Glasgow Restaurant Review: Ad Lib - Bringing an authentic flavour of NYC to GLA

Sumptuously sticky ribs
Sumptuously sticky ribs. 
The Dear Green Place, Glasvegas, Glaschu or simply Glasgow. Whatever you prefer to call it, as an Edinburgher I have a soft spot for Scotland’s second city. Yet despite the fact that it’s only 40 miles and 50 minutes away on the train, for some reason I don’t seem to visit Scotland’s largest metropolis anywhere as often as I should, despite the fact it has some great places to eat and drink. The centre of Glasgow is architecturally stunning, and very different from Edinburgh. Like Birmingham – the city of my birth – it grew out of the industrial revolution, and similarly its city centre is still adorned with many of the grand Victorian buildings constructed from its industrial wealth. Central Glasgow is also laid out in a grid system, which – it is rumoured – inspired the one that is now such a prominent feature of New York. It has even doubled as the Big Apple on a number of film shoots.

How appropriate then that when JML and I caught up with some friends in Glasgow last weekend, one of the members of our party suggested we go for lunch at Ad Lib – a New York-inspired eatery a stone’s through away from the city’s grand Central Station (sorry!). To be honest, it wasn’t a place I had heard of before, but I do love the melting pot of influences and flavours there is to be had in a decent US diner – even one located on Scotland’s West Coast – so was most definitely keen to give it a go.


A blackboard of splendid special dishes.
Splendid specials.
The frontage of Ad Lib is certainly understated – not the brash Americana one might expect, given its culinary specialisation – and my first thought on stepping through the door was that the place was “toty”. Yet I was actually greeted by a slim, but cleverly stylish, dining space leading to the bar and main restaurant area, and which matches vermillion walls, cubic wooden furniture and tasteful, US-influenced artwork. Collectively, this had more of a nod to Frank Lloyd Wright than Trump Towers, I am pleased to say. Beyond the bar the airy dining room offers more of this stylish, Greenwich Village-esque vibe. But enough already about the d├ęcor, what about the food?

Ad Lib’s lunch menu is engaging in a “I really can’t make up my mind what to have” sort of way. Inviting sounding starters and mains, deli salads and sandwiches, gourmet burgers, steak AND lobster (I kid you not), and a burgeoning specials board all vie for attention. Now, for the purposes of this review I shall be focusing on what JML and I consumed, given that trying to cover what eight people were eating might just stretch a point a wee bit too far. Oh, and in terms of drinks, I should point out that Ad Lib serves the excellent Portuguese lager that is Sagres on draft, meaning this was our quaff of choice. So…

A very substantial burrito.
That really is a "Big Burrito".
In choosing a dish to kick of proceedings, I was somewhat torn. The salt and pepper squid, and Cajun prawn popcorn both sounded really inviting, but in the end it was the sticky molasses baby back ribs, with chilli and star anise than won me over. They certainly did not disappoint, featuring perfectly tender meat adorned in a tackily sweet-rich-spicy sauce, topped with a zingy fresh tomato salsa. Truly splendid. JML’s starter consisted of three ‘sliders’ (why so named?) – mini classic Aberdeen angus burgers accompanied by an onion relish. These were certainly tasty, with the relish providing a nice contrast to the umami flavour of the beef, but maybe the burgers were just ever so slightly on the dry side.


A basket of fried fish and chips
A lovely basket-o-fish.
Deciding on a main was an equally involved affair, especially when the specials board was also brought into play. It was the “Big Burrito” that caught JML’s attention, and this turned out to be a dish that could under no circumstances be accused of being misdescribed. What arrived was a gargantuan portion of seared stake, combined with chorizo, red rice, and black beans, all neatly encased in a dustbin lid-sized tortilla, and topped off with fresh salsa and sour cream. It was a plateful that would not look out of place on Man Versus Food, but the fact that it presented little challenge for my dining companion indicated just how good it was. Having started with turf, I moved onto surf for my main course, deciding to try the intriguingly named Bloody Mary basket ’o’ fish. This transpired to consist of an excellently cooked portion of haddock, bream and king prawns, all coated in a rich – but light – tomato infused batter, and sat upon a mini washing basket of skinny fries. Only a bit more kick and smokiness from the accompanying smoked chilli mayo would have made this really good dish a great one.

A strawberry sundae dessert.
Sundae, scrummy sundae.
By the time it came to ordering sweets, I must admit that we were flagging, as were our waistlines. But so cannily persuasive were the young restaurant staff that we crumbled - we were signed up to the authentic US diner experience, after all. My New York ice cream waffle sundae – accompanied with hot toffee sauce, toasted pecans and berries – provided a good combination of textures flavours, even for someone who is a bit of a self-proclaimed “pudding-o-phobe”. Across the table, a home baked millionaires’ shortbread cheesecake was efficiently dispatched. Very pleasant, but a bit heavy after the “Big Burrito”, was JML’s opinion. Oh, and not enough evidence of the shortbread. Probably wouldn’t have been shopping on Fifth Avenue, as a result.

There is very much to like about Ad Lib. It’s a welcoming restaurant that is simultaneously stylish, yet laid back. It captures the essence of what makes American deli food so tempting and scrumptious, without turning itself into a pastiche. So if you are hungry in GLA and fancy a taste of NYC, be sure to check out this easy-going eatery.

Food 7.5/10
Drink 7/10
Service 7/10
Value 7.5/10

Ambience – Expect a stylish, yet laid back diner-come-bistro.


Ad Lib on Urbanspoon
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