glasgow city centre

Laboratorio Espresso- You Know, Just Off Buchanan Street

Having a name like Laboratorio Espresso makes you sound like you know what you’re doing, but it is also one of those names that doesn’t just roll off the tongue so I generally forget what they’re called. At the beginning it was ‘that coffee shop just off Buchanan Street, on West Nile Street’ and now I generally just go with ‘lab’ for a less complicated life. 

  

The fancy name goes with the suave building in which it is housed. 1 West Regent Street is a ten storey sleek black number that was built in 2013 & 2014, and right on the edge of the West Nile side is Laboratorio Espresso. The coffee house is teeny tiny with only ten seats inside but they have four tables outside to increase seating. On the pathway from the train and tube station to the commercial district, I imagine that much of their business comes from takeaway pre-work power coffees. 

This independent cafes salvaged look outside tables hint at what to expect inside- but once you get in it is better than expected. Look up high at weathered wood planks reclaimed from the Glasgow School Of Art’s restoration project and see how they soften the concrete lower level. The interior has simple touches but they are few and far between to avoid cluttering the space. The style of the wooden chairs remind me of going into primary school but there is nothing elementary about this place. 
  

They know about their coffee. From the shiny La Marzocco machine that sits on the counter to the HasBean beans that are being used, a quiet air of seriousness surrounds the coffee in here. Lab Espresso is the kind of place that I can order a flat white in the comfort that it will come how it should – creamy but strong. You’ll never have to moan about a cappuccino because it has a mere centimetre of foam and worry if the coffee will be bitter due to overzealous overgrinders that morning. 

I had a long day ahead of me so a flat white was needed to blow my socks off and a cannoli was, well, not needed. But definitely being purchased.   
  

The cakes are only small so I had two – a chocolate cannoli and a mini pistachio croissant. The croissant had enough of the sweet, nutty icing in each mouthful without losing its flaky, buttery nature. Then the cannoli…oh the cannoli with its rich chocolate centre and crunchy exterior. I want one now.
  

As you can probably tell by now, I’m pretty taken by Lab Espresso. Passion is contagious and I’ve caught their bug.

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Being Bad At Five Guys

Cheating on someone is a horrible business. There’s this overwhelming guilt that keeps feelings cooped up inside- feelings of worthlessness and shame. How will I ever go back? 

Today I am forcing myself to be brave and put into words what I did. Here goes, please don’t judge. 

 I cheated on Bread Meats Bread… I cheated on local and I cheated on Glasgow as I knew it… I went to Five Guys for lunch. I’m sorry, really sorry. 

In my defence, we were going to go to Bread Meats Bread but the queue was long and we were pushed for time. Five Guys had been on my will-I-won’t-I radar for a while so we just did it. In my account of our visit I will be as objective as I can be & throw my guilt aside. 


  

We stepped in through the unfamiliar doors to a big menu on the wall and a counter to order at. There was no queue so we could order immediately after choosing. As you can see from the menu, you choose a basic burger type or hot dog then customise it. I asked for a cheeseburger with mayo, pickles, ketchup & onions. As much as I like vegetables, too much in a burger can make the whole experience fall apart. Fries – the only side they seem to do- completed my food order & I went for a refillable drink to wash it down. 
They gave us cups for the self serve so we helped ourselves. I like a cheeky cherry coke on occasion and this was one of those days. We then waited at the service area for our number to be called. It was nice to watch them making the burgers & quite atmospheric listening to the chefs shout back and forth. I guess it added to the American burger joint feel that I’d expected. 
  
There are three floors of seats and, as the ground floor was pretty full, we chose to go upstairs. This was the biggest mistake we made because it was VERY loud. I felt like I’d gone back to the school canteen. Between the noise of other diners (many under 20 years old & giddly on too much refillable coke) & the shouting from the kitchen downstairs, I developed a headache. A burger tends to be my hangover food but there’s no way I would choose somewhere so noisy the day after the night before so it gets crossed off that list. I went down to the basement to the toilet and it was somewhat quieter down there but I imagine with such a low roof it only takes a couple of tables of teenagers to turn rowdy. I’m only 31 so it makes me feel old writing about the noise but it just shows how loud it is – my mum would have walked straight back out. 
  

On to the burger and fries. The burger itself consisted of two thin patties and they were still juicy with lots of oozy cheese. The bun held together but didn’t have the sweetness that I prefer from a brioche. I still really enjoyed the burger and would give it 8/10. The fries were crispy outside and soft inside – a good effort indeed. One regular sized fries is enough for two people so don’t buy two or you’ll be left with lots or have to be rolled out of there. 

A couple more sides – maybe some onion rings for instance – would have added to the experience. 

