2 courses £30.00 | 3 courses £35.00
A la carte
Starters £10.00 - £16.00 | Mains £20.00 - £37.50
Desserts £9.00 - £10.00
Cooking 6.5/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4.5/5 | Value 3.5/5
Oozing. It's all very well, but once the oozing is over you can be left with something very unpleasant.
I refer, of course to style. Nothing more ephemeral than fashion. And in the case of hotels, many of them have been planned by graduates of the International School of Bland Design (1989). Believe me, nothing initiated by Ken McCulloch could ever fall into that category. He was the genius behind the revival of Glasgow's One Devonshire Gardens, once one of the great hotels of the world. He set up the Malmaison chain, then founded Dakota in 2006. The first two were at Eurocentral, just off the M8, and just outside South Queensferry off the M90.
On a daily basis, I watched the rise of the latter on my commute to the office. It just looked like a mysterious black box. Keen to see the final version I lunched shortly after its opening. Cool, dark interiors, slatted blinds providing shade from imaginary sunlight. Every detail of bars, tables, cutlery, carefully considered. Oozing with style.
I suspect the locations might have been different had they been post 2014. That was the year the Scottish drink driving laws were made more severe, making it unwise to have more than one drink with a meal. Many gave up altogether, or stopped going anywhere which required a car. Thus it's no coincidence that the final three venues (for now) are in city centre locations. Nor is it any coincidence that all three are in cities which are partial to a bit of *pzazz/style/bling (*delete as you wish), namely Leeds, Manchester, and, today's venue, Glasgow.
McCulloch no longer has any connection with the business. It is owned by a large company called Evans Property Group. Their Portfolio Director is a Mr Bean. (I'm not making this up. Click here if you don't believe me.) The three new kids on the block are in the same mould as their older siblings. Wander around the Glasgow hotel, and you'll see it has the same wow factor.
Now that's all very well, but, as we all know, when it comes to food, style is no guarantee of substance. That's where the team of informants comes in. I can tell you that JCC, king of licensing lawyers and a well known Glasgow gourmet, has been nagging me for years to come here. I needed a venue to resume the annual lunches with soon to be famous artist RM. I couldn't be arsed trailing out to Finnieston; I was a wee bit fed up with Italian; and she doesn't care for spicy. So the wise words of Uncle J came to mind and we found ourselves in the very elegant basement that is the Dakota Grill.
Very quiet - the prices might have something to do with that - and the welcome lacked the usual warmth of the west. I was early but it was a very pleasant spot to wait, meditate, menu read and salivate. There is a short three course lunch menu. Fixed price, but there are nine very tempting side dishes which could jack the bill up. I actually found this quite encouraging from the view point of a food writer, as opposed to a bank manager. A kitchen that's prepared to invest so much in a range of plates which may or may not leave the room is a sign of ambition or determination. The third -tion is, of course, execution, and that's a different matter.
Lovely to see RM after a long while. We astonished the few diners present with our ritualised air kissing from about half a metre apart. Don't ask. The graceless man who had greeted me then splashed half a pint of my sparkling water into RM's glass when she just wanted tap. Fortunately we were handed over to a lovely Dutch lady whose name I noted and, scandalously, mislaid. Ears heading for the oven door later.
RM's dad kills things in Norfolk, but only for the pot. It was doubtless filial piety which made her go for the roe deer tartare. That, or good taste. I didn't immediately spot any of the advertised black garlic, or sweetcorn or potato, but I did get a gloriously meaty, slightly spicy chunk. The meat was hand cut: the seasoning delightful. Crab - what else? - ended up on my plate. A crescent of white meat hiding under cucumber slices strewn with wakame, and a drizzle of something vibrantly green and slightly limey. Wakame is a seaweed from the north west Pacific. Not sure it was worth the air miles, and it added nothing to the flavour. In summary, the dish tasted less well than it looked, but it did look fabulous.
As did my Sea Trout, Pickled Mussel, Smoked Butter, Broccoli Root. And well described. There was indeed one mussel and one piece of root. There was also a nicely charred floret and two unadvertised purées. An intensely green one (more broccoli, I'm guessing) and another of equally deep flavour - apple, I think. A fine plate of food, but I'd have left hungry had it not been for the side of salt and vinegar potatoes with aioli. Dry aged duck breast (one which seemed to have shrunk quite a bit in the process) came with artichoke and sea buckthorn. On the side was a duck leg bun. The whole dish was pretty well received, though the bun was in beignet form rather than bao. We liked the filling but were less keen on the doughnut. The chips would have been very good had they been hotter.
You can't lunch with a lady of quality and avoid dessert. (In the unlikely event that you've noticed, my terminology to describe the final course may vary from week to week. I follow the headings on the menu.) So the order went out for Buttermilk Panna Cotta, caramelised milk & cherry iced tea. Oh, and two spoons. It's not a pud (my preferred word) that I'd ever order, and I don't think this one would pass the wobble test. But, my word did it taste good, especially the cherry combo on the top.
I finished lunch with a smile on my face, but a space in my stomach. We wandered back townwards through Blythswood Square. I explained its history to RM, one which was marked by another legendary hotelier, Peter Taylor. When he converted the RAC club building into a hotel, he installed red lights in the windows of the front bar. It's a great thing, social history.