Soba Bar & Kitchen, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow G1 3NU
This is a first for me, I am writing a review of a place that I have never been. I have no idea where Soba is and not a clue what it looks like inside! What I can tell you is that if you walk down Buchanan Street there is a varied selection of bars and restaurants that have taken up residence in the centre of the pavement. Each has cordoned off a rectangular plot of concrete and occupied prime space in Glasgow City Centre in an effort to attract customers to eat outdoors. Soba's little enclave caught our attention and so the wife and I sat at a table in the centre of Buchanan Street in the sunshine for some lunch. It was an early lunch and we were only the second customers inside the barriers and the staff were still setting up as we sat down.
We sat at a table that gave us the best possible opportunity for people-watching, a hobby that I particularly enjoy and the friendly staff brought over some menus. Lets get some negatives out the way early. Firstly the table rocked side to side like a North Sea ferry in a winter storm, this was remedied using a wedge of folded up receipts and cinema tickets before any drinks went overboard. Overly critical, given the table is outside, no not really. Part of the preparation for opening should be to give each table a shoogle, especially as they are on an uneven surface. Secondly the menus, which were single sheets of paper appeared to come with some free samples of noodles and sauce, I kid you not we had to scrape the dried on noodles off. For the price of a piece of paper they should be fresh every day. So with that for first impressions I am quite surprised we didn't just get back up and walk off, but the welcoming staff had impressed me enough to stay and I am glad we did.
We ordered a couple of diet cokes to begin with and quickly made our minds up and ordered the Soba Starter Sharing Platter followed by Chicken Tempura Roti for me and Singapore Noodles for the wife. Whilst we sat and listened to a busker who's Johnny Cash repertoire was as deft as it was depressing the staff brought various bits and pieces down the narrow alleyway where I expect the restaurant proper to be. One of these things was a big black box which appeared very heavy and had a big metal beer tap on top. The Kirin had landed.
Also brought down the alleyway, but still very hot was the platter which looked amazing and full. We tucked in immediately and about five minutes later one of the staff said our side plates were on the way, I have to admit that due to the glutton in me, I hadn't even noticed as I'd tucked into the spread in front of me. The menu told me I would be eating crab cakes, sate ayam, tikis & mixed tempura with dipping sauce and that's what I got. The Crab cake was soft squishy slight spiced and had a good balance of flavour. The tempura batter was very crisp and applied with a delicate touch, there were good sized chicken breast pieces and a vegetable selection of Sweet Potato, Peppers, Broccoli and Courgette. The vegetables still had a decent crunch to them rather than the soggy mush that a few minutes more in the fryer would produce. The Tikis were for all intents and purposes vegetable Pakora and were inoffensive enough and took up some space on the platter. The real star however was the Sate Ayam, marinated chicken pieces served on a skewer in a pot of peanut sauce and it was Yummy! The sauce set off the chicken nicely and I have to admit to pretty much dipping everything else in it as well, the yoghurt and chilli sauces didn't really get a look in. There was also a garnish of Shredded carrot and onion, topped with chillies which rounded off the dish nicely. The starter was devoured faster than a Shinkansen and due to the spices our drinks were drunk just as quickly.
The staff were pretty sharp at clearing the table, but I had hoped one would have spotted our absence of liquid refreshment and offered us another, alas no. I had to ask for more drinks and decided to try the Kirin whilst the wife stuck with the diet coke. Apparently Kirin is named after a creature from Chinese mythology with the body of a Deer, the tail of an Ox, and the hooves of a Horse, with a single horn on it's head and a pelt of five colours, sounds like a well-dressed Unicorn to me. Despite all the oriental heritage and packaging the beer is brewed under license in Bedford, hardly the land of the Rising Sun. The beer was cold and gassy, I found it had a crisp first taste that promised alot, but then nothing. I thought it would be perfect for refreshing the palate when eating spicy food ahhhh wait that's what we are eating. So it came to pass that when the main course arrived a short while later the beer was perfect for sipping in-between mouthfuls.
Our busker had just started his second rendition of Walk the Line when the main course arrived and again despite the trip down from the restaurant and across the pavement it was still hot. My Chicken Tempura Roti looked amazing, presented on a banana or plantain leaf (who am I kidding it could have been a sycamore for all my knowledge of botany) and with sides of chilli mayo, spicy coleslaw and chilli fries. The fries were crisp and had just enough oomph to tingle the taste buds rather then leave them feeling like they'd been strapped to an ACME rocket. The Thai Slaw imprisoned in a lettuce leaf was a tasty distraction, but the Roti was awesome. Think KFC Flamin' wrap but way, way classier. Decent chunks of chicken tempura, every bit as good as on the starter platter, are wrapped in with fresh lettuce and tomato and against this crispiness the softness of the wrap contrasts well.
The Singapore Noodles looked like they were in a small bowl, but looks can be deceiving. There were long thick egg noodles and nestled in amongst them were decent bite sized chunks of Sticky pork, chicken and beef. The noodles were soft and melted in the mouth and the shredded vegetables still had a decent bite to them. The presentation with the spliced spring onions and sliced chillies was very good and the bowl seemed to be bottomless. No matter how much was eaten there seemed to be more. I think there was a real danger of some having to be left.
The staff were good at checking we were enjoying our food, and this time ,even though our glasses were still half-full ( or half-empty for the negative thinkers out there) they offered us more drinks. After clearing away the main courses they successfully sold me the Balinese Black Rice Pudding.
Pudding arrived during a pause between Hurt and Hallelujah and was really jolly good. It was well presented in a faux-Chinese teacup accompanied with a healthy pile of mango. The rice actually has an interesting purple hue to it and it was chewier than a traditional British Rice Pudding. I found it to be beautifully creamy and when eaten with a nibble of the mango the contrasting tastes and textures were tremendous. A marvellous way to finish a great meal.
Normally I would tell you how much lunch costs, but to be honest I have no way of working it out. The internet will tell you the prices of the dishes we had should have been £31.10 and I reckon another £8 or so pounds for drinks, so was expecting a bill for £40. Instead there is a discounted lunch price with supplements and cheap deserts, which brought the whole meal, including the tip in for £34 and I can't see it advertised anywhere!
So as we departed with both our bellies and my wallet heavier than I expected, I had to hope that the musician wasn't precognitive for he burst into a particularly mournful rendition of Ring of Fire.