REGULAR readers will know that, with the exception of new ventures, all the restaurants featured in this column are recommended by friends, acquaintances and readers who eat out regularly.
Merrylee Road Surf ’n’ Turf
128 Merrylee Road, Cathcart, Glasgow (0141-637 5774, www.merryleeroad.com)
Starters: £3.50-£5.50 Main courses: £7.95-£9.95 (steak £14.95) Puddings £4.50 (cheeseboard £5.50)
That’s how I got to hear about the Merrylee Road Surf ’n’ Turf – Anna, who hails from Glasgow and is a gastronomic font of knowledge, had banged on about this place for so long that I eventually succumbed.
That makes it sound as though I was dragged to Glasgow’s Southside kicking and screaming, when nothing could be further from the truth. As well as the personal recommendation, there was the online menu, which promised all sorts of remarkable goodies. Its a la carte offered gems such as lobster bisque, Rockerfeller or tempura oysters, beef carpaccio and a platter of smoked duck, chicken and venison to start.
The main courses were equally alluring: award-winning MacDuff steaks from Tom Rodgers, Chateaubriand, venison loin and lobster thermidor and much more besides, with all the seafood coming from those well-known fishermen MacCallum’s of Troon. I saw the menu and it was love at first sight.
This was the first date from hell though. The first inkling of reality not matching the fantasy came as I arrived at the end of Merrylee Road. I know the general area fairly well but couldn’t think of exactly where the restaurant was, so I drove up and down until I spotted my pal Norman’s car sitting outside a slightly down-at-heel white building that I’d registered but had assumed was an old man’s boozer. “For better of for worse, this is it,” said Norman, one eyebrow arcing skywards as he looked at the building.
Inside, though, the vista was a lot more promising. The place is owned by Gordon Yuill, who describes himself on the restaurant’s website as “the man who made the Rogano synonymous with elegance and sophistication”.
While the Merrylee Road Surf ’n’ Turf doesn’t come close to matching that legendary level of elegance, it’s a large, contemporary area which, despite being able to accommodate around 200 diners, is comfortable and spacious. If full, the place would no doubt have a great atmosphere, but unfortunately none of the other 198 people who could have squeezed in had seen fit to turn up, so on a quiet midweek night Norman and I were left to occupy an area the size of a rugby pitch on our own.
Still, at least the canned music suited my own personal prejudices, playing everything from early Dexys Midnight Runners to a medley of Sly and The Family Stone’s greatest hits.
It nevertheless became obvious that we’d been sold a pup as soon as we got the menu.
Gone were the inviting specialities that were proudly listed on the website, to be replaced by a selection that looked as if it was a made-for-microwave selection of pub classics. It was like a Christmas fairy tale in reverse, a nightmare where the beautiful princess turns into a warty old frog. To me, surf ’n’ turf means steak and lobsters; to Yuill it clearly means fish ’n’ chips and burgers.
Norman was feeling particularly redundant. An Ayrshire farmer who has forgotten more about the production of good beef and lamb than I’ll ever know, I’d chosen this place so I could make full use of his expertise on the steak front. Unfortunately there was no steak front as the 8oz rib-eye with pepper sauce on the menu (the printed one rather than the make-believe one online) wasn’t available as the supplier had apparently failed to turn up.
Norman started with the smoked salmon, seaweed and pesto roulade with salad, which turned out to be fine as far as it went, which was basically a couple of slices of decent-quality smoked salmon and a dab of home-made pesto.
My tomato and basil on focaccia with Parma ham was equally solid, with a neat circular tower of nicely dry Parma ham full of freshly chopped (if pretty bland) tomato on a piece of ciabatta rather than focaccia. They clearly can’t be bothered to update the website, but at least someone in the kitchen was trying to keep up appearances.
It turned out the ‘someone in the kitchen’ is no longer Scott Devine, a former ScotHot young chef of the year finalist, although I don’t suppose the steak pie with mash I ordered was his work, fine enough though it was. But it was better than the mash, which had the texture and taste of coagulated, off-colour cement.
Norman said his tiger prawn Thai curry with pak choi, bean sprouts, mango salsa and fragrant rice “looked a mess but actually tasted all right”.
Having tasted it – and having been to Dusit Thai and Time for Thai in Edinburgh in the past fortnight – he was right that this dish was certainly no work of art but I’m not entirely sure it passed the authentic Thai taste test either.
Sadly, there had been a run on the bread and butter pudding (exactly how when we were the only diners wasn’t explained), but the replacement – a lemon posset with rhubarb compote – was superb. Tart, velveteen and served in a huge bowl, this was undoubtedly the high point of my meal.
Norman’s nostalgic choice of brandy snaps with mixed ice-cream and fruit coulis was pretty miserable though: it looked and tasted like a pre-bought supermarket ensemble that was assembled on site but which tasted as mediocre as it looked.
Fortunately, we ended with a pair of lovely thick, viscous espressos which perked up both of us no end. It did little to assuage the disappointment though: we’d come to test drive a Ferrari and been handed the keys to grandpa’s old Allegro.