I’m not, it’s fair to say, a fully paid up, card-carrying vegan. I’ve flirted with full on veganism though, eliminating meat and dairy from my diet for several months earlier this year. It was pretty easy as it happens, but I can’t claim the transformative effects of some advocates. My current diet, however, is in much better shape for the experience. It didn’t take much effort to adapt to a meat and dairy free diet as long as I was doing the cooking. Restaurants, on the other hand, were a different story. Unless visiting one of the excellent vegan-friendly spots dotted around the city, the choice ranged from non-existent to utterly dismal. So a six course vegan tasting night at a famously vegan-friendly South Side restaurant? I’m in.
Straight to the food, and first up was a warm panzanella salad with heritage tomatoes, basil and crispy kale. It was easy on the eye, with rustic hunks of bread protruding from a scree of caper-stuffed cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers and kale. It was well seasoned and the salty dressing absorbed nicely into those over-sized croutons. Everything belonged on the plate, but of particular note were those capers. They provided an extra burst of flavour in what might otherwise be a tasty but one-note dish. All in all a great start that was polished off in jig time.
Next came sesame-glazed tender stem broccoli with home-made kimchi, crispy sticky rice and orange syrup. That description certainly raised an eyebrow but I needn’t have worried. With the first bite of broccoli I got a burst of orange sweetness that didn’t quite go with the smoky sesame glaze. I suspect that may have been accidental because it seemed very much like a dish that should be eaten from the top down. The broccoli was meaty with great sesame flavour, the house kimchi was spicy and sour as it should be, but the highlight here was the crispy sticky rice cake on the bottom layer. Finally we found what that orange syrup was for and it was glorious. I think it’s fair to say that this doesn’t work as a single mouthful, but even so, the plate returned to the kitchen in pristine condition.
Two dishes in and two continents visited. Course three would keep us on the move, this time visiting North Africa for a dukkah-spiced spinach tart with golden raisins and pistachios. The tart base was barely there, comprising scant layers of crispy filo pastry. A multi-course tasting menu doesn’t need a stodgy tart but an extra layer or two would definitely have helped. The filling of gently spiced sauteed spinach with pistachios, grains and mixed leaves had a mild curry hum to it and the golden raisins provided sweetness. Ultimately though it lacked that punch of flavour that the first two plates delivered.
Next stop Mexico, for buffalo cauliflower, crispy tortilla chips, sweetcorn and black bean salsa, and guacamole. The cauliflower was meaty with a hefty kick of spice. Spicy cauliflower? Yes. But “buffalo” cauliflower? Not quite. The accompanying tortilla chips were salty and moreish while the corn and black bean salsa was superb. One slight letdown here was the guacamole. It seemed oily to me, perhaps an attempt to emulsify an under-ripe avocado. It tasted good, but the mouth-feel was slightly off.
One short hop later and we’re in the Caribbean. Jamaica to be precise, for a Jamaican sweet potato coconut curry, jerk tofu and plantain kebab with ackee salad. The plantain had bite and took the jerk seasoning well, but the tofu didn’t really work for me. It may be a personal preference, but I’m not a fan of tofu when it’s served more or less unadulterated. The curry itself was warming, spicy and full of rich coconut flavour. I enjoyed it so much that I persevered for some time trying to scoop the sauce out with my fork. A spoon would be a welcome addition. What this curry was really crying out for though was a flat bread to mop up that delicious sauce with. In contrast, the ackee salad was a punchy and fresh little salsa that did a great job of cutting through the rich curry.
Arriving safely back in Glasgow we were promised the famous “13th Note” vegan cheesecake. After such fanfare I must admit to being a little disappointed. My own flirtations with veganism aren’t so well established or all-consuming that I’ve forgotten what a cheesecake tastes like. The main issue is with the cream cheese substitute. I’m guessing it probably involves soya or silken tofu, but the problem is that it simply doesn’t resemble the texture or mouth-feel of cheesecake. It was brown, which told me it should probably taste slightly chocolatey, and that’s exactly what I got: it was chocolatey, but only slightly. It wasn’t all bad though. The base of pulsed mixed nuts was a great idea that worked well, and it was served with a delicious strawberry and blueberry compote. I think this dessert is a perfect illustration of why vegan food shouldn’t simply be about concocting vegan analogs of non-vegan dishes.
The dessert may not have hit the mark, but the overall experience definitely did. The food reached some fabulous highs and only one real low which is pretty good going for a six course menu. My experience of Six By Nico’s “The Chippie”, for comparison, faired significantly worse. This is the first of what we’re promised are many vegan food evenings to come. This one was presented by Justin Lumsdon who can be found creating meat-free miracles over at their sister restaurant in the West End (Gibson Street’s “The Left Bank“), while the food was prepared by in-house chef Gayle Frizzel. The next vegan tasting evening, a South Indian themed menu, is planned for the end of January. In between times they’re cementing their reputation for quality South Side dining experiences by hosting regular themed food nights (the latest is “Vietnam“). If they can carry forward the high standard set on this inaugural vegan event the tickets will fly out the door.
6 Courses: £25 per person.
17-21 Nithsdale Road
0141 423 0023
Consistently imaginative food