WANT cheeseburger. Pay 99p. Eat it. When it comes to traditional fast food, it’s the lack of information that helps to define the genre.
You don’t expect to discover much about the provenance of your hot dog and skinny fries.
Surely you pay extra for all those fancy details?
Then along came Martha’s. This “fast casual” style of eatery (a place that offers limited table service, but a better quality of food than your bog-standard fast food joint) operates on weekdays only.
Its head chef is Alan Doig, formerly of Stravaigin, and they offer eco-friendly packaging by Vegware, utilise local suppliers, boast a seasonally changing menu and, when it comes to information, there’s stacks to digest.
The affordable menu is decorated with symbols: a cloud means that a dish is under 450 calories, a blazing sun indicates that something is low GI, 1/5 means that it includes one of your recommended five portions of fruit and veg per day, and so on.
However, as skim readers with short concentration spans, my dining partner Rolf and I opted for the prettiest-looking options – the wintery Red Dragon Pork (£4.65) and Moroccan meatballs (£5.25) – which we chose from an overhead food list at the counter and paid for, before bagging a table for two at the window.
The decor here was created by Graven Images and consists of kaleidoscopic floral mosaics against white walls.
Nice enough, though the lighting is rather stark and the seating slightly awkward. We wanted to sit in one of the alcoves but, with minimal leg room, we didn’t think we’d be able to fold our willowy pins under the low-slung table.
But I guess this space has been designed as a fuelling stop, rather than somewhere to linger.
It’s more important that the food is impressive. Which it is. Presented in a compostable takeaway box, the shredded piggy option was beautifully slow-roasted, with only a whisper of chilli, ginger and sesame dressing (like Marilyn and her Chanel No.5, it didn’t need to wear anything else) and clippings of spring onion. It came with nutty and filling brown rice, plus a large dollop of white cabbage, carrot, kohlrabi and natural yoghurt coleslaw. For under a fiver, I felt like I’d mugged and burgled them.
We were also wowed by the helping of six coriander and cumin-flavoured meatballs, which tasted lamby, burly and sweet, with a blanket of tomato sauce and a chevron stripe of yoghurt. On the side, more rice and coleslaw. Satisfying.
As side dishes, we bagged ready-made salads from the fridge – Martha’s Triple M Salad (£4.95 to sit in, £4.15 to take away) and the Sunset Salad (£4.50 in, £3.75 out – bit odd that some things cost a few pennies more than others to eat in). My co-muncher found the latter – a hotchpotch of roasted carrot, parsnip and couscous – slightly starchy and stodgy. It had, however, been lifted somewhat by the addition of fruity pomegranate seeds and a dressing of mint, lemon and parsley.
It just needed a little more sweetness and crunch.
Thus, my vibrant combination won. There were cold grilled chicken slices, raw broccoli and spinach leaves, chunks of roasted squash, grasshopper-green edamame (soya) beans, slivers of cucumber and avocado, a salty crumbling of feta cheese, plus sesame and pumpkin seeds, all set off by a rather lovely orangey-lemon dressing. I’m still not sure what the Triple M moniker means (Martha’s Marvellous Medicine?), but I would kick my Quaver habit for this kind of stuff.
Of course, life would be a bit yawnsome if you couldn’t have a little of what tickles your fancy. So, Rolf and I went for a choice of three desserts: a milk chocolate and praline crunch tart (£2.20) that was displayed among cakes and pastries on the counter, plus two mini-puds from the fridge – a crumbly and sticky sea salt and caramel shortcake pot (£1.40) and a rather runny mango and vanilla pannacotta (£1.30). The latter offerings had obviously been audited by the resident Calorie Inspector, as there were only around five spoonfuls in each doll-sized portion.
Still, to be fair, it was all the sugary punctuation mark we really needed.
In contrast, the cakey offering (rather unnecessarily boxed) was huge, and tasted like a Ferrero Rocher, with a crispy praline at the bottom of the shortcrust pastry case, and a topping of creamy ganache and chopped hazelnuts. Lovely.
I hope this place survives. I’m only worried because the food is high quality, and I’m not sure how they keep their overheads down (there were almost as many staff as customers on our visit).
It’s also reminiscent of fast casual healthy eating outlet Sand, which opened in 2008, but didn’t last long in Glasgow’s city centre.
I say get your 1/5 at Martha’s while you can.
142a St Vincent Street, Glasgow (0141-248 9771, www.mymarthas.co.uk)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £24.25