We took the car and went on a distant meander to Puglia on the heel of Italy last year, staying in Peschici while we soaked up the sun and lazed out on the Adriatic. I remember the ice cold beer, lots of chili peppers in olive oil and even the odd plate of aglio e olio.
If there was Tiella in the many restaurants where we lay down while we were on the Gargano, I didn’t see it. And after tasting it here tonight, the rain screaming outside on Hyndland Street in Glasgow, it’s a shame.
This apparent Apulian classic of Arborio rice, potatoes – yes, starch and starch together is a relatively common Italian style, but don’t tell Masterchef – and tomatoes, has been spiced up with a few mussels. Scottish. It’s not moist and creamy like risotto, but relatively dry and rich; rice, potato and oil blend together in a simple yet pleasant taste.
There were of course plenty of these little orecchiettes available in Peschichi, pasta served like tonight with turnip greens, pecorino and tomato. And if we had looked carefully, we might have found some of those famous handmade fusillis from Gragnano, in neighboring Campania; extruded bronze, air dried, served tonight in Glasgow with whole baby squids.
Yes this is another Italian restaurant in Glasgow but trying to be a little different. The decor here is relaxed / cozy, fun to watch, no national flags or team photos, the music is a sweet selection of Christmas tunes.
Wait. Yes, I said Christmas tunes. In October. I can only assume that the chatty Italian restaurant manager who walks around pleasantly here and everywhere has naturally tapped into his own sound system.
Either way, we have some great arancini to start with like Bing croons, those fried Italian rice balls stuffed with scamorza and nduja, meat stew or just flavored with saffron. I order them for Â£ 5.95. Then panic when I notice the word “or” appearing between their flavor descriptions. “Mamma mia, Â£ 5.95 each,” I tell Debs and Luca and later the manager when he asks for comment. For basic Italian street food? It turns out that is the price of a plate of three. Phew. Then negotiate.
Speaking of snacks, we’ve had popizze before, or fried pizza dough with salt and seaweed. Attention – moment of nostalgia entering: when we were children and my mother made them, as she did regularly, there was no seaweed, but they were sometimes stuffed with a salty alici – or anchovies – each and always, always, sprinkled with fennel seeds. We called them shoosh. No idea how to spell this or if it’s a dialect or a last name, but they were delicious. These obviously aren’t as good as mom’s or my nonna’s (what could be?) But it’s great to see them on a menu.
It’s also good to see my absolute favorite Italian pasta – apart from my mother’s day two fried spaghetti – agli e oglio. They sort of throw it here. Kind of dismiss it as a classic that can be ordered if you don’t fancy anything else on the menu. When in fact and well done – not easy – this is surely the king and queen of all pasta, and still rarely available in Glasgow.
Now, never before in all my years as Scotland’s plumpest restaurant reviewer have so many people asked me not to rate a restaurant until it has had a chance to fold. That’s because the Rossini owners here ran The North Star on nearby Queen Margaret Drive. . There, the charm of Ester up front and Maurizio in the open kitchen created a tidal wave of goodwill for the young couple. So we cross a lot of fingers for this place. Really, they don’t have to be: the food is good. Different. Maybe the kitchen still needs to relax and season more, to lose some of those young tomatoes.
But something new, brave and Italian, run by an Italian husband and wife team? Surely the restaurant’s magic recipe.