Jake O'Brien Murphy and his unending appetite for bar snacks arrives in Glasgow this week, where he finds the perfect elbow-to-elbow sustenance.
I found myself in Glasgow last week on the hottest day of the year so far. Around those parts, the most recognisable image of the sun is on a bottle of Sunny Delight. For all its positives, Glasgow is about as prepared for sunshine as it is for it to start spontaneously raining lasagne.
As a tourist, it was clear that locals didn’t really know what to do. There were old women in anoraks and knitted socks melting into the pavement like warm chewing gum. Swathes of melanin deficient men strutted about with their taps aff, audibly crackling as their soft pink areola crisped into thick, carbonised nipple brisket.
I’d arrived later than planned the evening before due to the RMT rail strikes. By the way, that isn’t a complaint, personally, I think that the right to strike is an integral part of a functioning democracy especially when the cost of living crisis means you’d have to mortgage your socks to pay for your shoes. Anyway, I had missed my booking at Crabshakk Finneston a seafood restaurant I’ve never been to. Yet from time to time, I find myself searching out empty rooms just to stand in solitude and flick through photos of dishes on their Instagram, muttering to myself and breathing heavily.
It only makes sense when you’re far from home to try something individual to that place, that the locals do inarguably better than anyone else in the world. To that end whenever I’m in Glasgow I’ve come to accept that all roads lead to The Pot Still. So it was, hungry but hopeful I headed down Hope Street.
The Pot Still is quite possibly one of the finest establishments serving drinks anywhere on the planet. Frank Murphy, a publican in the most pristine sense of the word, couldn’t be more Scottish if the shins exposed by his kilt were made of shortbread and he buttered his tatty scones with a claymore.
Locals, tourists and anyone in between come here to see, talk and drink whisky. Usually, I’d be giddily included in that number, but first, I needed to eat something. As if by some divine force, a pie emerged from the ether. Or the kitchen. Wafting past me crowned by gentle curls of steam that caused me to momentarily levitate on the spot like a cartoon character. I ordered a pie containing haggis, neeps and tatties without wasting another breath.
Haggis is the culinary crown jewel of Scotland and there’s a lot to love about the stuff. It’s an economically inventive dish that makes the very most of the ugliest parts of an animal. I can’t say I ever hanker much for a plate full of lung, but when you generously season it with oats, herbs and spices and further subject it to a poetry recital by a lyrical Glaswegian accent that’s so rough you could scour a pan with it, then you create something rather special.
I knew instantly it was exactly what I needed, the kind of generous stick-to-your-ribs fare that makes home cooking so comforting and for a humble little pie, it did an awful lot of things all at once. A perfect partnership between sweet, mashed root vegetables and coarse oats crumbled into savoury, gamey offal.
Not only was it delicious but just as importantly it was a pragmatist’s pie. Something you could eat standing up, shoulder to shoulder with the din and clamour of a packed bar. You rarely find that with bar snacks. Something you can catch an elbow in the ribs or get slopped by a wobbly pint while eating and still feel suitably fulfilled.
It was a cultural time capsule made of pastry and I truly doubt it would have tasted as good as it did anywhere else in the world other than in Glasgow, in The Pot Still.