Gin 71 at Merchant City is hidden down a lane, next to a street off the famous Argyle Street in Glasgow.
It gets it’s name from the 71 different gins it serves. It serves them in shots, cocktails and also in just about every dish that it sells. Seriously. Practically everything has a gin element to it.
There are lots of seats outside but, as we were visiting on a Saturday night in November, we opted for an inside table.
We were seated at a railing above a set of stairs. We’d already pre-booked two 7 course taster menus, with one being for a pescatarian. This set menu is £59 per person and includes a gin cocktail on arrival. This cocktail had gin (!), prosecco and a choice of syrups. We went for elderflower, and another that had rhubard & ginger. Both very nice.
My first moan of the evening arrived slightly before the first course. Dirty menus. I am curious about what other diners eat but that doesn’t mean I want the person who sat at this table before me’s food stuck to the menu. This restaurant looked amazing (a bit steampunky) but a sticky menu can make for a bad first impression regardless of the decor.
So the first course arrived. Gin breads and canapés. I was so hungry that I neglected to take a photo of it. Some food reviewer, eh? Three different types of bread (smokey, peppery, gin) which equally delicious. All good.
The next course was one I was really looking forward to. Pork Belly with Silver Skin Onions, Apple Gin Gel, Crackling and Sherry Vinegar Jus. Emma’s non-meat alternative was a Roast Veg Tart. It also had something which became a theme for the night. It had pea shoots.
I live for pork belly dishes. I’ve had some amazing pork belly, and I’ve had some very poorly smushed pork belly too. This was a fairly decent bit of pork belly. Not the best cut I’ve had, but the pork was solidly cooked and was tender throughout. We were definitely up and running in the right direction.
Emma’s dish had Roasted Carrots and Parsnips over a razor thin strip of crunchy pastry and a fruity sauce. And those pea shoots. Good quality ingredients and the right level of sweetness made for a pleasing dish.
Next up was Pink Peppercorn Gin Cured Salmon, Pickled Strawberry, Charred Poached Fennel and Micro Coriander. With pea shoots. The pink peppercorns were a nice find. They gave a warmer, fuller taste than you’d normally get from pepper, which, along with the fennel and salmon, made the dish for me.
The Chilled Minted Pea Soup with Cucumber Gin Foam & Parma Ham Crumb was a bit unusual. While my wife (pescatarian) was originally given a dish with the ham in it, the staff quickly apologised and delivered a veggie alternative. It was a little bland and lacked much of interest. (I had a dish, unchilled, similar to this as Papamacs which had more depth to it.) This dish was the least exciting of the evening.
The next course was Texture of Carrot – carrot sponge, charred carrot, pickled purple and carrot crisp with truffle creme fraiche and goats cheese powder. It was an imaginative dish and showed off what the kitchen was capable of. Very enjoyable. And with more pea shoots.
Next up was the main event. For me, Beef Cheek Bouguignon with Slow Braise of Oxtail Croquette, Parsnip Purée and Shallot & Blueberry Gin Vinaigrette. For the most part, the beef just fell apart, giving a rich, well developed taste, although a little too much fat for my taste. The croquette was quite hard work to get through. They managed to pack a lot of meat into those breadcrumbed balls! The puree delivered, and the vinaigrette did it’s job perfectly.
The vegetarian main is Parmesan Basil Crisp Polenta, Pickled Cucumber, Shaved Fennel, Chive Sauce and Citrus & Dill Buttermilk Dressing. (Can you see the pea shoots on the polenta too?) The polenta was suitably crisp and buttery and the basil worked perfectly. The chive sauce was creamy and the pea shoots were, again, a nice addition. Emma said it was the tastiest polenta dish she’d ever had.
Dessert was Dark Chocolate Delice, Pistachio Sponge, Vanilla & Gin Bothy Raspberry Cream and Freeze Dried Raspberries. Emma was right when she said it tasted like a Ruffle bar. For me, it was ok. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate desserts, but it didn’t seem to be very dark to me and the raspberries were not freeze dried.
Overall, the dinner was very satisfying. Perhaps, with seven courses, they could have afforded two desserts rather than six savouries. What was served was filling, varied and of a very high quality.
The service, I should note, was exemplary. The staff were friendly, and knowledgeable about the food. They were courteous and took the time to ensure you were ready for the next course. The service was quick and we felt well looked after.
Gin 71 is at No4 Virginia Court, Glasgow. More info here.