Confession time: this was meant to be a review of Halloumi. But, having failed to book, and underestimating the demand for Greek-inspired small plates this Friday lunchtime, we were turned away into the squally sun-streaked rain of Glasgow in July. Sheltering in the doorway there was one obvious choice. Pulcinella is only a few doors along the street from Halloumi but it’s worlds apart. Red checked table cloths tell you that Pulcinella is aiming for a more rustic, traditional vibe although the fact that they’re made from plastic is an unwelcome utilitarian detail. The dining room itself seems tired, and not even the colourful mural depicting the eponymous character from commedia dell’arte can lift things. The problem on this bright if wet July day is that, away from the windows, the room is dark. So I couldn’t quite figure out why we were being led to a table at the very back of an otherwise empty restaurant.
So Pulcinella isn’t going to win you over with its looks. But you can’t eat funky decor. So what of the food? This isn’t my first visit to the restaurant and the lunch menu doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. For a fixed price menu, there’s a good choice here: seven starters, ten mains and a few desserts if you go for the three course option. Italian staples such as arancini and minestrone soup sit incongruously with spicy chicken wings while the mains offer authenticity in the form of dishes such as lamb’s liver Veneziana and pollo alla Milanese. But there’s also a pretty unexciting sounding burger on there; perhaps an attempt to appeal to those fussy eaters that we all know.
I went for the gamberetti in salsa rosa which is really just a sort of deconstructed prawn cocktail. Paprika dusted prawn Marie Rose sits on a bed of lettuce and is served with grilled asparagus and tomato. It’s a nice little dish that suffers only from the slightly anaemic looking lettuce. The tomato and asparagus tasted pleasingly of the grill and the Marie Rose was creamy and satisfying. My partner in crime went for the funghi farciti. Breaded, deep-fried mushrooms served with garlic mayonnaise and a slightly sad looking side salad. The mushrooms were well-seasoned but perhaps a little overdone.
Next up were the mains. My choice of pollo alla Milanese is usually a safe option. A chicken cutlet is breaded and deep-fried and served with spaghetti Napoletana. This time was no exception. The chicken was tender and well seasoned, while the breading was crisp without being overdone. The accompanying pasta was perfectly al dente with a tangy tomato sauce.
My dining companion went for what the menu calls “pizza cabana”, but which you might recognise as a Hawaiian. In a city that’s currently experiencing something of a pizza mania it might be churlish to make comparisons to some of the artisan joints that are popping up with regularity. The truth is if you want that springy, chewy base with the perfect char you should still head to somewhere like Paesano. But as part of a set lunch menu this wasn’t a bad pizza at all. The dough perhaps lacked that pleasingly stretchy texture but it really wasn’t bad. The tomato sauce was sharp and both this and the cheese were used sparingly, which I like. The pineapple was tinned, but I think that’s barely worth mentioning. If you must have pineapple on your pizza it’s probably a better option than large, fibrous chunks of potentially unripe fresh pineapple. The strips of ham crisped up nicely in the oven and offered a salty contrast.
Two courses will set you back a whopping £7.50. If you’ve got room for it another £1.45 will get you dessert. It’s this sort of value that’s made Pulcinella a perennial favourite over a long period of time. But perhaps the times are changing slightly. Our inability to get a table at Halloumi while walking into an empty Pulcinella suggests that diners are looking for something a little different and that’ shouldn’t be ignored. Our visit on this occasion wasn’t intentional and in all honesty this experience isn’t going to drag me back any time soon. But as an emergency lunch spot in the middle of a downpour? It did the job.
167 Hope Street
Tel: 0141 572 0575
Tired and dark dining room