“You’re cut off,” says the nameless waiter. He’s nameless for a reason – I don’t want to know his name. In truth, I don’t need to know his name, because he’s already got my number – metaphorically speaking. I’ve had enough champagne and have requested he serve me no more. “He’s adept in the ‘repartee’,” my partner says. “That’s what you get in Glasgow.”
Glasgow is another country – just as Scotland is (although Edinburgh may as well be London). But Glasgow, more American than European, hankers for texture. It’s keen on sass. It tests you to see if you can take a joke. Glasgow is about participation. That’s why the “foreign” reviews are mixed for Rogano, its most legendary restaurant. Despite facelifts and refreshments, talk of ghosts and a special “celebrity” table (its table 16 – it has a mirror), Rogano demands your love and understanding. I’ll guarantee you’ll be disappointed if you don’t grasp that. A legend like this rarely needs to guard its reputation. Harry’s Bar doesn’t serve the best bellini in Venice these days, but do you care? You still want to go there. And you can bleat all you want on TripAdvisor, but it’ll still be the bellini destination long after both you and your single star-ratings have perished.
At Rogano you get waiters who, once they see you’re up for it, give as good as they get. It’s play, it’s show, it’s fun.
Our waiter has a quick smile, a fast “Thank you” for every one of his moves, and a nice ass. I can’t help but notice this fact as he leans forward to pop down lobster bisque at the table to my right. After telling myself not to utter anything about his rear – and that I must not have another glass of champagne – I look longingly at the table to my left, where a plate holds nine fat oysters laid bare in a circle. I lose the power of speech.
“Excuse me,” my partner points to me. “May we have another glass of champagne here?”
“Just this once,” says the waiter, “then she’s cut off!”
The oysters are chilled. The soup is hot. The water’s wet
He’s smiling. It’s only my second glass and I shouldn’t but I do. The best reason? Rogano gets temperature right. The champagne here is properly cold Joseph Perrier at a good price. The oysters are chilled. The soup is hot. The water’s wet. You can take this for granted but at the beloved Ubiquitous Chip, up off Byres Road, the champagne is too warm every time. The Chip’s peacock green, silver-lined and impossibly delicate martini glasses (“We get through a lot of these”) are enticing but they don’t fix the problem.
Rogano is classic, not current. This oyster bar-cum-bar-cum-restaurant has the same atmosphere as New York’s now vastly altered Café des Artistes: walls are covered in lively, almost erotic, paintings of playful fairies and mermaids in a subtly muted environment. It’s like eating in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, with the waiters as co-stars and supporting players. And if you feel it looks like the inside of Cunard’s Queen Mary, that’s because it is: the interior was made by the same artisans with the same materials at the same time. Some say this craftwork paid their bar tab.
If you read the reviews, Rogano’s food frequently gets a drubbing. The cooking ranges from “not a triumph” to okay to good. You feel reviewers went in expecting Heston Blumenthal, or the Wolseley, and forgot their sense of humour. Consistency is not Rogano’s virtue. It is not haute cuisine: this is time travel. When they get it right, it’s spiffing: their best seafood, variously sourced from Loch Etive, Cumbrae, Trron, Peterhead and Scrabster, is unbeatable. My oysters were buttery and succulent. The monkfish was a little overdone, but it was still a tasty fist-sized hunk and I didn’t mind that it wasn’t perfect. When nothing appealed to me on the dessert menu, I asked the taller waiter – a young model with glossy floppy black hair – if there was anything with meringue in the kitchen. (Old Glaswegian joke. Wee boy goes into a baker’s, points at a cake in the window and asks, “Is that cake or meringue?”*) He blushed and said no, so I ordered coffee. In minutes, an enormous meringue with whipped cream and fresh berries appeared as if dropped from the ceiling. I was so happy I wanted more champagne.
“Can we have a bit of dessert wine please?” The waiter whips by and says, “No! She’s cut off!” C
* You’ll have to say it aloud in your best Weegie accent… “ahm-a-wrang”. The punchline: “No, you’re right, it is a cake.”
Karen Krizanovich is Civilian’s Editor-at-Large