Review: Sloans, City Centre
Sloans, situated in the heart of the city, nestled between Argyle and Sauchiehall Streets and at the foot of the stretch of expensive ring emporia in the Argyle Arcade presents itself as Glasgow’s oldest bar and restaurant. Whilst probably not the longest-surviving booze pedlar in the town, this impressive (listed) building certainly retains some old-fashioned charm. From the beautiful mosaic tiles on the entrance steps to the fine details on each and every chair in the snug, this is a venue that demands a long and serious yet somehow flirtatious relationship: you are implored to be at once in adolescent awe of its imposing history and architecture yet you still have time to wink knowingly at the modern touches to the menu and the friendly, uncondescending service.
We visited Sloans on a Thursday night in the heat of one of Glasgow’s early (and probably only) Summer days and we were immediately struck by a feeling of separation. Despite our seats in the aforementioned snug, the questions from the pub quizmaster in the main bar permeated the table although, given the friendly and welcoming atmosphere, the chatter was not unpleasant. The segregation allowed for conversation but didn’t result in any sense of alienation from the belly of the friendly beast that is the Sloans bar tumult.
This theme of friendly separation is continued with the menu itself. The main section of which is bisected into ‘Main Course’ and ‘Gastro’ classics. The criteria for this distinction seem indistinct. A hog roast? Main Course Classic. Ham and Black Pudding? Gastro. Nevertheless, it’s a wide selection that should appeal to most palates. Despite the fact that there’s an entire section of the menu devoted to only three omelettes, that is.
This peculiarly eggy focus may seem a touch eccentric until it is revealed that the top of the omelette pops is at top left of the menu. For starters, the vegetarian half of the GOG delegation chose this Spanish Tortilla with picante peppers (£3.25) with an extra quid for the peppers (well worth it for their cheese-stuffed mouthfeel). The highlight of this starter was the exquisite garlic aioli lovingly criss-crossed over the onion and potato block like the thatched roof on the lakeside retreat of an Andalusian sculptor.
The carnivore’s choice was the lentil and ham hock soup, which arrived complete with a pleasing, gloopy skin on top, piping hot throughout and laced with tender strips of ham. Just salty enough and served as an ample portion complete with bread and butter, the soup would suffice as a satisfying meal on its own. As such, the server’s offer of a brief respite between courses was most welcome.
While letting the starters settle, focus shifted to beer, specifically the Kelburn Jaguar Ale brewed by the local Kelburn Brewing Company. A punch packing, citrusy beer, the hoppy flavour lingered happily and provided a nice bridge to the main course, the Steak and Kelburn Pie with Chunky Chips and Peas (£8.45).
Still recovering from the stuffing provided by the soup, first stop on the main plate were the peas. Perfectly seasoned and tasting as though the chef has spent the preceding twenty minutes popping them out of their newly picked pods, these were lovely, lovely peas. The chunky chips were indeed chunky, crisp too, although a touch firmer than necessary they did provide a good gravy dunking option, which brings us to the pie itself. Topped with a light pastry lid, that was perfectly flakey on top but a little dry inside, the pie filling was a deliciously rich gravy with definite hints of Kelburn Ale and big tender chunks of beef. This was a cozy dish that would be a perfect winters evening feast, but even the balmy weather (for Glasgow anyway) could not spoil what was a satisfying proper pub meal.
The Macaroni Cheese (£7.95) in Sloans is described on the menu as ‘legendary’ and – although we are no strangers to hyperbole here at GOG – this adjective seemed to be a little excessive for the meal. The macaroni itself is lip-smackingly good. With just the right amount of mustard, it’s up there with Glasgow’s other AAA cheese-pushers and, whisper it, nearly as good as the Mac from the Griffin on Bath Street. There are a plethora of choices to augment the Macaroni as well: from the smoked haddock and Gruyère or Parmesan and sun-blushed tomatoes to the shifting ‘Mac of the Month’; certainly a nice amount of innovation is on display. It’s a shame then that the sides for this meal were so ordinary. The thin chips and an underdressed salad seem more of an afterthought than an integral part of the meal.
Traditionally, Sloans is where young couples would celebrate their engagement after picking out a ring from the jeweller’s shops of the nearby Argyle Arcade. Even today, a certain feeling of opulence and celebration still remains in Sloans. It’s not the cheapest pub in the world but it holds its own with solid food, a convivial atmosphere and – honestly – some of the best peas in Scotland.