For a moment I was back in 1996. Clasping a glass of wine and holding court at the bar was Anna from This Life.
For those too young to remember, Anna was the feisty, potty-mouthed Glaswegian in the hit BBC series about a bunch of hard-partying young barristers. In short, aged 16, she was my hero.
And now here she was, right in front of me looking as fabulous as ever two decades on. Because this wasn’t 1996 and it wasn’t Anna from This Life; it was the actress who played her, Daniela Nardini. I spotted her in hip new restaurant The Gannet in the Finneston district of Glasgow. Surrounded by friends, she looked like the cat who’d got the cream.
And now I know why. Her hubbie, Ivan Stein, is one of two head chefs at The Gannet, a place he co-owns with Peter McKenna.
This place is good. Seriously good. Tucking into pan-fried langoustines kissed in butter and garlic; Scottish smoked salmon topped with fennel salad; scallops with confit chicken wing; and salted caramel fondant, it really was the highlight of our weekend – local food at its very best minus the snobbery.
Finneston boasts a number of trendy little bars and restaurants, and when we visited on a Saturday night there was a distinct buzz about the place.
And while our meal at The Gannet could not have been bettered we did return to the district the following day to sample the deep-fried corn beef hash and chips at neighbouring caff, Old Salty’s. All washed down with Irn Bru, naturally. It couldn’t have been a more different meal – but was lip-smacking nonetheless.
Scotland’s biggest city is one of contrasts: beautiful, arty, green, gritty, grim, authentic. There’s battered Mars bars and grubby kebab joints aplenty but fine dining and everything inbetween in equal measure.
It doesn’t have the obvious sightseeing attractions of Edinburgh with its castle, Princes Street parade, futuristic Holyrood and Arthur’s Seat vistas, but Glasgow has an unwitting charm and a very clear identity.
Its gold-coloured Victorian buildings, tarnished with years of grime, stand proud, there are art galleries galore and the influence of art nouveau architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh is never far away. And it’s all systems go as it powers towards hosting the Commonwealth Games in two months time; a giant digital clock on precise countdown.
Our home for the weekend was the impressive Malmaison hotel, just a short walk from Glasgow Central Station. After a pleasant four-hour train journey from Wolverhampton, it was a delight to relax in our boutique bedroom (and raid the mini bar) before heading out to dinner.
The hotel’s inside a converted church in the leafy district of Blythswood. Sumptuous rooms are furnished in rich velvet and tartan tweed – luxury with a Caledonian twist.
The Mal Brasserie serves up mammoth breakfasts and bistro-style lunches and dinners, there’s a cocktail bar and gym if you’re feeling energetic.
On out first night we decamped to the nearby branch of La Tasca for a feast of Spanish tapas. Friday night in the city and, even at 7pm, the bars and restaurants were doing a brisk trade.
We tucked into tasty treats including pan-fried chorizo, calamari, king prawns and Spanish meats, all washed down with a decent bottle of Rioja. By the end of the evening we happily stumbled back to the hotel where our giant bed welcomed us like a hug from an old friend.
After a good night’s sleep and hearty brekkie, we headed out to explore the city on foot. The hotel’s just a five-minute stroll from the heart of the shopping district, which boasts all the big high street names.
At the top end of Buchannan Street there’s a flagship John Lewis as well as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and the Apple Store. Further down the main drag, shoppers can part with their cash in Hobbs, Ted Baker and LK Bennett. If that stretches the budget somewhat, then Sauchiehall Street’s the place for high street favourites like M&S and New Look.
Eating options are plentiful too; the city centre has all the chains but I recommend heading to the West End for great independents such as perennially popular Ubiquitous Chip. Glasgow has a considerable Scot-Italian population so great pizza, pasta and other south Med standards can be found on every corner.
Art fans will undoubtedly want to venture into the grand Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), or head up to the spectacular Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which houses works by Dali and Van Gogh as well as home-grown talent such as Sir James Guthrie and George Henry.
Talking of local talent, back to This Life’s Anna. Feisty, fun, potty-mouthed and very real, she personifies this city.
I loved it. I’ll most definitely be back. In This Life, and the next.
By Emily Bridgewater