IT’S such a slow mid-week night so far in Oscar Bar and Kitchen that not even the chirpy staff, the beat of Corrupt UK: Romeo on the sound system or the space heater near my feet can drive away completely the cold and tangible Glasgow damp pressing threateningly against those vast plate glass windows.
Two of those bird tables over by the Kilmarnock Road side are occupied by couples, an animated little family perch in a booth over there, but apart from that? Well, there ain’t nobody here but us chickens. And lines of tiny empty tables.
Ding-dong, goes a 1970s doorbell, and with that a waitress, the one who sounds like she has that magical Lewis lilt to her accent, says: I’ll go. And shoots downstairs.
Frankly? At this very point? Expectations are low.
Half-bar, half-restaurant, table mat menus, familiarly ambitious dish descriptions, nothing to say whether it all comes from Brake Bros catering supplies or is more fashionably and thoughtfully sourced.
In my mind, this place is still the Blue Lagoon chippie. I may even, back in the day, have sat right over there, a post-midnight haddock supper soaking up beers, moi talking complete mince.
Ah, I mutter as the braised ox cheek tops the stairs, turns right and heads to my table all chocolately dark meat, fluffy herbs on top, languid criss-cross spring onions and the aroma of red wine consomme suddenly and tantalisingly super-charging the air.
I push the knife, the meat parts, angels sing. It’s moist, rich, kinda delicious, that consomme having a presence, reasonable potatoes and hunks of beetroot adding texture. Whoever seasoned this did so boldly and, quite frankly, righteously.
I find I am thoroughly enjoying it and am suddenly filled with expectation for what comes next. Which is? Well, what bistro wouldn’t be complete these days without candied beetroot on the menu.
Here, there’s walnut crumb, pickled apple and slivers of tart, pickled apple to jazz things up, a good goats cheese mousse.
Not sure about the appearance at first: a squirty, scattergun, kid’s food fight mess, but no disputing that it’s refreshing, alternately sweet and sour, pleasant – if the beetroot slices are a little tough.
Food is now cresting that stairwell fast and thick: a slabby oat-smoked sweet potato tower with confit shallot, red chilli, sun-dried tomato pistou and, best of all, a roasted and apparently gin-glazed artichoke.
I detect zero smokiness from any of it but it doesn’t really matter as there’s a pleasant zinginess throughout.
The lamb cutlets have now arrived, too – cleanly trimmed, faintly charred outside, perfect pinkness inside – again they come with an exhausting smorgasbord of other flavours: sauteed raddichio, a sweet port reduction and a punchy tarragon and mint gel that really sets the whole plate singing. The remnants of which I realise, ooh awkward, I am still scraping a knife through for a final involuntary fling as I realise the waiter is standing right there waiting, watching.
Weirdly though there are no petit pois dumplings, as promised, just a grey, soggy slab of something deeply unappetising and very faintly pea flavoured. How did that get out the kitchen?
I can understand how those salt cod beignets were cleared for take-off. They looked OK, steamed mussels round the plate, a lively citrus vinaigrette in a separate dish. But they were baggily skinned, like they had been under-fried and then sat waiting, and they have a mushy, soggy and heavy zero salt cod-flavour. Nul points.
And on detail: nobody remembered to char the spring onion that came with the ox cheek; those lyonnaise (aka fried) potatoes, were crisp, even crunchy, coming with manchego and shallot crumb for a bargain £4 but they were oily.
What chef, I wonder however, could possibly keep a track of all those ingredients in all those dishes without carelessly allowing the odd blunder to sneak its unfortunate way to the table? Less really can be more.
Oscar Bar And Kitchen
1 Kilmarnock Road
0141 632 3552
Menu: Crowd pleasing mish-mash of all the greatest flavour hits of the 21st century: gnocchi, beignet, lamb cutlets, pistou, burratta espumas and vineagrettes. 4/5
Service: Early mid-week and with a slow restaurant but the staff were still chirpy, cheery and enthusiastic – took their eye off the ball when the bill was needed. 4/5
Atmosphere: Glass corner box in the heart of Glasgow’s Shawlands, hovering between cocktail bar and restaurant, will surely have a vibe on a weekend night. 4/5
Price: Small plates, as usual these days, can mean big bills and with desserts at £6 and up, most mains between £7.50 and £9, it can add up. 3/5
Food: The ox cheek was excellent, the beetroot and potato dishes satisfying. A couple of blunders but they’re trying to pack in many flavours. Not bad though. 6/10