The well-worn advice to visitors and Glaswegians alike is to look up when you’re walking around the city. The implication is that many of our most impressive sights are not at ground level. Our architectural treasures may be better observed with a cricked neck, but I’d add one other piece of advice: explore the nooks and crannies. Our alleyways may be on the cusp of some much needed rejuvenation, but there are some gems hidden away down these grimy lanes already.
If you seek out Stereo on Renfield Lane you should definitely still look up. It’s housed on the bottom floor of a building designed by legendary figure Charles Rennie Mackintosh which, until the 1930s, was the home of the Daily Record newspaper. The hacks have long since moved on, but the building remains strangely compelling. Mackintosh combines blonde sandstone with blue and white reflective bricks to bring light into an otherwise dark and foreboding location. It can be difficult to fully appreciate which makes the attention to detail all the more admirable: it’s aesthetic for its own sake.
But what’s inside? Stereo is at ground level through a green, deco-accented door. Once inside it hums with life and light in strong contrast to the lane outside. Large warehouse-style windows offer a sweeping view on to the adjacent nothingness. The rest of the place takes its cue from the gritty, slightly industrial setting. Light fittings dangle randomly from an unadorned ceiling of steel beams, utilitarian tables and chairs offer somewhere to park your bum and the walls seem painted with whatever they had lying around (yellow and red in this case). Of course this sort of chaos is often the result of careful planning. If so, they’ve made a good job of it. For all the harshness of the interior, it maintains a cosy and intimate feel. An impressive feat.
Over the past 10 years Stereo has been steadily building a reputation as the go-to city centre spot for vegan food. Owner Craig Tannock runs a clutch of vegan joints across the city including Mono, The 78 and The Flying Duck, so this is no gimmick. But Stereo’s cachet lies in more than just its vegan credentials. It incorporates an organic bakery producing their own bread and cakes daily, and Tannock’s music scene connections mean Stereo plays host to an eclectic mix of bands in its basement venue. It’s so trendy it hurts.
The food menu is extensive. Creative takes on ordinarily meaty dishes sit alongside unadulterated vegan fair. There are starters and small plates, sharing platters, mains, pizzas and desserts as well as an extensive specials board. It’s a little overwhelming. But on this Sunday, a late lunch is what we’re after. My own vegan travails have laid bare the difficulties of vegan sandwichery. If it doesn’t have hummus or falafel the game is usually a bogey. But Stereo’s sandwich menu may have changed my thinking. I went for the “Old Italian” while my other half chose the “Shamuchan”.
The “Old Italian” is simplicity itself: an assortment of roasted vegetables (including roasted beetroot) and olives stuffed into a freshly baked slab of pesto-smeared focaccia. It may have been simple, but it was a damn fine sandwich. The vegetables were well-seasoned with a nice char to them while the pesto gave an amazing punch of flavour. The beetroot was especially good and did a decent job of supplying the texture that’s often missing in the absence of meat. The bread was simply outstanding; robust, light and a perfect vehicle for the filling. Along with my sandwich I had a bowl of today’s soup which was French onion and mushroom. For a soup it did a great impression of a stew. It had an intense, caramelised onion flavour and great body from the mushrooms that were packed into it. Halfway through and it seemed like my eyes might have been bigger than my belly.
The “Shamuchan” is a beast. The menu says “wrap” which conjures images of flimsy supermarket tortillas, but this thing was most definitely a Turkish-style flatbread. Warm and chewy, it provided the structure for a filling that provoked a certain amount of sandwich envy. Veggie haggis, cabbage, pickled red onion and garlic mayo might sound slightly bonkers but it was phenomenal. The haggis had a peppery kick and the cabbage and pickle lent the whole thing a nice crunch. Quite how they make such authentic tasting vegan mayo I’ll never know but it provided some much needed moisture.
Stereo doesn’t play up to its vegan ethos. The food is simply the food, and the food needs to be good as well as vegan. They manage to achieve this in some style. In a city that isn’t renowned for its healthy approach to diet, Stereo stands out. Not simply for its vegan credentials but for the fact they serve incredible food.
Two sandwiches, one soup, two soft drinks, less than £20. Go now.
22-28 Renfield Lane
0141 222 2254
Imaginative vegan food