The Getaway: An unlikely gourmet break in Glasgow

Can the home of the deep-fried Mars bar really be a gourmet getaway?

One plate answers that question. One yummy plate, served up on a wooden table in Ox & Finch (oxandfinch.com) in beard-bendingly hip Finnieston.

The dish is not deep-fried. Nor does it contain a crumb of chocolate, nougat or caramel. It’s a racion-style serving of slow-roasted pork belly with white onion puree, golden raisins and capers in a gorgeously simple pottery bowl. And it’s mouthwatering. As is the beetroot, orange, candied pecans and goat’s cheese that follows. And the sea-bream with shredded Thai salad.

Heck, even the chips rock. They’re fried twice, mollycoddled in truffle oil and salt, and served with garlic aioli. Bam! It’s a hipster heart attack, in a humble bowl.

Guilty Pleasure

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Ox & Finch, Glasgow

My question is answered. But it’s not just answered at Ox & Finch. Scotland is celebrating a Year of Food and Drink at the moment, a marketing wheeze aimed at tempting visitors into a second taste… and Glasgow’s right at its vanguard.

During my whistlestop tour of the city, I don’t see a single haggis supper (by choice, admittedly). Instead, I devour a 35-day-aged rib-eye – a cross of Angus and Limousin beef – in the sophisticated cellars of Alston Bar & Beef (alstonglasgow.co.uk). I take a tour of the bierhaus-style West Brewery (westbeer.com) before knocking back a crisp and malty lager named after Glasgow’s patron saint, Mungo. I even get a 101 in coffee roasting from master roaster John Gartly at Gordon Street Coffee (gordonst coffee.co.uk).

“If it’s not fresh,” he asks in a melodiously matter-of-fact lilt, “what’s the point?”

Hotel Intel

I’ve got one night in Glasgow, and I spend it at the Arthouse Hotel, a historical townhouse on Bath Street. Its 59 bedrooms combine contemporary styling with ace original features (check out the old lift, coiled up in the stairwell) and a cool central location.

Cheap Kick

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An iconic student prank

Exchange rates aren’t exactly encouraging UK visits at the moment, but Glasgow’s free museums and galleries go a long way toward easing that particular pain.

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum houses treasures as diverse as a Spitfire plane and Salvador Dalí’s Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951), for example. GoMA is Scotland’s most visited modern art gallery – although its main attraction is found outside, perched atop of the Duke of Wellington’s head. A traffic cone was first mounted here as a student prank, and has gone on to become an iconic image of Glasgow.

“The council’s tried to stop it,” the lady in the gift shop tells me. “They take it down, but it just keeps going back up. It’s the Glasgow sense of humour. Plus, it keeps the pigeons off.”

Glitches

Gourmet treats in Glasgow – who’da thunk it? I’m delighted to have my stereotypes dashed, though it’s still very easy to eat badly here (a little research will go a long way before a visit). Sterling will smash your euro, you just have to soak that one up. Like any city, Glasgow can have a hard edge after dark too… so choose your gin and whisky joints wisely.

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Glasgow skyline

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Glasgow is named a ‘Best of The World’ destination

Glasgow’s reputation as an outstanding destination for discerning global travellers looks set to grow as the city has been named by the authoritative and inspirational National Geographic Traveler as one of its 20 ‘Best of the World’ destinations for 2016.

Glasgow

Amped Up With the Arts

If Edinburgh is the blue-blooded aunt at Scotland’s tea party, then Glasgow, just 45 miles to the west, is the T-shirt-clad cousin kicking over the kettle on the way out.

A wealthy shipbuilding and trade hub on the River Clyde since the 15th century, Scotland’s largest city fell into dereliction, earning a rough-and-tumble reputation that stuck to soot-covered buildings well into the 1980s. Now scrubbed up and gleaming, Glasgow flexes cultural muscle, artfully burnishing its industrial cityscape.

Scotland’s self-proclaimed Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design kicks off in January, with Glaswegians proudly puffing their chests. The Turner Prize, Britain’s most esteemed contemporary art exhibition and award, is in Scotland for the first time, culminating on January 17 at Tramway, Glasgow’s former streetcar terminus.

But it is music that really pumps Glasgow’s cultural heart. From the bagpiper busking top-20 tunes along Buchanan Street to the crooner wooing crowds at storied clubs like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow’s sound track is unrivaled.

“To describe a typical Glasgow musician is quite difficult to do,” says Stirling Gorman, who performs with his brother, Cha, in their band, King of Birds. “It’s really a Glasgow swagger that ties us together like twine.” —Kimberley Lovato

Travel Tips

When to Go: March through May for the spring flowers; June to August for outdoor festivals and up to 17 hours of daylight; the New Year brings the Hogmanay and Burns Night festivals.

How to Get Around: From Glasgow Airport, take the First 500 Glasgow Shuttle to the city center. Walk and ride the subway to get around downtown and the West End. Use buses and trains to connect to outlying areas.

Where to Stay: Two buzzy, boutique options close to Glasgow Central train station are the 72-room Malmaison Glasgow and the 30-room Grasshoppers Hotel Glasgow. Malmaison, housed in a converted Greek Orthodox church (with a modern wing attached), is home to Scottish superchef Martin Wishart’s new brasserie, The Honours. At Grasshoppers, rates include sweet amenities like complimentary cupcakes and ice cream.

What to Eat or Drink: At Cail Bruich in the West End, the six-course tasting menu is worth the splurge. Selections are seasonally fresh, local, and homemade and could include savory smoked cheese gougères (pastry puffs) and mackerel prepared with plum, cucumber, elderflower, and buttermilk.

What to Buy: Get interior design inspiration at Timorous Beasties, the internationally acclaimed studio founded in 1990 by Glasgow School of Art alumni. Browse the collections of edgy textiles (such as iguana fabric, surreal Chic Blotch wallpaper, and Union Jackass lampshades). Smaller gift items include ceramic mugs and pillows.

What to Watch Before You Go: Glasgow native Peter Mullan won the Cannes best actor award for his title role in My Name Is Joe (Lionsgate, 1998), a gritty drama set and filmed in one of Glasgow’s poorest neighborhoods.

Fun Fact: One theory about the derivation of the name “Glasgow” is that it’s an anglicized version of the Gaelic descriptor glas cu (translated as “dear green place”). The city has 90 gardens and parks, including Victoria Park, where you can see remnants of an ancient swamp forest. The site, called Fossil Grove, protects 11 fossilized tree stumps estimated to be about 330 million years old.

 

Sources:

VisitScotland

National Geographic