It seems like the last few years have been tough on Glasgow institutions. We’ve lost long established favourites like Dino’s and La Parmigiana, and hungry night owls can no longer sit down around midnight for the full bhuna at Clyde Place’s Spice Garden. So it was a pleasant surprise when the Amber Regent appeared on my Twitter feed announcing a refit rather than a swansong. The word “institution” is used with glib regularity in reference to the city’s restaurants. I’ve even read “Finnieston institution” in print which strikes me as particularly absurd given the area’s recent history. But places like the Amber Regent qualify. Been around forever? Check. Known to everybody and their dug? Check. Great food? We’ll see.
Approaching the restaurant on a drizzly West Regent Street there’s little sign of the promised makeover. Outwardly there’s no difference: the same weathered burgundy and yellow canopy marks the spot. Once inside though the change is obvious. Gone is the “Wall of Fame”; a shrine to celebrities more past than present who’ve graced the restaurant over the years. The dining room still smells faintly of fresh paint as we take our seats. The room is definitely fresher, with accents that seem more Japanese than anything. Gone is the terrible carpet and orange glow, replaced by earthy tones and subtle lighting. It’s definitely an improvement.
The clientele, however, are the same eclectic mix as ever. Shoppers, ladies who lunch and jargon-peddling middle managers sit side by side. It’s the kind of place where red-faced suits dining out on expenses are greeted like long lost family. It definitely seems like an older crowd to me. The setting is serious if not exactly formal and it undoubtedly appeals to the generation that appreciates a cotton table cloth.
Reassuringly, the lunch menu hasn’t undergone a similar overhaul. At £10.50 for two courses it seems good value, especially when something as workaday as a chicken curry is the best part of £15 on the a la carte. As on many previous visits, I choose salt and pepper tofu followed by barbecued pork in honey and soya. The tofu is a great starter. Crisp, yielding and intensely seasoned, it’s served with fried onion, peppers and chillis. Eaten as a single bite all of these elements combine perfectly. My main is a meat-lover’s dream: a generous portion of char siu sits on wilted pak choi, accompanied by a sweet soy sauce. The pork is tender and packed with sweet barbecue flavour. So often it can be tough and gristly, but here it was perfect. It’s not a complex dish: meat, greens, sauce and rice, but it works perfectly.
The other side of the table played host to spring rolls followed by salt and pepper chicken. I’m not sure what to say about the spring rolls. They were spring rolls. Not outstanding spring rolls but not overtly terrible ones either. You order spring rolls, you get spring rolls. The salt and pepper chicken was, as you’d expect, the meaty equivalent of my starter. Substituting chicken for tofu didn’t do much to change the flavour of the dish and it made for a spicy if somewhat dry main course.
Lunch at the Amber Regent is a good way to spend a tenner. The lunch menu offers a good selection of westernised Cantonese staples as well as a couple of surprises, one of those being the char siu dish I had as my main course. Whether I’d come back for the full a la carte experience is another matter. My favourite Chinese spot in the city is Sichuan House, where, for the price of an Amber Regent curry I can sit down in comparable surroundings to a generous portion of kung po scallops. That comparison is difficult to dislodge.
Including two soft drinks our bill came to a touch over £25 which is bang on the money. The service is efficient without being over-friendly and I’ll certainly be back…for lunch.
Lunch menu is good value
Fantastic char siu
A la carte off-puttingly pricey