Restaurant review: Rogano is resolutely unfashionable but do its staff have to be so dismissive?
Rogano, 11 Exchange Place, Glasgow, tel: 0141 248 4055
Lisa Markwell is the editor of The Independent on Sunday. She was previously executive editor of The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday and has edited the features pages, and both the Saturday and Sunday supplements. She writes comment pieces for the papers and restaurant reviews for the New Review. Lisa has worked across a variety of newspapers and magazines and can now tick off every publication cycle from daily to quarterly. She is an enthusiastic foodie, mother of two teenagers and drives an electric car. She is writing a book about adoption.
Sunday 03 November 2013
Rude staff are something of a fixture of certain restaurants. That those restaurants keep going, and indeed become famous, says something about what we find entertaining in an evening out.
For instance, many young people visiting London for the first time will have had the formative experience of being screamed at by the door of Chinatown's Wong Kei. Then there's the "social Siberia" system that doesn't seem to be a bar to the Wolseley and Delaunay becoming wait-list-only places. It's not, before you rush to judgement, a "London thing".
I've recently been to a restaurant in Glasgow where the staff were spectacularly dismissive. One waitress tipped the finger bowl – the used finger bowl – over my guest and strolled away with barely a backward glance. Another waiter brought me a stack of breeze-block-sized chips when I ordered shoestring fries. No biggie, but could he swap them? A sigh, they disappeared and nothing came back. At least I didn't have to pay for them… and who needs carbs anyway?
So, Rogano is rude. But then, it has been serving Glaswegians since 1935 – it fashioned its Art Deco splendour on the Queen Mary ship being built on the city's Clyde docks.
The wonderful vintage lettering and red illuminated sign draw you in; among the gentrified Cath Kidston and Caffè Nero arrivistes of Gordon Street, the sheer history of Rogano is very settling. But inside, it only reveals its charms bit by bit – right near the back are curved banquettes and expansive tables, the ceiling made up of perfect Deco coloured glass. Clever to make a windowless bunker feel stylish. Staff swishing about in bow ties and long aprons helps, too, but I couldn't describe it as "warm".
To reach our table, the maître d' navigates past powerbrokers aplenty – it might be on the tourist trail, but the restaurant maintains its stately status after all this time. And a look at the menu confirms that a visit here is for those either on expenses or a Big Night Out (lunch is good value at £21.50, but it doesn't have Rogano's most famous dishes). What the bar offers is described by the restaurant in the most delightfully pompous terms: "For those whose schedules do not permit formal dining, or who wish to eat outwith restaurant hours."
Those famous dishes are the finest fish and seafood from Scotland's shores. Six Cumbrae oysters from West Kilbride at £11 are perfection; a heap of langoustines grilled in their shells with just a fragrant garlic-and-herb butter (£25.95) is worth getting splattered for. I can't remember the last time I've had such sweet, intense flavour from shellfish.
I'm so glad I chose them. It's almost enough for me – and my finger-bowl-soaked guest – to forget the haphazard service. He's unpausingly worked his way through a plate of seared scallops and pork belly, with local black pudding and white bean purée (£22.95). It's exemplary from the tiny corner I snatch, but a bit modish for such an unapologetically unfashionable place. Although… I also spot a cherry tomato and mozzarella side salad, and a goat's cheese and horseradish pannacotta on the menu. It seems a shame if Rogano, Glasgow's oldest restaurant, feels it has to nod to 21st-century tastes, rather than stick to its celebration of Scotland's smoked salmon, fruits de mer, crab and sole.
Puddings, we see with relief, are classic with the smallest of twists – or perhaps the 2009 Picpoul de Pinet from Beauvignac has softened my reserve – as the baked Alaska (£6.95) is tricked out with piña colada flavours – a coconut ice-cream and sticky pineapple work delightfully with the singed Darth Maul peaks of the meringue.
We have no space for "coffee and tablet" (tourists must wonder, is it a tradition to give an indigestion remedy at the end of dinner, or what?) The faintest of smiles from our waiter and the longest of waits for our coats, before we're back out of Rogano's front door.
Perhaps it models its service on the class system of the Queen Mary as well as its décor, discerning that hacks on a night out are strictly third-class. I'd happily come back for those langoustines, though. And perhaps keep my raincoat for speed and to avoid a soaking…
Rogano, 11 Exchange Place, Glasgow, tel: 0141 248 4055. £120 for two, with wine
Four more I've tried this week
Pret A Manger Has started selling kale sandwiches, tapping into the trend for leafy dark-green vegetables. It's less, um, moreish than the ham'n'cheese toastie, but I did feel more virtuous.
Dip & Flip Loving the super-tender meat sandwiches, served with a bowl of gravy for dipping, at this new arrival in Battersea Rise – also home to the best bacon cheeseburger in London, IMHO.
Mr Cooper's House & Garden From a keenly priced, eccentric menu at Simon Rogan's new restaurant in Manchester, I had sensational duck-and-sweet-potato casserole. Recommended.
The Fat Duck From the once-in-a-lifetime department, I "ate" a Campari and soda at Heston's place and drank a cup of Earl Grey that was simultaneously hot and cold. Still working that one out…
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