WEST BreweryTempleton Building, Glasgow Green,
0141 550 0135
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Yeast meets West
Review published on 06/05/2013 © Sunday Herald
We can safely assume that people rarely go to West solely for the food. The main draw is the drink. This small brewery in the heart of Glasgow is a liquid curiosity. It brews to time-honoured German purity laws and has no truck with modern additives, yet it uses cutting-edge technology to produce innovative beers of the most exacting quality and consistency.
Wests other magnetic appeal is the building itself, a magnificently extravagant red-brick edifice, its tessellated terracotta and cream hues set off by the emerald-greenness of Glasgow Green. It was designed by Victorian architect William Leiper and completed in 1892, echoing the Italian Gothic style of the Doges Palace in Venice and, until the 1950s, housed the hugely successful Templeton carpet factory.
When you walk in, you leave Venice and Glasgow outside and arrive in Munich, or at least it feels like it, since it has all the look and atmosphere of an authentic German beer hall. The space is dark, but not gloomy, with lofty ceilings, refectory tables and a noisy throng of enthusiastic beer-drinkers, with a heavy bias towards those with an Y chromosome. Put it this way, this is a prime spot for finding a load of young, possibly single, men in one place, although drawing their attention away from their drinks might be hard, given that the place appeals to craft beer enthusiasts.
Foodwise, theres a slightly quieter, more restful area set out for dining. Bravely, given its prevailing poor to indifferent image in the UK, the cuisine is Germanic. Personally, I think German food deserves a better reputation than it gets. Theres much to be said for a proper sauerkraut or schnitzel. In Berlin recently, I ate well, and cheaply, although that was largely a virtue of the presence of Middle Eastern and Vietnamese restaurants. I cant say that I felt any urge to eat the popular fast food snack of curry wurst: chopped-up sausage with curry ketchup.
So it probably was a mistake to order the Bayrischer wurstsalat starter, cold garlic sausage served with gherkins and onions. Not one for those who dont see the appeal of a pink, spongiform porker. Wrongly, I had expected it to be more than just a chopped-up banger from the fridge with vinegary pickles, but its organic rye bread from the Tapa bakery was some compensation.
Altogether preferable were the potato pancakes with a chunky, natural apple sauce, a much more homespun dish with comfort-food appeal, but neither starter took centre stage. Instead the captivating hefeweizen, a clean, cold, cloudy golden wheat and barley malt beer, stole the show.
Both main courses were frustratingly half-hearted. A well-fried, tender weiner schnitzel was let down badly by poor chips. It cried out for that salad of mustardy, waxy potatoes that Germans do so well. The side salad was ruined by bossy red onion.
The home-made spatzle (Germanys answer to pasta) were pretty authentic, but hadnt been seasoned or fried enough. Its their crispy fried extremities that make spatzle compelling. Furthermore, they were pinned under a gluey layer of cheese so plastic, it tasted like the processed stuff, so what could have been a very decent dish became a dull, stodgy proposition.
The world is divided over the joys, or otherwise, of German and Austrian cakes. At issue is the question of dryness: even the best-made Sachertorte from celebrated konditorei can seem arid to palates more honed to French patisserie or British baking. So, to my taste, the biscuity, dry sponge in my Black Forest torte was saved only by the moistening alcoholic grip of its marinated cherries. It was better than the pear tarte tatin, an unfortunate amalgam of fibrous, tasteless pears on soggy puff pastry overdosed with taste-bud anaesthetising almond essence, a substance that should only be used with a pipette, so great is its capacity to dominate.
I get the logic of serving German food at West. Its a sound idea, but maybe the chefs need a refresher trip to Germany to remind themselves of how good this cuisine can be, and so do it justice.
Ale and hearty experience in the bleak midwinter
Review published on 18/01/2010 © Sunday Herald
It seemed my date with WEST Brewery was cursed. Turning up between Christmas and New Year just after 2pm seemed a foolproof plan, but I hadnt realised how popular the Glasgow Green venue is for winter weddings. Having just closed the doors for yet another function, I decided upon phoning ahead next time. I really did kick myself, as peering through the frosty panes it looked warm, inviting and festively sparkly inside.
Phoning WEST is an experience in itself as I spoke to German proprietor Petra Wetzel, a former lawyer, who made The Herald business pages this month as she is trying to get a Scottish microbrewers association off the ground. Forthright but friendly, Petra quickly had me in the diary for the Bank Holiday Monday and apologised for our unsuccessful visit the previous day.
Unfortunately she then had to phone back to rearrange as she had forgotten the staff Christmas night out was scheduled; well earned, as looking at the website it seems the place had been overrun with private functions from before Christmas and into 2010. Making up for this diary oversight, she offered us free drinks when we do go: a very nice touch, although we failed to take her up on it.
By the time I arrived (it was the snow, honest) the wine was on the table so I felt a bit guilty not ordering the brewerys produce. I made up for that by later ordering their house lager St Mungo, brewed in their copper-clad brew house. Ive since been told St Mungo is stronger than Stella, and is currently a Scottish specialist product at Waitrose in Byres Road as well as the Scottish beer on tap at Turnberry; both not too shabby recommendations. Being absolutely no authority on beer, I am only happy to report that Ill be back in the summer to drink it in the beer garden and, no, I didnt add lemonade.
The Bavarian influence was all over the varied menu, with plenty of winter warmer dishes for the cold January night. The Munich-style Bier Hall format of the space is probably comfortingly sparse in the warmer summer months, but was a little on the bleak side in the depths of winter. Asking the waiter (another member of the legal profession, my dining spies assured me) how business had been as we looked around the quite cold and empty space was enlightening: Come in here in summer, and its 10 deep at the bar, he told us. And Hogmanay was amazing. I think the staff had even more fun than the clubbers!
With Weihnachten (Christmas in German) almost over, being in WEST felt like we were eking out the last day of the festive season, as the snow began to fall again. Eating their in-house German speciality dishes, such as their salted or unsalted pretzel (£1.50 each) and their awesome dessert of baked apple strudel Munich-style with vanilla ice-cream (£4.25) it was actually difficult to convince ourselves we were still sitting in the G40 area of the city.
Our main courses consisted of two seafood hotpots and two red deer ragout dishes and its testament to each dishs tastiness that I cant comment on the seafood hotpot, although it smelled delicious and looked like it had a herby, creamy consistency under the layered potatoes. The ragout was fantastic and served with thyme dumplings and was exactly the filling winter dish I wanted. The whole lunch and dinner menu is extensive though, and you can have anything from fish, chips and onion rings to jager schnitzel (pork escalope au natural with a creamy mushroom sauce, £9.95).
WEST is the first UK brewery to produce all beers in accordance with Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law, and this means that they only use the four core ingredients of beer: water, malt, hops and yeast, adding no artificial additives, colourings or preservatives. And I can assure you, the foods just as impressively conceived.