The Getaway: An unlikely gourmet break in Glasgow
Food, glorious food
Can the home of the deep-fried Mars bar really be a gourmet getaway?
One plate answers that question. One yummy plate, served up on a wooden table in Ox & Finch (oxandfinch.com) in beard-bendingly hip Finnieston.
The dish is not deep-fried. Nor does it contain a crumb of chocolate, nougat or caramel. It's a racion-style serving of slow-roasted pork belly with white onion puree, golden raisins and capers in a gorgeously simple pottery bowl. And it's mouthwatering. As is the beetroot, orange, candied pecans and goat's cheese that follows. And the sea-bream with shredded Thai salad.
Heck, even the chips rock. They're fried twice, mollycoddled in truffle oil and salt, and served with garlic aioli. Bam! It's a hipster heart attack, in a humble bowl.
Ox & Finch, Glasgow
My question is answered. But it's not just answered at Ox & Finch. Scotland is celebrating a Year of Food and Drink at the moment, a marketing wheeze aimed at tempting visitors into a second taste... and Glasgow's right at its vanguard.
During my whistlestop tour of the city, I don't see a single haggis supper (by choice, admittedly). Instead, I devour a 35-day-aged rib-eye - a cross of Angus and Limousin beef - in the sophisticated cellars of Alston Bar & Beef (alstonglasgow.co.uk). I take a tour of the bierhaus-style West Brewery (westbeer.com) before knocking back a crisp and malty lager named after Glasgow's patron saint, Mungo. I even get a 101 in coffee roasting from master roaster John Gartly at Gordon Street Coffee (gordonst coffee.co.uk).
"If it's not fresh," he asks in a melodiously matter-of-fact lilt, "what's the point?"
I've got one night in Glasgow, and I spend it at the Arthouse Hotel (thearthouseglasgow.com), a historical townhouse on Bath Street. Its 59 bedrooms combine contemporary styling with ace original features (check out the old lift, coiled up in the stairwell) and a cool central location. Rooms were starting from £63/€89 going to press.
An iconic student prank
Exchange rates aren't exactly encouraging UK visits at the moment, but Glasgow's free museums and galleries go a long way toward easing that particular pain.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum houses treasures as diverse as a Spitfire plane and Salvador Dalí's Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951), for example. GoMA is Scotland's most visited modern art gallery - although its main attraction is found outside, perched atop of the Duke of Wellington's head. A traffic cone was first mounted here as a student prank, and has gone on to become an iconic image of Glasgow.
"The council's tried to stop it," the lady in the gift shop tells me. "They take it down, but it just keeps going back up. It's the Glasgow sense of humour. Plus, it keeps the pigeons off."
Gourmet treats in Glasgow - who'da thunk it? I'm delighted to have my stereotypes dashed, though it's still very easy to eat badly here (a little research will go a long way before a visit). Sterling will smash your euro, you just have to soak that one up. Like any city, Glasgow can have a hard edge after dark too... so choose your gin and whisky joints wisely.
Get me there
Both Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Aer Lingus Regional (aerlingus.com) fly direct from Dublin to Glasgow. Flights from Dublin can take as little as 35 minutes.
Aer Lingus Regional also flies from Cork and Donegal to the city, with prices from €24.99 each way. For more on the Year of Food & Drink, see visitscotland.com and for more on Glasgow, see peoplemakeglasgow.com or #inGlasgow.