Cafe Gandolfi

About a month ago, I was in Glasgow unexpectedly (for a funeral). The time put aside for that and the resulting scramble to catch up at work is part of the reason I ended up taking a break from blogging. The rest of the reason is mostly laziness and getting out of the habit of it…

So, Glasgow. It’s where half of my family are from, but I’ve spent little time there, mostly in family homes (rather than out and about in town). Which is why, upon finding ourselves with a (dry enough) Sunday morning spare before our flight home, we decided to mostly just stroll around, have a look at the architecture and get brunch somewhere. We had a couple of other half-baked plans that didn’t come to full fruition, but I’ll cover those in another post.

Armed with some search results and a vague understanding of the city map, we made our way to Cafe Gandolfi in the Merchant City area. Open for more than 30 years, it actually feels very modern inside, despite the fact that I believe a lot of the features are original – the unusual furniture, for example, was commissioned at the time of opening (the photo linked there is actually the corner that we sat in when I went there! W sat in the throne-like chair and found it very comfortable). Very little inside is not made of wood (down to a large clock whose very mechanism looks to be made of driftwood) and the overall feel is suitably cosy, and surprisingly light and bright for the colour of the paneled walls.

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1847: Vegetarian Cuisine 

Certainly in the UK, vegetarians have it pretty good these days. No longer is one mushroom risotto on the menu the standard, and in cities with a bit of a “foodie” scene, eating out as a vegan is becoming easier, too.

But I can’t help noticing that the meat-free options still usually cover the majority of healthy, sensible or diet-friendly remit of plenty of menus. You need only see the “add grilled chicken for £2″to understand the true intention of that dish.
And it is in this climate that 1847 stands out. Yes, there are healthy options. But there are decadent ones, too. Also really interesting and challenging flavour, texture and presentations of pieces. But comforting, familiar dishes (or elements of dishes) too. And it’s ALL veggie – with loads of vegan, gluten free and other allergen-free options, too.

If you want to treat the meat-avoider in your life to a fancy meal, can I suggest that 1847 should make your shortlist?

Quorn chorizo

I have been a vegetarian my whole life. My natural tendency is (therefore) to eat meals that balance the protein, carbs, fat, fibre, vitamins & minerals ETC ETC throughout the meal. E.g. aubergine madras with coconut dhal and rice, or Buddha’s Delight inspired dishes with noodles. Dishes that make the most of the harmony between grains & pulses… or just throw a little if everything together. Rather than, say, “meat and two veg”.

This means that my reliance on targeted “vegetarian protein” products such as Quorn, Cauldron and Linda McCartney is actually pretty low, and as a general rule I never feel the lack of meat in my diet.

(Which isn’t to say I think eating meat is a bad idea: I actually think the healthiest diet for a human is mostly veg most the time with small amounts of red and white meat in, say, half your meals, and one portion of oily fish a week. But, for me personally, the idea of chewing some animal’s muscle and fat… nope. No thank you. Do not want.)

EXCEPT chorizo. Yes, chorizo.

I’ll be in a tapas restaurant or wherever, and half the dishes are full of it, or have little cubes of it peppering the ensemble, and it looks & smells amazing, and I just think, “oh dang, I wish I were ok with chowing down on dead pig so I could get in on that”.

And now, I almost can. Really! Ok, I admit it’s not quite the same. But Quorn do a chorizo for veggies and I am so excited to finally be somewhat in on the action! They also do “chorizo style sausages”, and these are what I have actually tried. They’re a bit sweet, a bit smoky, a teeny bit spicy, with a healthy level of paprika flavour. They cook like regular Quorn sausages, pretty much, apart from the fact that they even stain the frying oil red! I definitely want to try the “full chorizo fake” product too, I will be keeping my eyes out for it.

I’ve cooked them up into chunks & stirred through tagine and casserole type dishes for flavour, texture and a great complement to beans in the dish. I’ve loved having something on hand that I can throw into a meal for and instant hit of smoky flavour and protein. This is how carnivores must feel about lardons/cooking bacon, I guess! (And real chorizo, obvs)

A warning: the veggie chorizo (vegrizo? chovego?) is not vegan. Sorry, vegans.

Pollo Bar

Who? La Porchetta Pollo Bar – often referred to simply as Pollo Bar

What? Authentic Italian

Where? 20 Old Compton St, London W1D 4TW – ie Soho

Why am I telling you this? Because you need to know. (Catchphrase courtesy of the Beckapedia from Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour)

My parents have been taking me to the Pollo bar all my life. As a baby, I’d just be bounced on knees, but as soon as I was eating proper food, I was hooked.

The decor, menu & drink selection have changed little (if at all) in 27 years. Pizza, pasta, al forno (eg parmigiana di melanzane) – exactly what you’d expect from such an establishment. What you might not expect from a Central London restaurant is very good value, loads of “cuchina  povera” options (making it a great place for vegetarians) and actual Italian Peroni (the domestic product, not the export).

My most recent visit was last Saturday and, as usual, we had to queue to get a table. I had a tagliatelle-like pasta con fiore e brocolli. There’s so little to the dish: pasta, oil, chilli, garlic, broccoli. It’s the simplicity I enjoy – it leaves room for the ingredients to speak for themselves.

With pasta ribbons escaping my mouth, oil getting everywhere and a tiny bit of chilli burn on the sides of my tongue, I couldn’t have been happier.

We had the Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo as accompaniment, and that bottle on that day was pretty average (not much oomph). There was no room for pudding after. In fact, my dad had half of his risotto ai funghi (with added chilli because he’s a spice fiend) portioned up in a doggy bag to take away.

One of those coincidences: we left the restaurant in search of transport home. A gentlemen was begging for change towards his dinner fund right nearby: he too was vegetarian, in need of a hot meal. Dad’s risotto, still very warm, was gratefully received.

I wholeheartedly recommend this eatery for lunch or dinner, in any situation from large gathering for a celebration all the way down to a date.It’s just good food, served without any affectation, at a fair price.

Here endeth my first post as “cfrew and hobbies”. Thanks for reading!