  
I was disappointed to see that the fries are cooked in peanut oil considering how many people are allergic to nuts. There was no alternative to this on the board so I assume that there is none. They also give out free peanuts & they were placed in boxes with scoops around the place. If you’ve ever been on an aeroplane & it’s come over the tannoy that nuts are not being served due to another passenger with a serious allergy then surely you’ll see the flaw in Five Guys plan. Everyone loves a freebie and a novelty idea but when a reported 1 in every 100 people in the UK are allergic to peanuts* it seems nonsensical. 
  
So my visit really was full of peaks & troughs. The food was a high point but the noise and peanut thing was a real low point for me. It’s such a shame as the food was a solid effort. After speaking to a friend who thought the same thing maybe Five Guys need to look into creating a more comfortable atmosphere in the stark white building. 

I’ve been dithering about if I’d go back or not because of this & I guess it depends on availability of seats at the other nearby places on burger street. Maybe they have got their target market and I’m not it but students must have more money now than they used to if they’re to keep this place going. Parents might like the noise so they don’t feel self-conscious about their loud kids too. It falls more into the takeaway category for me but is a pricey takeaway at £13.25 for a cheeseburger, small fries & drink. 

*Source: http://patient.info/health/nut-allergy

Tick Tock Unlock

Last Saturday we rallied the hungover troops for a different kind of adventure. On the corner of St Vincent Street & Hope Street lies a secret door that leads to rooms of puzzles and problem solving. Our first challenge was finding the place – I’ll solve this first one for you & tell you that it’s above Martha’s. 

  

Now, all I knew about what we were doing was that it’s a group activity that can take up to 6 people per room and that we would be using teamwork to get out of the room. They start you off with a background story then you use a series of clues to find your way out of the room in an hour. 

  

Once inside, we had a ball trying to work them all out. Teamwork is key here as one person might find part of a clue whilst someone else is holding the answer to the rest of it. The game would be ideal for a team building exercise or work night out, but I’d also recommend it for hen & stag do’s. They told us that they have been popular with families travelling to Glasgow and looking for something a bit different too, just make sure the kids are old enough to understand what’s going on- I’d say nine years old plus. 

  

We escaped in 57 minutes – hooray! – but if you don’t manage it in the hour I’m told you can play on to get the rest of those niggling clues solved. Staff are watching you on a screen so can help you if needed. 

  

After getting all Sherlock Holmes, you can get dressed up with their selection of props and take some group photo momentos of the day. It is priced at £14-£16 per player, depending on how many are going into the room and takes about two hours in total. They have two gameplay rooms so if you have a bigger group then you can split into two teams and play consecutively. 
I went along with five friends and the feedback from everyone was that they loved it & want to go back to do another challenge. We thought it would be refreshing on a hen or stag to have something other than going straight to the pub to get the day started & that it would be a good ice-breaker for people that don’t know each other too well. Miss Marple watch out, because I’ll be back to Tick Tock Unlock soon! 
 

Disclaimer: we were given a complimentary game in return for a blog post but all views are honest and my own. I’ll happily pay to go back. 

Alston – Full Of Memories

Early memories of going out for dinner usually involved mon pere ordering steak. Regardless of what else was on the menu, he chose it because going out was a treat and steak was a rarity at home. Ever since then, a slab of beef to me is synonymous with happy family times. Nowadays I take my meat much pinker but the same principle stands thus why we chose steak for a certain birthday meal. Glasgow has some pretty good steak restaurants now – The Butchershop, Grill On The Corner and The Grill Room are three examples of this. There’s always room for one more to join the party, and one did.

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Alston literally popped up in the basement of Central Station where you’d least expect it. The doorway is easy to miss – go in the main entrance to the station and Gordon St Coffee is on the left and its a single door after that as you’re walking into the station. With some clever decor and lighting the space feels nothing like a dingy basement and more like an explorers cave. I don’t much like the televisions displaying train times but I understand their importance to some. When you enter the cave you are facing the kitchens pass area so get some wonderful meaty smells and sights. Through to the bar area with its gorgeous lights then to the tunnel shaped dining room. What a pretty place and I found myself excited by dining in a venue that was slightly unusual.

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There’s something a bit 1920’s about the place but I can’t put my finger on it. Alston is actually named after Alston Street in Grahamston in Glasgow. The street is long gone but they can carry the name forward. My cocktail choice was the 1873, named after Alston Street’s last year in existence. Caorunn gin, St Germain & blueberry jam sold it to me in an instant and it was as delicious as it sounds. They had Sam Adams too so Mr A was happy.

Menu-wise they have a lunch and pre-theatre menu with two courses for £12 (£3 steak supplement) or three for £15. Buoyed by the birthday celebrations we were eating from the main menu. A quick look online beforehand led us to having the porterhouse to share.

Since we were going big on mains we didn’t want to spoil our appetites with starters so opted for a tin of bread with butter to see us through. The bread was unexpectedly more than worthy of a paragraph. It didn’t arrive immediately – often a good sign – and when it did it was warm (contented sigh). A knife was plunged through the middle and we dug in. There was a mini pan of oil & balsamic alongside soft butter so we alternated. At this point I’d like to say that soft butter is underrated in restaurants – little details like this say a lot to me about how hard they’re trying. Anyway, the bread was delicious. Really soft and fluffy on the inside with a nice crust.

