When it comes to fried chicken, this place can give Louisiana a run for its money!

Ad Lib, Hope Street, Glasgow

There’s always a slight concern at the back of my mind before reviewing anywhere that talks a good game when it comes to typically American grub. My experience has been, they can be spectacularly good or pretty awful!

So, with that warning gently ringing in my ears, I set off to try out an American bar/diner called AdLib.

The restaurant is located in the bustling heart of Glasgow city centre.  Because it’s so centrally located, you’re better off travelling by train than by car.  It’s a short five-minute stroll from Glasgow Central station.

It’s not much to look at from the outside, in fact, it’s got quite a small frontage taken up with several pavement tables available for diners or even those who just want to sit, have a drink, and people watch.

The minute you walk in, however, everything changes!  It’s like a tardis, and the floorspace just goes on and on.

The front section of the restaurant

Some might call the decor American kitsch, but hey, it works.  Sitting in my booth looking at the walls adorned with whitewall tyres, the US-style traffic signals and registration plates, to the Cadillac driving through the wall and all to the background tracks of 60’s America from the authentic jukebox smashing out the hits. It was a good start to my visit.

I’ve eaten in many roadside diners driving along the eastern seaboard and this could easily sit alongside them.  So, is the decor kitsch or authentic?  Well, there’s only one way to find out, visit and judge for yourself.  I’m just surprised the film crew, working in Glasgow on the next Indiana Jones movie offering haven’t clocked this place to use. They’ve dressed the rest of Glasgow to look like downtown NY.

Is it kitsch or authentic USA – you decide…

Access is good for the disabled with a small step from the pavement into the restaurant the remainder of the dining area is located on a flat level surface.

The initial section of the restaurant is fitted out with a mix of booths seating six people or smaller tables of two.  If you’re looking for some privacy then request a booth.  One other thing to keep in mind is that some of the seating provided at the smaller tables have no backs being stools and therefore may be uncomfortable to sit at over an extended period of time. The rear dining area has a mix of booths and tables available.

The rear dining area of Ad Lib

Sometimes you find restaurants that have staff who you just know have little interest in anything else but their money at the end of a shift, and certainly not the customer.  So, with that in mind, it was an extremely pleasant and refreshing surprise to find all the staff here are professional, welcoming, attentive and engaging.

We sat in a booth and were promptly provided with food and drink menus and told to take our time until ready to order and to let any waiting staff know when we were. There was no rush to get you seated, orders in, served and out the door, ready for the next person, as can happen far too often,  this felt much more relaxed.

The menu is a perfectly sized single-sided A3 sheet

The drinks menu is actually larger than the food choices!  So drinks order placed including a frozen strawberry daiquiri we settled down to have a good look at the food on offer.

But before I tell you about it, I’m just going to say, if you fancy a really well-made cocktail, pop in and try one for yourself – this has to be one of the best daiquiris I’ve had.

One of the best I’ve had!

So, happily enjoying our drinks we had a good look at the single-sided A3 menu. Don’t expect to find huge choices of ribs, steaks, pizzas, seafood etc because you’ll be disappointed. Here you have a more limited selection of chicken, burgers, steaks and fish with a nod to those who don’t like meat with a few veggie options, although these are limited.

I always like an establishment that knows what it does and does it well.  If you’re offering a menu that reads like War and Peace, the chances are you’re not going to cook anything particularly well.

The menu belies the American diner theme.  There are no starters, it’s really all mains, although you could ask for the chicken wings to be served as a starter.  I did, but because I foolishly assumed they were a starter dish, they ended up being served with the mains. So, a word of warning, if you want a smaller portion of wings, say to your server that you’d like them served as a starter. The wings and a vegan option of cauliflower are available in portion sizes of 3, 6, or 9 pieces either in the popular Buffalo sauce or alternatively with a Jamaican Jerk seasoning or the more unusual Seoul version. These are priced at £6, £9 and £12 respectively depending on your chosen portion size.

