Saturday, 2 August 2008


A few years ago I spent three weeks eating, drinking and merrying my way around Europe on a road trip taken with my very enthusiastic then boyfriend. The places which stood out for their sublime eateries were St Emillion; a somewhat random campsite in the middle of Turin owned by a big mad Italian Mama whose restaurant served the most delicious antipasti I have ever tasted; and Barcelona, where the tapas bars mercifully bear little resemblance to many of the lack lustre poor imitations we have over here.

Considering the plethora of such restaurants in the UK and our apparent fondness for this 'small plate' style of dining, it is surprising that the Italian concept of the enoteca has eluded us. Literally meaning 'wine library', enoteca is an Italian word describing a very specialist wine shop which often also offers a bite to eat - the idea being that there are small plates of food available to the serious wine connoisseur sampling said wines. The recently opened Italian Caffè Enoteca in Glasgow's Albion Street has taken this concept and tweaked it to place as much importance on the small plates of food as on the wine.

It was when working in Glasgow last week that I was initially seduced by the beautifully designed interior: sleek wood panelled walls compliment fern green upholstery of the booths, and a marble lamp-lit bar begging to be propped by hungry diners. It's clear to see there were no corners cut in the snagging.

It was Wednesday evening and every table was full - a good sign surely? We were seated at the bar which afforded us a clear view into the open kitchen where the three chefs - while clearly busy - worked calmly and without any visible dramas. As the enoteca name would suggest, the wine selection is vast, offering over fifty mostly Italian wines. When asked to recommend a dry white, the waitress suggested an Orvieto which was spot on. But do not let the excellent wine be a distraction from the food menu of piatti picolli. The selection of vegetarian plates is extensive enough to keep the most prolific of herbivors happy, and the finocchi gratinati was no exception: fennel baked with butter and parmesan until tender; and the artichokes marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley were some of the best I've eaten - including those from the Turin campsite restaurant.

Langoustines baked in their shell with garlic until sweet and buttery sat alongside the impressively named 'salsiccia piccante con fagioli e sugo di pomodoro' or 'spicy Italian sausage with fagioli beans in tomato sugo' and was equally impressive in taste. The ossobuco alla milanese was meltingly tender and came complete with marrow filled slice of bone.

Though my dining partner had to admit defeat, my dessert of choice was affogato: homemade vanilla ice cream literally 'drowned' in a freshly brewed espresso. The bill coming in at under £50 was an astounding end to such an excellent and memorable meal, the effect of which was to render me full and deliriously happy.

It is worth pointing out that during our meal no less than two diners approached the kitchen to offer their compliments to the chefs. By the time I left I was considering offering them my first born. It's fair to say this enoteca will be top of my to do list next time I'm in Glasgow.

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