cultural hotspot that encourages creativity [and] which acts as a focal point for local people.
Siempre is a place to breath bikes, but it also serves food. After all, theres only so far an energy bar and a can of Irn-Bru can take you, so Siempre offers you something infinitely preferable. Whether you have just cycled 50 kilometres with your mate and want to conduct a lengthy post mortem on your efforts, or simply moseyed round the block following a strenuous long lie, it sets out to serve food thats locally sourced, tasty and healthy.
Siempres ethos is co-operative and organic. It has nutritious breakfasts and nothing less than the best sandwiches you have seen. All its drinks and bread are organic. This sounds promising, and Siempre largely lived up to its billing. Parsnip is definitely my least favourite vegetable, but thickly pureed in a bullishly piquant soup, electrified with chilli and anointed with olive oil, I found it uncharacteristically enticing. A half-blitzed broccoli and blue cheese soup engaged the tastebuds with its mouth-filling richness and part grainy, part smooth texture. Both soups came with doorstops of fresh, crumbly soda bread.
The real bread theme continues with craggy toasted sandwiches that put to shame the dreaded toastie, customarily made with loft insulation posing as bread, and vapid, rubbery, factory cheddar. I wish I had gone for the Best Cheese Sandwich Ever, rather than the Northern Hero, which was wrong-footed by its rather too thick slices of chewy cured ham, causing other ingredients (Gruyère, softly sweated onions) to escape out the side when you bit into it.
The chewy ham turned up on the charcuterie plate too. A tender cooked ham is suitable for slicing thickly, but cured ham really needs to be wafer thin. Otherwise, there was a serviceable, if undistinguished, salami, and two first-rate cheeses a well-rounded, slightly fruity, matured cheddar and an unctuous blue cheese, possibly made with ewes milk good chutney, emollient olives and more decent bread. For £7.50, this represents keen value in these times when the rising costs of animal feed makes good quality cheese and charcuterie scarily expensive.
A feta and pepper tart in a lotus-like filo case had a pleasing solidity. Like all the savoury options, it came with a crunchy, peppery cabbage slaw and a nude leaf salad composed largely of ruby chard, which cried out for a dressing.
After such generous helpings, you probably wont need a cake. If you do, there are some cakes that look reminiscent of City Bakeries, which may not tempt you. But eyeballed by a moist, squidgy chocolate cake, and millionaires shortbread with a well-fired base and dark caramel, you may need reserves of willpower, if not leg power, to resist.
Review published on 15/04/2013 © Sunday Herald
Its a while since Ive been in here, and I detect significant changes. The clue is in this super-shiny cherry-red Raleigh bicycle Im eating beside right now. If you look closely through the plate-glass window, past its swoopy frame, youll see me wrestling with strings of melted mozzarella from what is not very originally billed as the best cheese sarnie in the world. Its two slices of french toast, mustard, emmental, cheddar and mozzarella in an arterial bullet that I should really put down if I want to live a minute longer. But I cant. Its a fat bomb of deliciousness.
As Im eating on my own this evening, and I always have to eat for two when alone, Ive got a whole other sandwich lined up waiting for me to try so theres no rush. Vietnamese roast chicken, since you ask.
I had a cherry-red Raleigh racer when I was a kid. A Raleigh Europa. I loved that bike. Saved up the money for it myself from washing pots and got it from the window of Davey Grahams bike shop. Then it got stolen. No insurance in our house so that was the end of my racer days. It broke my heart in two distinct pieces. The bike in the window of Siempre isnt it, in case youre wondering, because it is a girls bike. A lovely retro step-through with swept back bars and more curvy, shiny bits than Lana Del Reys vocal range. Its not the only girls bike on display.
This surprises me because the last time I was in Siempre not long after it opened I seem to remember all the bicycle porn was for men. There were super-slinky, carbon-forked, alloy-framed racers; lovely exclusive, expensive cycle jerseys, man stuff. In a proper man cave.
While Im slurping my way through this peanut butter, jam and honey ice-cream milk shake more bad but good stuff I gaze around the cafe. There is still a guy fixing bikes behind a repair counter in the cafe. There is still a list of the upcoming continental bike races theyll be screening. There is still a plaque from the Johnstone Wheelers cycling club commending its good grub.
That was obviously because the whole biking revolution is a man thing and this foodstop cum bike shop cum cycle gallery is at the pinnacle of it. Correct? Wrong.
While chewing my way through a baguette that at first looked as dry as old boots being stuffed with white chicken and pickled carrot and pickled radish with too much white and not enough colour I can tell you that Siempre has changed.
Most of the bikes seem to be for girls now. In the short time Ive been sitting here, half eating, half reading Nevil Shutes man book On The Beach, theyve sold cool bike stuff to two customers. Both women. In fact two ladies also just came tottering in from a night out and went straight for what looks like Burberry cycling helmets. Sigh. Is nothing sacred, I ask myself? Or does it simply confirm what I have always said? The chicks have all the dough. Oh, and men rarely eat out without them.
Back to the food, then. The Vietnamese chicken sandwich? Its actually pretty sweet and sour. Good, though its lacking in the eye-candy department. They make their own health bars here incidentally, crayfish po boy sandwiches, right-on soups and even do some man baking because it does seem to be run by two blokes.
Ive had the courgette and pecan cake tonight. Yes, you did read that right. Scarily, there are green bits dotted through it. Reassuringly, Ive been in the strange cake ingredient movie before and they never taste savoury, just moist and sweet like this one.
Siempre Bicycle Cafe, then? Former man cave turned girlie place? Nah, not really. Its still a clever, stylish and comfortable place to hang out in. Whatever your gender.