Stepping into the light

Stepping into the light

Few sights strike fear into the hearts of diners like a complicated wine list. Terms like “Bordeaux” and “Burgundy”, “tannins” and “length”, are bandied about as if everyone’s an expert – and that’s before anyone’s even glanced at the prices that sit alongside the complex descriptions.

Malmaison may have the answer. I read a lot of wine lists – and I mean a lot of wine lists – in my role as a drinks writer and I was very impressed with the new-look drinks menu at the hotel chain’s restaurant in Glasgow.

To begin with, the wines are organised into price brackets – starting at £20 and moving up in £5 increments to £45 – and, if we’re honest, the cost is going to be the deciding factor for most diners. A list of two or three short descriptions is then given for each wine, from “Clean acidity/Delicate aromas/Intense fruit” for The Oddity Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint from Hungary to “Refreshing/Peachy, apple & pear/IWC winner” for the Laurenz V Gruner-Veltliner from Austria.

I opted for an old friend: the 2016 Creation Wines Pinot Noir – “Elegant vanilla/Red berries” – from South Africa. Full of wood smoke, spun sugar, cloves and cinnamon on the nose, it morphed into complex and concentrated red cherry, cranberry and redcurrant on the palate and, at £45, was great value in a restaurant.

Plus, the Creation Pinot Noir was the ideal accompaniment for the tasty meal that followed the arrival of the wine list. After trying the Italian-style Altamura and French-inspired pain de campagne, I opted for the buttermilk fried chicken wings, which were fragrant, sticky and offered contrasting textures between the crunchy coating and soft meat.

The restaurant’s Signature Côte du Boeuf – a rib-eye steak cooked on the bone – was the star, perfectly cooked medium-rare. Chef is clearly a perfectionist; when the first chocolate fondant failed to rise, a second entered the oven – it was worth the wait, made with Valrhona chocolate from France and served with scrummy mint choc chip ice cream.

Last year, Malmaison’s hotel in Glasgow switched the design of its restaurant from “The Honours” – which was opened by Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart in 2014 – to the “Chez Mal” brand already used at its other sites. The choices on the menu are excellent – especially on the seasonal fixed-price selection – but what was equally-impressive was the revamp of the restaurant’s décor, offering more light to see what you’re eating, which I remember being an issue.

Hopefully the refit will extend to the accommodation soon too; although my bedroom was well kitted out – four 13-amp sockets and another four USB charger slots above the desk are a travelling writer’s dream – the room was still just a few lumins short of being bright enough.

Despite the changes, Malmaison has done well to retain its trademark tongue-in-cheek humour: although I’d always prefer to see Scottish toiletries, when the products are called “The Best Shampoo You Will Ever Steal” and “Better Shower Gel Than You Have At Home” then I’ll chortle and turn a blind eye.

What still frustrates me though is when Scottish drinks aren’t in the room’s fridge. It’s especially galling because Malmaison’s bar stocks an impressive array of Scotch, plus beers from Brewdog.

Dinner, bed and breakfast in a double room at the Malmaison hotel in Glasgow starts from £149.

Published: 22 March 2018

Article by Peter Ranscombe
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