(Visited: early April 2012)
Our first time in Glasgow. Anticipating a hearty meal, we take a longish zig-zag, up and down walk through the urban hills from Queen Street train station to the West End.
Step in La Parmigiana and step back in time.
There is an old school feel here, from the waiters to the decor to the menu. Strangely, we have good vibes.
The bread is simple and well made, and above all its taste is very decent – and freely re-supplied.
No amuse bouche, what’s that?, we are immediately in medias res with Chargrilled Minch Scallops, with Lime & Olive Oil and Salad: served with their vivid orange coral attached, one feels really, really stupid never eating this perfectly good and beautiful part of the animal in fine dining restaurants – ok, the coral’s texture is somewhat grainy, but it is the flavour that matters.
The scallops are fresh, they are precisely cooked, they are big plump and sweet, and the condiment strikes the right balance between oiliness, tanginess and a hint of bitterness from the rocket. This is simple but real cooking.
The other primo is a Tagliolini with Dublin Bay Prawns, Courgettes and Fresh Tomatoes
You can see from the tomatoes and the cutting of the courgettes that we are not in fine dining territory here, but hey, the pasta is well made, very eggy, just lacking a bit of bite (in the sense of not being as elastic as it should be), in its rich tomatoey sauce that strikes and delights your nose even before your palate, deeply flavoured by the seafood, present in copious amount – at least ten prawns: how much should we pay to have this quantity in a fine dining London or Edinburgh venue? (Here, just a very fair £11).
For our first main, we go for a ‘classicissimo’, here described as Brodetto Di Pesce Alla Sambenedettese, afish broth in other words, one of its infinite variations (the name suggests a recipe from the East coast of central Italy)
The seafood has given its soul to the broth and some of it is naturally exhausted and less soft than ideal. But what a feast of flavours! Cuttlefish, lobster, mussles and vegetables: soaking the crispy bread in the strongly aromatic zuppa is pure messy joy.
And from the rustic cacciucco to one of the classiest fishes on earth: a Turbot (the fish of the day from the market):
The fillet of turbot is fresh, if not from today then probably from yesterday, and also very nicely cooked, we guess pan-fried (the waiter could not help on this). At £22, what stonking value for such a lovely piece of fish.
The mains were served with separate potatoes and vegetables, quite good (even the potatoes, that from the look of it seemed of the “prefab” kind).
For desserts (around £6 each), we go for real classics, a Zabaione with Marsala
and a Tiramisu
The zabaione definitely has the boozy kick and goes down a treat, while the tiramisu, in a “sliceable” version – not as luscious and creamy as we would have preferred, but good, and there is a real show-stopper in the plate: the suavely intense cappuccino ice-cream (which would not have made much sense with a “cream galore” tiramisu version).
The coffee deserves a special mention.
They made one of the few proper espressos we’ve had in a public place in the UK, including the top fine dining venues. We aren’t talking about the quality of the coffee itself, which was merely good, but about the actual making of the espresso, with its proper thick foam that is so hard to get elsewhere. Man liked it so much that he accepted the kind offer of a second one.
Service, like the food, is old school Italian: very attentive and obliging, even though a bit disconnected from the kitchen operations.
The bill on food is very reasonable: for our pair of three (generous) course meals with coffees the total was £82. The drinks however are generally steeply priced (with some exceptions), with London/Edinburgh style markups on wines, especially the lower priced ones, and a meagre 0.75 litre of water at £4.20. The coffees themselves don’t come cheap at £2.80. So with a £63 drink part of the bill we ended up paying quite a bit, but at least drinking a nice and expensive but not overpriced (one of the exceptions we spotted) Cervaro della Sala 2009, a lovely blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto.
La Parmigiana does nothing fancy, its recipes are simply the time-tested recipes of Italian tradition, but well made – how good trattorias used to be (though these are admittedly not trattoria prices). Even without special finesse to the preparations, the ability of the cooks to bring out very neat flavours and to keep the ensemble balanced and not too heavy really shines here. It looks so simple, yet why is it so rarely seen? How many mediocre, pretentious, stilted Italian meals have we endured in supposedly fancier, more modern places? This is certainly very far from a Maurizio Morelli level of refinement, yet we thoroughly enjoyed our simple lunch. This would be a perfect Italian local if we lived in the Glasgow West End (and we’d also try their lunch offer at £15.50).