You'll remember last month we paid a visit to a still under construction A’Challtainn and got to shuck some oysters. Well we returned to a fully open and operational restaurant to give the full menu a try. All of the great features we mentioned before, the arching glass roof, the open courtyard, the stone and wood remained, but the addition of lots of cheery customers creates an atmosphere that was lacking before and one which really brings the space to life.
The hidden garden-esque nature of A’Challtainn is currently both its strongest and weakest points. Negative first? OK. The big courtyard space beautifully culminates at the bar with the restaurant in the balcony above, but the rest of the space with its empty units, roller shutters, and on our visit a scissor lift, shows how far there is still to go. The dream to fill these units with small independent pop-ups and communally use the courtyard for dining is an aspirational one, but my what a foodie hub Glasgow will then have. For this venture to work, it needs an anchor, a centrepiece to draw in others and A’Challtainn is it, but for now it's a wee bit lonely in its home.
Now knowing how much we love the theatrical it will come as no surprise that the idea of a fantastically contemporary restaurant tucked away behind a nondescript grey fire door, in a side street, at the back of the Barrowland Ballroom is our idea of heaven. A hidden pearl, it should have a password needed to get in. I fear I am giving away one of Glasgows best kept secrets even telling you it's there! But it is there and this great restaurant needs customers to succeed so I would urge you all to discover it. The next few minutes reading will hopefully convince you why you should!
Once we negotiated the door, double checking it was indeed the right one, we enter the marvellous courtyard. We encountered a really friendly welcome, a handshake from the manager, our coats taken, and the drinks we ordered at the bar then taken up to our table. All great indicators of the good service we would continue to encounter all night. Bread, water and more drinks all arrived whilst we considered the menu and placed our order. The foil wrapped packets of butter the only jarring inconsistency in the high quality offering.
The first starter of Scallops on Cauliflower Florets with Cauliflower puree was delicious. The creamy cauliflower puree was an ingenious contrast to the deep seared scallop flavour. The froth added colour to a dish that otherwise could have ended up looking like the M&S autumn collection, beige on beige. The grilled cauliflower added a crunch to the scallop's squidge and the unique snowflake like shapes were perfect for a cold winter's night.
The Smoked Salmon and Crab Cannelloni was again stunning, a soft crab mousse wrapped in layers of succulent Smoked Salmon. The garnishes brought the dish to life, the puffed capers give a texture contrast, the apple puree a smash of fruity flavour. Both dishes were beautifully presented and a wonderful introduction to what was to come from the clearly talented brigade in the A’Challtainn kitchen. A quick table clearance, fresh cutlery and an offer of more drinks nicely filled the appropriate gap between courses.
The Salmon fillet en papillote was as it should be, a great piece of quality fish simply steamed in the oven whilst wrapped up to keep in the flavours of the tarragon butter and the fennel. The smattering of sea salt flakes on the top led to an occasional puckering of the face, but it's nice to give the taste buds a wee kick from time to time. Now obviously Salmon is Salmon is Salmon. Which is why it all comes down to these accompaniments to make or break the dish, the fennel and crushed potatoes were spot on in that regard.
The quality of the ingredients shone through again with the Sole. It was stunning cooked in a herb butter, topped with some browned prawns and accompanied with some really rather good chunky chips. It's been a while since we’ve had chips actually, and as we do like a fluffy middle and a crispy outside these are as perfect a chip as we could possibly find.
Desserts are not on a menu, they are whatever the chef's fancy and as such the staff will tell you what is on offer, if you ask them nicely. We went for a lemon delice and a chocolate torte and both were exactly what we had by now come to expect from A’Challtainn, dishes that were well presented with great flavours.
A’Challtainn has a big task ahead of it, but one that it is more than up for. If our visit was anything to go by Rosettes and a Bib Gourmand are easily in reach for this team, should they wish them. Three courses with drinks set us back a reasonable thirty pounds each, which I feel is spot on for this level of cuisine. Fingers crossed A’Challtainn will become an established fixture in the Glasgow restaurant scene and a helping hand to a host of pop-ups and street food vendors looking to establish themselves in what could well be Glasgow’s new food quarter. So what are you waiting for, get yourself down to the Barras now and look for that grey door…!