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When it was time for our main course they took out Alston branded plates with a big quinelle of no-lump buttery mash. We had ordered sides of buttered greens and sautéed mushrooms, which appeared in little copper pans.

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Then the main event came out – a kilogram of 35 day dry aged porterhouse cooked medium rare. If you get as confused as me about steak names, a porterhouse has a bone down the middle with fillet steak on one side and strip sirloin steak on the other. Negative out of the way first – it was served medium and not medium rare. It didn’t matter too much because the beef that was in front of us was full of flavour and ranked up there with our best steaks.

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A bit of the meat combined with those buttery mushrooms and mash was heaven. I’d ordered béarnaise and Mr A had chosen pepper sauce but we barely used them. It’s worth noting that the other sauces were buttery numbers and the sides were all rather buttery so I wouldn’t go for them.
Mr A was raving about the mushrooms and I loved the buttered greens (broccoli, green beans and leeks if you’re wondering).

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Alongside our chunk of meat we had a glass of wine each. The Cotes Du Rhone had more depth than the Malbec so skip the former if you’re having red meat. There were no wine descriptions on the menu and the restaurant filled up all at once so the staff can’t be expected to describe every one at busy periods.

Desserts were completely out the door after that main course so we had coffee – cute cups.

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The toilets were another plus point – nice decor, powerful hand dryers and good lighting. It took me a minute to figure out which one to go into as the signage is stag & deer heads – am I the only one that prefers a normal sign? Especially after a few drinks!

The meal was a huge birthday success and Alston goes on to my recommended list. I’m sure my dad will be there in no time.

Old School At Bier Halle

When I first moved to Glasgow I was 18 years old and claimed poverty as a student. Of course I realise now that this was not at all true and that spending all of my money on vodka & Topshop clothes instead of tasty, nutritional food was actually a choice (Super Noodles only cost 50p a pack back then-perfect). I didn’t often go out for food unless my parents were paying or if it was to the cheaper than cheap pub next to college. After I had been in Glasgow for a year or so, I started to branch out and find places that did a cheap deal, i.e. no more than £6 for food. There’s only one or two places that I would still eat in now that I went to back then – some have shut down, some have just gone a bit rank & some I’ve found better alternatives for. The Bier Halle in Gordon Street is one of those places that has proved a constant over the years. Most people my age seem to rave about their pizzas so I have it on good authority. My friend Phil & I used to go to the one upstairs on Sauchiehall Street next to the West Campbell Street car park before it shut down and after that we started going to the Gordon Street one.

 

The Bier Halle is down a flight of stairs just off Buchanan Street and is a busy little place seven days a week. It is a bar that you can go in to just for drinks but most people have a pizza or a hot dog. They do BOGOF handmade pizzas between noon and 10pm seven days a week. FYI – they don’t take debit/credit cards so pop over to the cash machine across the road before you go in. It is moody and atmospheric with low lighting and loud music. It does have a student-y feel about it but you also get a lot of 20 and 30 somethings coming in after work.

The pizza menu has quite a selection and some nice alternatives from your usual bar pizza choices.

 

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Mr S went for the meat Feast special, which had pepperoni, chicken & spicy merguez sausage on it. I usually have the chicken, mushroom and pesto one but this time I fancied the black pudding and chorizo special from the board. We also ordered a portion of stealth fries because we know from past experience that they are super tasty. The food arrived quickly and I have to say that it is generally very speedy at coming out of the open kitchen.

 

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My black pudding and chorizo pizza had a lovely crispy base and they certainly were not stingy with the toppings. Big chunks of black pudding and authentic tasting chorizo littered the cheesy base. If they ever changed the menu then I’d recommend that they put this on the main menu constantly.

 

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The Meat Feast pizza was also delicious and Mr S chooses it any time he sees it on the specials board.

The fries were crunchy and tasty but had too much salt on them and I would rather they left you to put your own salt on.

 

I got all excited when I saw Little Creatures Pale Ale as it is a personal favourite & we went to the brewery when we were in Australia. They also sell a mixture of flavours of super cheap schnapps that make me feel young again so I had a blackcurrant schnapps and lemonade. Mr S had a couple of different lagers from their extensive menu that lists beers by country.

 

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I wouldn’t normally say this, but in the interests of being honest, the service in here can be varied. In my experience there is not much smiling going on & it has always puzzled me because most servers live off their tips. It’s almost like it is in keeping with the cool vibe but I find it strange & I know that I am not the only one. It seems to have improved a bit in the last year & the waitress that served us during this visit was pleasant. The pizzas are too good not to go anyway.

 

The only difference with my visits to the Bier Halle now compared to my student days is that I don’t go to the Union afterwards. I normally go straight home and put my jammies on… more schnapps another day maybe.

 

 

 

 

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