LA Bonne Auberge and I were born in the same year: 1975. Shang-a-Lang was a chart topper, devilled eggs weren’t yet the devil’s food, and ties were as wide as trouser hems.
La Bonne Auberge
161 West Nile Street, Glasgow (0141-352 8310, www.labonne auberge.co.uk)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £39.90
As we’ve both grown up, this well-loved eatery has switched location from its original west-end spot, settling in the city centre back in 1995. I’ve visited it a few times over the years, mainly when we were twentysomething, and I worked nearby.
Unlike me, this ground-floor venue was refurbished at the end of last year. The result – a French brasserie-by-numbers look with staff in black aprons. All that’s missing is an absinthe drinker in the corner.
There are shelves of decorative miscellanea, including copper pans, books with faded cloth spines, and half a bicycle. Conversation pieces, I’d imagine. It would go something like this.
Customer: “Why is there a French horn on that shelf?”
Waiter: “It’s a conversation piece.”
Anyway, we visited on a Sunday lunchtime, for their flexible spring menu, which features casual options including burgers, rib-eye and platters, as well as a smarter menu prix fixe. We went for the latter, at £16.95 for two courses.
My starter option – rillettes of peppered mackerel – consisted of a cylinder of cream-cheesy-peppery-fishiness, topped by a seedy tuile parasol. It was good, though I wasn’t sure about the piquant accompaniments of sun-blush tomato, as well as lemon juice, capers and pink grapefruit slivers, which made for an excess of reflux-inducing acidity. It was a bit like getting John George Haigh to run you a bath.
Our other starter – chicken liver parfait – was more like a countrified terrine than a silky parfait. If it were a person, it’d be wearing welly boots and walking a spaniel called Crumpet. We rated it – especially with a large blob of spiced pear chutney and burly wedges of crisped-up brioche.
My main of bacon loin grille featured a huge, Barbie-pink wad of meat. On the side – a hillock of buttery, Gruyère-basted mash, as well as a dollop of chive-flecked creamed leeks and a sauce au poivre. Ham, cheese, potato – what’s not to like?
A fishy course of sea bass was equally satisfying. The pale flesh was as flaky as a Flake. This offering was sat atop a nutty, pearl barley risotto, with an injection of sweetness provided by peas, leeks, prawns and a buttery yellow sauce.
Puddings were an additional £6 per peep. Pretty as a picture they were. My plate featured a painterly central reservation of dried-on chocolate, which was topped by a blob of butterscotch-coloured caramel ice-cream and a cocoa-dusted pear mousseline. The latter, was sandwiched between a spongy bottom and a dinky meringue pillbox hat. However, the essence of the fruit ingredient was so barely there, it was almost homeopathic. Our other dish – a vanilla panna cotta had a bit more chutzpah, mainly thanks to the boozy cherry and kirsch compote.
The food at this place is as decent as ever. There’s a sense of old-fashioned luxury to their dishes. However, I did mutter an involuntarily “ouch” when I saw the bill. I think £22.95 a head seemed a little excessive for what was a relatively informal brasserie lunch.
My benchmark is the fact that there’s a three-course set lunch at The Kitchin for £26.50, while the three-course market menu at Blythswood Square Restaurant is £22. And I’m not saying that the latter venue is BETTER than La Bonne Auberge, it’s just that their dishes are more complex.
Still, this place is venerable, and I can’t argue with the fact that 1975 was a pretty good vintage.