Sometimes in one’s life, you are taken completely by surprise with events, as was the case with my visit to Clarkston, and The Wee Bistro.
What a wee hidden gem this is, tucked away in the middle of a row of shops, quite nondescript, and easily passed by – but you should make it your life’s work to pay it a visit, if only once – it’s a cracker!
Located on the Southside of Glasgow it’s easily reached via the M77, and has parking directly outside for approximately ten cars. This allows easy access for the disabled or elderly to the restaurant which has level access from the pavement.
First impressions were nothing special, as I said, it doesn’t particularly stand out, is understated in its exterior signage and decor, but just wait until you open that front door. It’s like stepping back in time to a typical French bistro. It’s full of rich sumptuous reds and golds, there are mirrors and glassware throughout, all twinkling with the reflections from the myriad of candles flickering away.
It’s extremely cosy because it’s not a vast space, ten tables allowing for a maximum of 34 covers, with a mix of private booths and open plan dining. But because it’s so small, that’s just one of its advantages – it can do things – really well!
It’s not the type of place you’d think of as a family restaurant for younger children. There is no kid’s menu, they simply eat from the main one with a smaller portion, and for some picky eaters, this may not be entirely suitable. However, where it wins hands down is as a romantic venue for dining or for an intimate family get-together. It’s very well thought out in terms of its design, with cushions and throws, soft lighting, unobtrusive music – all in all, it just works.
On arrival, we were met by the only member of the front of house ‘team’, Samantha. A young 17-year-old who has only ever received in-house training from the new owner Sharon Campbell, who opened the doors of The Wee Bistro six months ago. She’s a credit to the business – and a keeper. How often do you find surly, uninterested and unhelpful younger aged staff these days? In my experience, far too often. Not the case with this young lady, who was helpful, friendly, and above all exuded a level of professionalism way beyond her youthful age.
Shown to our table, jackets were whisked away, menus provided, drinks orders taken and specials advised in one very slick operation.
The menu selection isn’t extensive, but in my opinion, that’s a good thing. It generally means the chef can excel with what is on offer, as opposed to a vast 12-page menu, none of which is cooked that well. Still, that said, there is ample choice with a selection of meat, poultry, fish and even some dishes for lovers of vegetarian food.
The fare is typically Scottish with a wee nod to head chef Richard Naismith’s vast experience of having travelled the world – and it’s obvious he’s picked up more than a few tips along the way.
And now to the grub. My starter of king scallops served on black pudding, with crispy pancetta and a pea puree was a delight to the eye as it arrived at the table. The scallops, of which there were four, were indeed a good size, although I’m not so sure I’d describe them as ‘king scallops’. The cooking of them is a true test of any chef, and these show Richard knows what he’s doing. They must have literally kissed the pan on both sides before being plated – as they should. They were soft, tender, sweet and quite delightful. I’d have liked to have seen a piece of the scallop coral served, but appreciate that it isn’t to everyone’s taste, so The Wee Bistro may just be playing safe on this front. The black pudding was to my mind a little dry for the succulent juiciness of the scallop, but the chef assured me his customers prefer a drier texture as opposed to my fondness for a softer Stornoway black pudding. Horses for courses methinks and I won’t be marking them down for personal preference. The pancetta was a nicely smoked variety and added another texture to this dish. The two small ‘dots’ of pea puree really need to be upped in size as there was so little of it on the plate it was difficult to make any judgment on the quality or taste.
Mrs Mac opted for what I called, the ‘slimmer’s special’, at least I think that’s what she said once she’d removed her fist from the side of my head. So, onto the butternut squash, leek and cashew fritter served with barrel-aged Feta cheese. Again there is a right way to plate food and this looked perfect – that’s as far as we got as I’m not known for my reviews of vegetarian establishments – being a bit of a cave-dwelling meat eater! This was a well-sized fritter which had a nicely browned crispy exterior. The CO advised the filling was a nice mix of crunchy cashews melded with the softness of the butternut squash and the tang of the leek, added to the spices, gave it a nice kick, but not so hot it couldn’t be eaten. She’s not a great lover of overly spiced fare.
So now to the mains. I opted for a good old rustic dish. Liver and onions with bacon, mustard mash, and a gravy, not just because I actually do like liver, but to see if the chef can ‘step up to the plate’ and cook it correctly. I can tell you now, you need have no fears. It was perfect. Just off-pink, soft and tender. Now marry that to the bacon strips, caramelised onions, and the mustard mash all sitting in a wee pool of gravy – seventh heaven! The mash was, if anything, lacking in the mustard department, but to be honest that suited me fine, I’m not a great fan of anyone messing about with this. A good mash is always going to be just that – a good mash. It doesn’t need adulterating. And drawing the whole thing together was that silky-smooth rich gravy, which was almost like a jus it was that light. It was a 10/10 dish, not a mark I often give.
The CO took what would have been my second choice. Roast pork belly, caramelised apple, white pudding with a mash and a mustard sauce. Mrs Mac also doesn’t like mustard or her food slathered in sauces, being a plain type of girl, so asked for the mustard sauce to be changed for a gravy, and for that to be served separately. Now I must admit, when I saw the large chunk of crackling, I wondered if the liver was the best choice. Not to be outdone, and purely in the interests of research, half of it amazingly appeared on my plate in a move Penn & Teller would have been proud of!
My attempt to try a bit of the belly pork was thwarted by a well-aimed fork – ouch, I still bear the scars. The pork was that tender if fell apart. There was no fattiness to it as belly pork can sometimes be. All the fat had rendered down during the slow cooking making the meat melt-in-the-mouth tender. But I have to say the crackling was the pièce de résistance. You should be selling this in wee bags from the front door – they’d be queuing up for it! The mash was soft and creamy, and the white pudding rich with a slight spice to it, and all complemented by the soft and sweet caramelised apple slice. Once more it was a solid contender for the dish of the evening.
This place deserves to be busier. It’s got all its ‘ducks in a row’ and is doing everything one expects from a quality establishment both from a food and service point of view, as well as being competitively priced in its marketplace. I do hope more people find this little gem because it truly does food exceptionally well in a setting that you’ll not often find.
We finished off our evening with my traditional crepe Suzette while Mrs. M chose the peanut butter brulee. I did cause a bit of a stir when I asked if it would be flambéed at the table. Apparently, after a minor hiccup between a haggis and some burning whisky on Burns evening, the restaurant know their smoke detectors work just fine! But it was to be a no to the art of the table flambee. The crepes were just perfect; A nice hint of alcohol in the blood orange-based syrup gave a lovely synergy between sweet, savoury, and a wee hint of bitterness, all topped off with the creaminess of a lush vanilla ice cream. The CO said that her brulee was ‘perfect’. I can’t comment as I didn’t dare risk my other hand. The sugared top had a nice crisp crack to it and was just burnt enough to give that delectable taste sensation that all good brulee’s should have. It had a very definite taste of peanut butter which along with the creaminess of the custard got it a 10/10 from the boss. The home-made shortbread biscuits and red fruits set it off visually as a perfect finish to a great meal.
The bistro opens from 11am to 11pm and serves lunches and evening dinner service, booking is not necessary, although I strongly suspect this will change very shortly once its hidden delights become common knowledge.
Would I recommend it – hell yes, in fact, I’m shouting it from the rooftops, just go folks, you’ll not be disappointed.