GLASGOW’S position as the centre of the shipbuilding and shipping world may be a distant memory, but there are still remnants of that glorious past if you know where to look.
The Anchor Line
Main courses: £11.95-£29.95
Star rating: ******
A new restaurant just off George Square is one such testament to the city’s former maritime pre-eminence.
The Anchor Line was once one of Glasgow’s leading shipping companies, serving cities around the globe, and the conversion of its old city centre offices, which had lain dormant for years, has been a triumph. The grand, high-ceilinged rooms with their ornate cornicing, once home to legions of shipping clerks busy sending clients and freight all over the globe, now echo to the chatter of diners eating in the new grill named after the shipping company once headquartered here. The space has been sympathetically overhauled and restored as far as possible to its original state.
The owners have gone to great lengths to track down Anchor Line memorabilia and they’ve done a great job: old black and white photos, shipping posters, newspaper front pages, old menus, Victorian shipping tickets and cartoons line the walls, these eclectic conversation pieces providing not just decoration but a potted history of the company. Rather than feeling kitsch, the whole effect is as charming as it is informative.
The whole enterprise has been well thought through. The surroundings are sufficiently grand to satisfy the many nearby businesses that this is somewhere they can bring clients; but judging by the clientele when we visited it’s also informal enough that ladies who lunch feel comfortable that they can linger.
The food is based around the Josper grill and a roster of brasserie classics that are quickly and easily produced, pointing to the fact that the place has an eye on Glasgow’s lucrative lunch trade. Andy, a pal who works nearby and has already metaphorically placed his pewter pint pot behind the bar, chose first and went for the Welsh rarebit. It was exactly as expected and as desired: two slices of thick-cut toasted bread topped with molten mature cheddar and ale, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. It was, he reckoned, competently done and altogether satisfactory.
Much the same was true of my pretty decent duck liver parfait, which had an enjoyably rough texture and was enlivened by the accompanying orange chutney, which added a bittersweet note. However, that plus was more than cancelled out by the measly serving of toasted brioche, which was nowhere near enough for the amount of parfait.
After a good start, our main courses were mildly disappointing. Andy plumped for the St Louis ribs, which he only got halfway through. Not only was there relatively little meat on these rather thin-boned ribs, but the whole thing was covered in a cloyingly thick, sweet and overpoweringly strong sauce which proved to be too much of a sensory challenge for my dining partner.
I chose the 10oz sirloin steak on the basis that it’s the house speciality and was disappointed on two counts. The first was taste: according to the menu, the Scottish-reared steak comes from a beast that has been dry-aged for between 21 and 35 days, but it wasn’t particularly tender and was one of the blandest pieces of meat I’ve eaten for a while, presumably because it completely lacked any marbling. Nor was I impressed with the Gorgonzola “sauce”, which turned out to be a pat of butter that barely tasted of this wonderfully strident Italian blue cheese. On the plus side, however, the signature shoestring fries were excellent, while our side of lobster macaroni with cheese was a little heavy but a good counterpoint to the meat feast.
We rounded off with a tart blackberry posset and a magnificently sweet, gooey and calorie-laden sundae which appealed to the inner child in me. Coffee so thick you could stand a teaspoon up in it rounded off the meal.
It was a convivial and enjoyable meal in surroundings that were tailor-made for an hour-long lunch. The waiting staff had obviously been well briefed, and worked with a brisk efficiency, as did the kitchen. I liked the whole fin de siècle ambience and warmed to the energy of the place, but the blandness of the steak was a drawback, as was the price – our lunch included just one glass of wine between us, but the bill including service broke the £100 mark, which is the point at which you expect an outstanding experience. This wasn’t bad, but nor was it outstanding.