I have to admit that my visit to Bell and Felix on the southside of Glasgow reminded me of a salutary lesson for a journalist – never, ever, prejudge! And this was never truer for this review.
You see, I had, wrongly, assumed that the well-known and highly recommended establishment was simply a very good coffee shop/cafe with some excellent home-baked cakes and snacks. WRONG! Proprietors Richard Bell and Felix Haggerty, who opened their doors two years ago, have now branched out into meals on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
Arriving on Kilmarnock Road, we were lucky to bag one of the unmetered on-street parking spots directly at the front door, but, depending on the time of your arrival may mean a wee bit of a hunt for a suitable space. Disabled access is good with level surfaces throughout and one two-inch step at the front door.
The exterior of the building stands out from its neighbours, and apparently has been designed in the original colour schemes taken from an image sourced by the owners at a local library when the building was originally a drapers store.
We were very warmly welcomed by mein host, Richard who was taking care of the front of house duties on our visit. Shown to our table, we were presented with the quirky menus; a single printed sheet on a clipboard, which tied in with the bistro’s ethos of regular changes to the menu. The specials were explained very clearly, and overall, whilst the menu isn’t extensive, there is ample for meat, fish and vegetable lovers amongst you to find a suitable dish. The food selection is what I’d term ‘gastropub’ style dining, and if their chef can pull it off with some finesse, this is going to be a busy location in the months and years to come – as well as a contender in the award stakes I suspect. Read on dear friends…
Décor wise, the interior has a fairly plain, green and tones of green scheme, with brown natural woods including what appears to be original oak flooring, natural and painted brickwork, accented with green tableware – napkins, candles and condiment holders. I’m just surprised they had opted for a plain old cardboard clipboard rather than a funkier green translucent plastic model – maybe I’ll see this on my return visit, for there’s sure to be one. The bistro can accommodate around 40 covers on this ground floor location.
So onto the food review we gaily gallop: I opted for the seafood board tasting plate. This was indeed a board when it arrived at the table, but it was packed with delights. These included hot smoked salmon pate, haddock goujons, king prawns, salt and pepper squid rings, pickled gherkin, dressed salad and two slabs of home-baked spinach and red pepper toasted bread, as well as small jar of a chutney and a smear of a mayo based dressing. Believe me when I tell you I was salivating just looking at it. I was sceptical about the gherkin though. if I’m being completely honest –this is normally held in the same regard as, say tripe, which never crosses my plate! But in the interest of fairness, try it I did – and you know what, I’d have happily asked for more.
The hot smoked salmon pate, was, for me, the best item on the board, but that’s not at the expense of the other titbits. The two good sized haddock goujons were delicate, fresh and cooked well in a light breadcrumbed dressing. The squid was again well cooked in an almost Tempura-like batter and, unlike many other squid dishes I’ve sampled over the years, not rubbery at all but could have done with a little more pepper in the batter. Whilst the king prawn was again cooked well, this appeared to be your standard ‘supermarket’ style variety. I’d suggest the bistro move forward and raise this starter to the pinnacle it deserves by replacing them with a couple of west coast langoustines, cooked and then split open in the shell with a little butter dressing. Do that and I can guarantee they’ll be queueing up at the door for it.
Did I miss anything? I do believe I forgot to mention that home-made spinach and red pepper bread and that wee chutney pot. It’s rare to find a bistro that can provide a good quality artisan bread that has flavour and body, but Bell and Felix have done just that. Of course, it does help that you have an in-house baker for all your bread and cake products. Take note those restaurants who want to go that extra step for their customers. As for that chutney – well I can tell you my order is in for a pot of it. That probably tells you all you need to know.
Joining me on this wee sojourn was my other half, lovingly referred to as the CO, who had opted for one of the specials, the carrot and coriander soup, again served with that delicious home-made bread. Neery a sip passed my lips, not because a taste wasn’t offered, but simply because I was far too busy coveting my seafood smorgasbord. A large bowl of quite unctuous thick orange soup arrived. It had body, texture, flavour, and colour that delighted not only the eye, but the taste buds too, and before too long it was gone. All that remained was to mop up the last drips with that bread.
