Before I go any further I might as well confess: I went to a place where the signature scran is BBQ and I didn’t have any BBQ. You’d think that would make the review a tricky affair. But The Raven has more strings to its bow than the smoky delights of its pulled pork, babybacks and brisket. All tried on previous visits I should add, but in my pre-“food ponce” days so there are no photographs to bear witness. Spoiler alert: they’re all delicious. But Glasgow has been suffocating under a pulled pork avalanche over the last few years so perhaps it was time to try something else.
So with that bombshell out of the way, what can I tell you? Quite a lot as it happens. First, a quick recap. The Raven opened its doors near the top end of Renfield Street back in June 2014 with a promise of real American BBQ complimented by a wide array of craft beers. A joint operation from MacLay Inns and Tennent Caledonian, it changed hands in 2016 after MacLay went into administration. Enter Signature Pubs, plaything of billionaire oil magnate Ian Wood’s two sons Garreth and Nic, who added MacLay’s remaining assets to their portfolio. So with a change in ownership has the food changed direction? In a word, no.
The Raven does specialise in American BBQ but on this Friday lunchtime I was hoping to avoid the meat sweats. The menu offers a surprising variety of options including burritos, sandwiches and burgers. If BBQ is their main thing then burgers come a close second and on any given day you’ll find an eclectic special, printed with rustic precision, paperclipped to the menu. On the day of my visit our hosts were getting into the spirit of Canada day which meant a specials card full of Canadian staples. Among these was a maple bacon cheeseburger served with a side of poutine which my intrepid lunch companion duly ordered. After a week of vegan experimentation I was in the mood for a protein fix and ordered the cajun chicken sandwich which came with a side of skinny fries. Proof if it were needed that my eyes are in fact bigger than my belly, I also went for a side order of “meaty beans”.
One of the reasons I come back to The Raven is that I know what to expect and it generally delivers. My cajun chicken sandwich had a nice kick to it and came served in a long ciabatta roll with sour cream, lettuce and tomato. It’s not going to blow you away but then it’s not meant to. The skinny fries were fine but to be honest they’re only really there to dip in the 5 delicious house sauces that sit on every table. The meaty beans, however, are worthy of a bit more praise. A generous portion of smoky pork and beans in a rich tomato sauce that gave a hint of what you can expect from their BBQ fair. They were so full of pulled pork that they could just as easily be described as beanie meat.
Whichever burger you order here you know it’s going to be good. The Raven’s classic burger is a great base for any weird and wonderful toppings they feel like adding. And on this occasion it was no different: a thick, juicy beef patty was well seared but still soft and yielding. The gooey cheese was sharp and the maple bacon added something extra but it was perhaps lacking that pungent maple hit we were expecting. The side of poutine was a good idea but suffered a little from the presentation. Served in a deep bowl, most of the fries were submerged in gravy. So while it tasted great it tended to be soggy after the first crispy morsels were picked off.
The food is solid, the atmosphere is friendly and the service faultless. And when the dust had settled, a couple of soft drinks brought the bill to a very respectable £26. There are far tastier things to eat here than I had on this occasion and I know I’ll be back to try them all again.
81-85 Renfield St
Always a great burger
Service is quick and friendly