Buffalo cauliflower bites

I opted for six chicken and three cauliflower as a starter portion and ordered these in a Buffalo sauce.  The veggie cauliflower option had a real kick to them with a hot aftertaste that lasted well after the final bite. The florets were a good size, well-cooked but still with a nice bite. I needn’t have worried about them being overcooked and mushy.

Chicken in a basket – that was a 70s thing!

The chicken wings were also an excellent size with plenty of meat on the bone – being the drumette and the wingette combined. They were fried well, still tender, and the hot Cayenne pepper sauce did them proud.  The fried spring onions added an extra flavour and wasn’t just there for show.

Now, one thing I have to raise right now is the awful red plastic baskets the food is served in.  Get rid of them, you’re letting yourself down because up until this point I was heading towards a good 9/10 rating.

The restaurant may think that serving food this way add to the authenticity of a US bar/diner – It doesn’t.  This is Glasgow, not Georgia. Chicken in a basket was so 1970s, and that’s exactly where it should stay! I have been served food on many surfaces, wood, slate, marble and china, but never flimsy, horrid cheap and gaudy plastic.  I don’t even use plastic on a picnic preferring a melamine plate – call me a snob if you like!

They were too small, making food really difficult to cut in them, and in my opinion, cheapens the food. I’ve no idea how long Ad Lib has been using them, but I’m really surprised they’ve not been told before now to ditch them.

The staff were very attentive during our visit checking if we needed drink refills and that everything was satisfactory with our food, but without being over the top, as some are, standing hovering, making everyone uncomfortable here they just get on with the job, and if they’re passing check in on you.  A nice touch.

And so to the mains, I opted to stay with chicken.  The classic basket containing four good-sized pieces of fried chicken, slaw, aioli, house fries and grilled corn was a winning choice as far as I was concerned.

I’ll say this straight out,  this place can give KFC a run for its money in the fried chicken stakes.  Soft, tender, succulent and really tasty – every bite was a juicy lush delight. Chicken soaked in a thyme-infused brine, then coated in buttermilk to keep it soft and tender, was fried to perfection. This was good ol’ fried chicken done US style.

Served with skin-on skinny house fries. These could have been hotter and if I’m not mistaken had been left sitting out of the frier before serving, meaning they had lost some of the crispness that a skinny chip needs.  In fairness though, they weren’t greasy, just needed a minute back in the frier and they’d have been top notch. These house fries are available with either sea salt or cajun-spiced dressing

The house fries could have been much warmer at the time of serving

Charred corn is also a side order on the menu described as being a chilli, feta and lime variant. The one served with my dish was simply butter grilled, but none the worse for that.  The corn still had a bite and hadn’t, as in many cases, been boiled to death before being chargrilled to provide that distinctive flavour

The side order of mac and cheese was very typically American, (across the pond, it’s a very common side dish) but a definite winner too.  Creamy and smooth, with a four-cheese tongue-curling sauce, it wasn’t too runny nor too thick. The pasta retained an al-dente bite, and, in my considered opinion, they should think about putting this on as a main, it’s that good.

The aioli provided a nice addition to the fried chicken, being smooth, creamy and slightly piquant. With chicken this good, you don’t need any other heavy flavours kicking around.

Now to the coleslaw. This was a disaster. Thick, greasy, and covered in a mayo that definitely was not the market leader, Hellmans. It was such a shame because this wasn’t slaw no matter how you look at it. A good slaw should be light with almost a vinegarette dressing and if using mayo, not so much to the extent that you drown the cabbage, carrot and onion in a greasy and heavy substrate. Please, like the plastic dishes, get rid of this and rethink what a proper US slaw actually is.

The dessert choice is fairly limited to three items, two of the US’s favourites –  apple and cinnamon or a pecan pie with an alternative of something called frozen custard which you can then opt to top with fruit purees or a  mixture of other items supplied.

For me, unusually, no dessert was required as I’d overdosed on chicken and boy the feeling was good.

Would I recommend Ad-Lib,  yes, most certainly.  It’s made its own mark in the Glasgow restaurant scene and as a US themed bar/diner, it has to be up there in the top five.  I look forward to returning and trying one of their burger options sometime soon.

Overall it’s a good 7/10 only let down with the plastic dishes and the awful coleslaw.

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