And so to the mains. Mrs M opted to sample one of the specials again, the salmon en-croute, with crushed new potatoes. This arrived as a large golden brick on the plate along with a nice shaped roundel of crushed potatoes and a small serving of green beans. Cutting into the pastry revealed the spinach and cream cheese which encased the salmon. This prevented too much moisture leaking and creating Mary Berry’s worst nightmare – a soggy bottom which is never a good thing no matter which way you look at it. The puff pastry was cooked to perfection with a lovely golden-brown crispy crust, and a softer textured interior where it had steam cooked. The spinach wrap had flavour, enhanced by a well-seasoned cream cheese and the salmon fillet was just cooked, as it should be – no easy feat for a chef in an en-croute recipe. The potatoes were of a good quality, earthy, and wholesome, still holding their shape although crushed.
My choice for the evening was the venison bourguignon. Well being a Highlander it had to be – I am partial to a wee bit venison, and with a brother who always just seemed to ‘find’ some, we never had to buy it – changed days eh! This was a bowlful of memories for me, only cooked far better. The meat, still in chunks, was so tender I could break it apart with a fork. Now I know the only way you can get venison this tender is to cook it for a very long time over a very slow heat. The head chef, Ewan Craigie confirmed he cooks it overnight. Aah ha, so that’s the answer. It was dressed in a fittingly hearty red wine gravy with mushrooms and bacon strips, which had a sensational flavour and body that only emphasised Ewan’s skills and experience in the kitchen. The red cabbage with a mild aniseed overtone and the soft, creamy mash were the perfect foil to the richness of the bourguignon. All in all, this was a showstopper dish!
Dessert menus were duly supplied, and there were only ever going to be two options from the selection for us. The sticky toffee pudding and the salted caramel brownie.
My sticky toffee pudding was one of the lightest pieces of sponge to have graced my wee chubby lips. I realised I had to be careful to pace myself here for fear of being viewed as greedy and just wolfing it down. And, unlike many others, it wasn’t drenched in the toffee syrup which can make the whole thing very sickly sweet. This sauce had a nice buttery undertone and complemented the sponge perfectly. Added to this the crème Anglais, or pouring custard to some, was a light vanilla flavoured creamy addition, which, if I’m being honest just sealed the deal that this was the perfect choice to finish off a great meal.
But wait the CO cries, you’ve not heard about my wondrous pud. The salted caramel chocolate brownie with the home-made white chocolate ice cream beats a sticky toffee pudding hands down. She described the brownie as having that crispness to the outer shell, but when you dug into the heart of it, what you got was a soft chewy mix. In her words, and who am I to say differently, this was the best brownie she’s tasted. The right amount of chocolate, a sweetness, with no bitter aftertaste, and buttery too. Like the sticky toffee, the salted caramel sauce was just the right amount to offset the chocolate in the brownie, and to crown it all, the blob of home-made white chocolate ice cream. Now, I can tell you Mrs M can smell a bull****er a mile downwind, so if someone tells her the ice cream is home-made, she will know. This was. Chunks of white choc enveloped by a sweet creamy/custard mix formed an ice cream Bell and Felix should be shouting about – and that’s not all, it was so good they should seriously consider more flavours. Me, I’d love to pop along and try a rhubarb one – please!
The bistro prides itself on supporting other local southside businesses where possible, and use a local butcher for all their meat and poultry, fish from just along the road at The Fish People and eggs from a wee farm near Eaglesham. Big pat on the back for putting your money where your mouth is Richard and Felix. Too often many pay lip service to such matters as using a local supply chain, but it all comes out in the taste of the food and these two boys have hit that nail right on the head at Bell and Felix.