The Finnieston, Glasgow restaurant review – decent dining that’s maybe just missing a wee spark

Salt-baked sea bass, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Succulent, salt-baked sea bass.
"Though also sorely tempted by the halibut, I instead chose the salt-baked sea bass with salsa verde and charred lemon. The sea bass itself was superb, simultaneously firm yet silky, moist, flavoursome and beautifully seasoned by its – now removed – saline overcoat.  The salsa verde was good, but maybe as was the case in the accompaniments to Tina’s sea trout, it just lacked a certain something, and charring the lemon didn’t discernibly alter the citrus tone of the dressing."

I'm not sure whether it's the done thing to quote the recent dining assessments of such revered gourmands as The Observer's Jay Rayner when one is just a jobbing food blogger.  Yet as I sat in our chosen eatery, once again observing the prone form of one of our servers, I was reminded of Jay’s recent review of Edinburgh's Fishers in the City.  This emphasised that in any restaurant experience it's frequently the little things diners remember. Be they good, or more usually, not so good.

In this particular instance, these wee incidents in question were being observed in a renowned seafood bar and restaurant in Glasgow, as opposed to Edinburgh, as JML, Tina and I dined at The Finnieston.  Set in the increasingly fashionable area to the west of the city centre, it's a venue with a lovely ambience full of dark carved wood and flickering candles perched upon the dining tables that flow from the busy bar.  Oh, and roaring open fires. Fuelled by gas. That refused to stay alight on a chilly, blustery autumn evening, resulting in the frequent, on all fours, attention of the front-of-house staff, as our party intermittently shivered on an adjacent table.

Sea trout, with fennel and orange salad, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Sumptuous sea trout, yet did the salad need an extra 'spark'?
And this is probably a suitable metaphor for the overall dining experience at The Finnieston. Really pleasant, but on occasion lacking a necessary spark needed to ignite the roaring gastronmic flame that would make it something exceptional.  Proceedings commenced very well indeed, with the provision of some knock-out Bloody Marys, prepared exactly to the customers’ preference in terms of chilli hit.  Exactly what was needed to kick off a late Sunday afternoon of dining and concert going. Hot on the heels of our excellently spiced, tomatoey cocktails came a mixed bag in terms of starters, however.
 
Tina’s gin-cured sea trout featured luxuriously, velvety pink fish – massively superior in taste and texture to farmed salmon – subtly enhanced with the flavour of gin-infused botanicals.  Yet, pleasant as the accompanying raw salad of shallot, fennel and orange was it just lacked the necessary punch to counterpoint the richness of the sea trout, even with the addition of chive crème fraiche dressing. 

Grilled sardines with Scotch Bonnet yoghurt, The Finnieston, Glasgow
Splendid sardines, not so sure about the 'Jackson Pollock' habanero yoghurt dressing.
Despite the fact we were dining in a venue specialising in marine fare, JML passed on the seafood soup option choosing instead a hearty cabbage-based alternative, possibly enhanced with lentils and potato.  Just the ticket on a cold Glasgow evening, not least because the roaring fire was yet again roaring no more at this point.

My sardines with scotch bonnet yoghurt and day old bread sounded intriguing.  The fish were certainly really fresh and flavoursome and cooked to perfection, but I’m not sure the croutons added much to the dish whatsoever, and despite the fruity warmth of the chilli in the yoghurt – ‘trendily’ served as if someone had dropped a pot of paint on the plate -  a dairy-based accompaniment to such oily flesh just didn’t seem to cut it, as the sardines begged for a more acidic dressing.

Halibut, puy lentils, celeriac puree, clams, The Finnieston, Glasgow.
Hoorah for the halibut - and lentils, celeriac, and clams too!
The sound of roast halibut was so alluring both Tina and JML opted for it as their main course.  Two superbly cooked, plump fillets of snowy-white flatfish, covered in beautifully crisp skin were served. Each rested on a bed of earthy-flavoured puy lentils, augmented by a silky-smooth celeriac puree and bejewelled with sweet clams in their shells. This was a really good dish.
 
Though also sorely tempted by the halibut, I instead chose the salt-baked sea bass with salsa verde and charred lemon. The sea bass itself was superb, simultaneously firm yet silky, moist, flavoursome and beautifully seasoned by its – now removed – saline overcoat.  The salsa verde was good, but maybe as was the case in the accompaniments to Tina’s sea trout, it just lacked a certain something, and charring the lemon didn’t discernibly alter the citrus tone of the dressing.  I feel slightly mean being picky, as the fish itself was so good, but the plate just needed an extra something, a further garnish or accompaniment to really make things work.

Guinness sponge and ice cream, the Finnieston, Glasgow.
Guinness-based sponge and ice cream, that possibly needed more of the dark stuff.
And speaking of extra accompaniments, gluttony somewhat got the best of us, as we did slightly go to town on the available sides.  Parmesan truffle fries were exactly as advertised, crisp lengths of simultaneously crisp and fluffy spud covered in umami-invoking melting cheese with just the right adornment of “walk in the autumn woods” truffleness.  Buttered greens provided a vibrantly rich vegetable side, nicely augmented by a squeeze of lemon and crunch provided by toasted pine nuts.  The mac and cheese was fine, but maybe needed a bit more of a cheese punch in the sauce bathing the pasta.  Unfortunately, whilst it was smooth and creamy the smoked garlic mash exhibited little evidence of either smokiness or garlic, and calling it tepid would be generous.  Another wee unnecessary niggle that shouldn’t come to light in an establishment that bills itself as a high end gastro pub/bistro.

Pudding was a slightly rushed affair, as it took a while to appear, we had a gig to get to, and the restaurant needed the table vacated by half seven. To be fair, the lovely front of house staff did shoogle subsequent reservations around to accommodate our slightly overstaying our welcome, and again provided a cabaret whilst they tried to relight the not-so-living flames of the gas fire once again. JML’s selection of semifreddo was a hit by all accounts, and somewhat unusually presented as wedges rather than scoops.

Semifreddo, The Finnieston, Glasgow.
Semifreddo a go-go,
Tina’s selection of cheeses were initially a bit of a magical mystery tour – nicely presented, but without any explanation as to what was on the board until some gentle prompting of our server revealed what exactly the selection consisted of. And it also transpired that the accompanying oatcakes contained wheat, despite the venue being forewarned that one of our party was gluten intolerant. Some rapid scrambling replaced these with gluten free bread, but that’s not the point.  The Comté was delicious, though.
 
My Guinness-infused sponge pudding with a Guinness ice cream looked delicious, topped with a piping of toasted Italian meringue and served with a fruit coulis.  It tasted nice enough, but the flavour was more akin to that of a cup of malty Ovaltine than the smoky-bitter bite usually associated with Ireland’s favourite stout. This was a shame because visually the dish promised so much, only to not quite deliver the anticipated hit on the palette.

And before concluding, I should mention that if our starting cocktails were excellent, so too was the bottle – OK, two bottles, but it was a celebration – of Rioja that accompanied our meal.  The Finnieston certainly does run a flaming good bar and cellar.  It’s therefore a shame that the kitchen just fell a wee bit short of the mark on the occasion of this visit.  I would certainly return on a future trip to Glasgow however, as even if the restaurant’s hearths temperamentally sometimes fall cold, I think with just a little more spark, this is an eatery that could really be ‘cooking on gas’.

Food – 7/10
Atmosphere –7.5/10
Service – 7.5/10
Value – 7/10

Ambience - expect a pleasant bar/bistro, specialising in seafood, and serving pretty decent gastro-pub fare.


The Finnieston Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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