A meal that changed my life – Irish food heroes recall a dining experience at a special destination
Elaine Murphy, affable restaurateur at Dublin’s Winding Stair group, recalls a memorable meal in one of her favourite cities that changed the course of her, and her friend’s, life.
Glasgow has long been a spiritual home for me. There’s a rich, hilarious and gritty spirit to its people that reminds very much of working-class Dublin.
When I first started visiting in the early nineties, it was something of a culinary wilderness, with the notable exception of its incredible Indian food scene.
So when I first discovered Stravaigin, above, in the city’s fun West End, I knew immediately it was a shining outlier (and later, it was hugely responsible for teaching me to take pride in traditional recipes and indigenous produce).
It seems odd thinking on it now – this was pretty revolutionary in 1990s’ Britain and Ireland – but Stravaigin’s mission to “showcase Scottish produce that isn’t tethered to its roots” woke me to the joys of our own culinary heritage, something that has influenced my career since.
One of my favourite memories is that of my very first evening there.
I was visiting a friend who had just moved to Glasgow. She had just broken up from a long relationship, as had I, and we were both simultaneously heart-broken but young and eager for the next chapter of our lives to begin.
We ordered ‘Neeps and Tatties’, Scottish venison with ‘stovies’, traditional stoved potatoes, as we wanted to try something that was truly native. Before they emerged from the kitchen, however, a Bloody Mary sorbet amuse bouche – very exotic at the time – landed at our table. A very pleasant surprise, and an indicator that Stravaigin was doing something different.
It was 1997 and we were blown away by the casual but incredibly knowledgeable service, the stunning cooking, and the elevation of these simple ingredients, so much so that we ended up sitting back and hanging out with the staff afterwards.
In fact, my friend ended up deciding to change her entire career to become a chef at the restaurant, and all because of that one meal.
One of the most famous, and oldest, Scottish dishes is Haggis (‘the great chieftain of the pudding race’!), Neeps and Tatties and even now, the Stravaigin version is always a stunning rendition, with its rich whisky sauce and gorgeous sage crisps.
For me, Stravaigin remains a great and comforting stalwart and a place that will always remind me of old Glasgow and fun times in a city that oozes depth and character, and has the potential to open new doors to old friends.
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