Fresh from Glasgow's Michelin star glory, head chef Lorna McNee can't wait to get back into the kitchen with her team to show off their stellar skills. Katherine Price reports.
Normally when a restaurant wins its first Michelin star, celebrations ensue, but coronavirus has meant putting the Champagne on ice for Cail Bruich, which won Glasgow's first star in 18 years since the closure of Gordon Ramsay's Amaryllis.
"We can't showcase it. It's sad, I feel sorry for the guys in the kitchen," says head chef Lorna McNee. "When we do reopen we're going to celebrate it and show what we can do."
McNee took up her first head chef role at the restaurant in August, joining from the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Perthshire, where she had worked her way up from apprentice to sous chef over nearly 12 years.
The star is the latest success for the Forres-born chef whose awards include 2016 Game Chef of the Year, 2017 Scottish Chef of the Year and 2019 Great British Menu ‘Champion of Champions'.
"I had that goal [a Michelin star] in my head from a young age, when I first started at Andrew Fairlie, and I always kind of knew I wanted to do it in Glasgow," admits McNee.
"After a while I thought, ‘you know, maybe I'm not that fussed, maybe I'm quite happy', and then when you do actually achieve it, it's like ‘wow, oh my God, we actually managed to do that'. It's a big deal."
Cail Bruich, meaning ‘to eat well' in Gaelic, has been run by brothers Paul and Chris Charalambous since 2008. McNee's appointment at the 30-cover restaurant saw the latter step away from the kitchen for the first time to focus on the wider business, which now includes three other food and drink projects in the city.
While it was open last year, the restaurant served à la carte lunch and dinner menus as well as a £60 six-course tasting menu or a £90 eight-course tasting menu. While closed, the venue's at-home offering has swung from a £180 seven-course, at-home tasting menu for two to a simple whole roast chicken.
"It's difficult to make what we would produce in the restaurant accessible in your house," says McNee. Despite this, she describes the restaurant's usual fare as inviting and friendly.
"There's nothing on [the menu] that's going to upset or confuse anyone," she clarifies, adding that it's not "a million miles away" from what she was doing at Gleneagles, but with a slightly different composition style so that every spoonful has "a bit of everything".
"That's how you get balance of flavours… you're never really missing a part of what that dish is," she says. When the restaurant does reopen, the dishes will evolve with the seasons: "when you use such fresh, seasonal, great quality produce, the menu almost writes itself".
When you use such fresh, seasonal, great quality produce, the menu almost writes itself
One favourite dish for her and her customers was a starter of West Coast crab. She cooks the claws at 72ºC for seven minutes and seasons the meat with almond oil, lime juice and salt. Scallops are seasoned with nori powder, rolled into a ballotine and frozen to slice into a ‘carpaccio', while any trimmings are dehydrated and added to a dashi of kombu and celeriac stock.
To plate, she piles the crab meat in the middle of a plate, encircles it with diced pink grapefruit, pomelo and rapeseed emulsion, covers with the scallop carpaccio and dresses with elderflower vinegar. At the table, the dashi is poured around the crab and a spoonful of caviar ‘dolloped' on top. "That was one of our first dishes and I think it started us off quite well because it was light and fresh," says McNee.
Pea and girolles were used in a pasta dish, with the liquid and trimmings from the blanched mushrooms blended with vegetable stock, butter and cream to make an emulsion in which the pasta is cooked. At the table, black truffle and truffle pecorino are grated over the top. "It's quite a simple dish, but the sauce has to be perfect," she says.
And a favourite dessert was an olive oil and lemon sponge – a basic sponge cake made using olive oil rather than butter – glazed with lemon and olive oil syrup. She makes a crémeux by adding milk to burnt honey, folding in cream when set. The crémeux is plated around the sponge and a big scoop of honey sorbet, made using yogurt from Katy Rodger's dairy at Knockraich Farm outside Glasgow, is placed on top. This is all covered in lemon espuma and topped with a lemon sable biscuit.
So what next for Glasgow's shining star? McNee's answer is simple: "I just want to get back to it and to be cooking nice food again."
725 Great Western Road, Glasgow, Lanarkshire G12 8QX
From the menu
− West Coast crab, celeriac, citrus, apple, langoustine consommé − Hand-rolled pasta, wild mushroom, Madeira, pecorino − Peterhead cod, baby gem, cornichon, squid, sourdough, beurre noisette − Anjou squab pigeon, braised chicory, roast onion, seared duck liver, preserved cherry − Olive oil sponge, honey crémeux, lemon mousse, Katy Rodger's yogurt sorbet
From the tasting menu, £90
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