Sides £3.50 - £6.50 | Mains £7.50 - £12.90
Desserts £3.50 - £5.50
Cooking 7/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4.5/5 | Value 5/5
In the 1980s, under the flamboyant Provostship of Michael Kelly, Glasgow launched its proud slogan, Glasgow's Miles Better! There was no formal response from douce Edinburgh, where I reside; however, whistling through closes and vennels one might have heard the whisper on the breeze, Edinburgh's Slightly Superior.
It's nearly ten years since I started this reviewing business, but of course I've been eating out for ever. Serving my apprenticeship, you might say. It's hard enough keeping tabs on what's happening on one's home patch, without keeping up to speed on all the changes 50 miles west during a plague-ridden three year period. Ten or so years ago, in food terms, I think there may have been some basis in fact for the Edinburgh snobbery. At the top end, Glasgow hadn't had a Michelin seal of approval for some years. My (admittedly) limited experiences of the middle sector in the west generally scored slightly lower than Auld Reekie's. And Italian? Well, one town was as bad as another. A lot of joints bashing out nice enough food, bearing no resemblance to any native victuals; a load of places living on their reputation; and plenty more whose sole raison d'etre was probably money laundering.
That was then. In Glasgow now we have Graeme Cheevers at Unalome and Lorna McNee at Cail Bruich both flying a flag sent from Clermont-Ferrand. When the small plates revolution started up, Ox and Finch grabbed it with both hands. The same team also set up an eastern version, Ka Pao, which they have successfully exported to the capital. There is now the culinary joy that is Finnieston. But why, I wondered, was it so difficult to get decent reasonably priced pasta? A plethora of places entitled Bar InsertyourItaliannameof choice, which were no longer either cheap or cheerful. No thank you. Jamie's Italian? Oh please. Ask Italian? Even worse. Then a few canny operators with both eyes on the bottom line. Gnocchi cacio e pepe? Yours for 22 quid in Edinburgh's George Street, gov. But they do give you a plate and cutlery free.
I did remember a place called The Italian Kitchen in the Merchant City, which seemed pretty authentic, but I believe it's under new management, and I know nothing of it. What I do know is that Paul Stevenson, the previous owner, sold it for a million, and has created a masterpiece in Mitchell Street. With the exception of half a dozen or so dishes listed as sides, plus bread and olives, Sugo serves pasta. Nothing but pasta. Lots and lots of pasta. All made on the premises pasta. All perfect pasta.
This is not an Italian restaurant, since there is no such thing as Italian food, and the owner knows that. The website boasts, our pasta dishes are served as they are traditionally throughout various regions of Italy; Lazio, Tuscany, Sicily, Puglia, Abruzzo, Campania, Piedmont and Lombardy. The genius of the cuisine in that country, common to every region rich and poor alike, is to take a very few ingredients of the best quality available to your means, and to combine them into a plate which far exceeds the sum of the parts. So in Sugo, you won't get abominations drenched in gallons of sauce or litres of cream. You will get authentic, delicious bowls of food.
The place is cavernous. It formerly housed the Glasgow Herald newspaper. If it were empty it might be quite a scary space. No fears, as it's always packed. On the day of my visit with Mr C (who is a regular) there was a choice of 10, plus 3 specials. The menu indicates the geographical source of the dish. Sauces with pesto and green beans from Liguria, for example, or a spicy pork and n'duja ragu from Calabria. I would have found it a little odd to order panzanella or caponata as a side dish, so we tried them both as starters, which confused the kitchen a little. Panzanella is an ideal way to use up stale bread, mixed with tomatoes. It is, however, better if it's crunchy This was our only disappointment of the day. I'd always been disappointed with caponata - a Sicilian dish with aubergine in a sort of sweet and sour gloop - until I made a brilliant version on a cookery course. Sugo's was the best ever.
Given the prices, portions aren't huge. In the interests of research Mr C and I shared three pastas - and couldn't finish them all. Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is a classic. From Lazio, I learn. They serve it here with bucatini (£9). Think worm size spaghetti. I would have preferred the latter pasta, but the sauce - just enough to coat the bucatini - was perfect. Who can resist a slow cooked beef ragu? With papperdelle and a snowstorm of Parmesan? Not I. The most extravagant of our orders. £12.90.
And finally, maybe the first thing you try to do when you've first got the hang of your pasta maker. Ravioli, the classic of classics, stuffed with spinach and ricotta and served with sage butter. I've eaten this many times. I may have had better examples - I just can't remember when.
You want a pud? You can have ice cream (with or without add ons) or tiramisu. Or a Sicilian cannolo - a crunchy, fried biscuity thing stuffed with ricotta and pistachio. Or, with presumably a nod to the largest expat Italian place, New York cheesecake. And you'll struggle to pay over a fiver. We didn't sample any of these, though they would be tempting for the sweet of tooth.
Oi, Edinburgh! Great pasta at a reasonable price? Glasgow's Miles Better!