Ben Mervis

Born in Pennsylvania, American Ben Mervis came to Glasgow to study medieval history, but left university with an appetite for food. After relocating to Copenhagen to work at Noma as Rene Redzepi’s personal assistant, he returned to Glasgow where he set up Fare, a bi-annual journal that dedicates whole issues to exploring a single city’s dining culture. In addition to being Fare’s editor-in-chief, he is also lead researcher for Netflix documentary series, Chef’s Table. In short, when it comes to food, Mervis knows a thing or two, including the best places to eat in the city he calls home.

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Why I Love Glasgow

I ended up in Glasgow by chance and it is so fortuitous that I did, because I can’t imagine my life having played out differently. I think Glasgow does something amazing for the people who move here: they are welcomed from day one. That’s how it was for me. Rough Guides recently voted Glasgow the friendliest city in the world, and it truly does live up to that hype. There’s a lot of rawness and realness to the city and I think people find that comforting in a way because there’s nothing that’s really hidden. Everything is what it seems. I guess this is largely why I’ve ended up coming back to Glasgow over the years. It’s just always felt like home. I love Glasgow. I’m such a patriotic Glaswegian.

Glasgow’s Food Scene

For one, people want value, so don’t expect too many frills. Historically, Glasgow is not a city that’s very conducive to fine dining, however, we recently received our first Michelin star since 2004 for a fantastic restaurant called Cail Bruich. Over the last five to 10 years, there has also been a big wave of new Scottish restaurants and restaurants that are exploring a lighter, more Mediterranean style of cooking. The fifth issue of Fare magazine is on Glasgow, and so much has changed since the issue launched two and a half years ago. I would probably make a very different issue today. It’s a really exciting time for the city. I always speak in glowing terms about Glasgow, and now more than ever.

What Glasgow maybe lacked in the past were chefs who had knowledge and experience from different food cultures around the world. Now we have that in abundance. As a city, I think our strong point has been bakeries, coffee shops and cafes. I think that’s because Glasgow is a very DIY city. People are finding that you don’t need hundreds of thousands of pounds behind you to start your dream project, but that it’s instead pretty accessible and possible to back yourself. This also creates venues that are so personal, and I think that’s the best thing about Glasgow’s food scene at the moment.

The Best Bread in The United Kingdom

In my opinion, Glasgow has some of the best bakeries, cafes and coffee places anywhere in the UK. I’m very lucky to have on my street two of the best bakers in the whole country: husband-and-wife duo Sam and Anna Luntley, who have just opened a bakery called 287. I’ve lived in London, and I can tell you that there isn’t a bakery in London that’s as good as they are. The bread is just so good. The year before the pandemic, Sam spent a year at Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall, milling and baking 400 loaves of bread a day. It’s genuinely the best sourdough bread you’ve ever had. Sam is the bread and croissant baker and Anna does the cakes and biscuits. She has a lot of her own creations and everything that she bakes is fantastic. Like a lot of the great bakeries in the UK, it also offers amazing butter and grocery staples in store.

Coffee and Baked Goods

Kaf Coffee is fantastic for everything that you would want before 4pm. Leonora Belcher, who runs it, makes great coffee and does wonderful baked goods and bread. She loves travelling and taking inspiration from what she sees abroad and adding her own spin on things.

Another favourite bakery of mine – one that is more classic – is Cottonrake Bakery. I went there today and picked up a large amount of pastries for one person: several pistachio and blackberry financiers and a treacle tart, which is a very British thing.

Where to Try Scotland’s Best Produce

A good friend of mine, Peter McKenna, has one of the best Scottish restaurants in Glasgow called The Gannet. This is definitely a must if you are coming to Glasgow and want a taste of modern Scottish produce. Peter’s Irish and when he first came to Scotland, he found that it was quite difficult to find food that came from local producers. So when he set up The Gannet, it was very much based around the provenance of the ingredients. It’s all about searching out and making relationships with great suppliers across the country. The restaurant has hit its stride in the last several years. It’s a great place to go for an occasion. The décor evokes the warmth of the Scottish landscape. It’s a really warm and cosy venue: the kind of place that you want to sit and relax into.

“Punjabi Home Cooking from The Punjabi Mother You Never Had”

There’s an incredible amount of diversity in Glasgow, and we have really vibrant  Indian and Pakistani communities. One of my favourite local restaurants is Ranjit’s Kitchen. It’s run by a Sikh family cooking vegetarian and vegan Punjabi food. Chef Ranjit Kaur raised three kids after immigrating from Punjab, and after they all grew up and went off to university, they said to her: “Mom, now you need to go and do your thing”.  She’s a fantastic cook, so they put their savings together and opened this spot. Every day Ranjit cooks a different dahl and a different sabji. It’s so tasty. It’s wonderful Punjabi home cooking from the Punjabi Mother that you never had. The restaurant gets a real mix of clientele. It’s situated in between two neighbourhoods: one’s very working class and the other very upper class, and here they mix and co-mingle. Usually I get parathas, pakoras or samosas and a bunch of dishes. You end up having this incredible feast that’s so good to share with friends. Kebabish Grill, a Punjabi Pakistani restaurant, is also great.

If You Only Have One Day in Glasgow

If friends are visiting Glasgow, I’m definitely going to take them to Mother India for butter chicken, that’s for sure. I do this often.. The restaurant a very bizarre atmosphere: there’s candelabras on the table and the waiters are in suits. The service is not great, by the way, but oh my God, the butter chicken is so good. It’s a wonderful place and so reasonably priced. Then after dinner at Mother India, I usually take them around the corner to The Ben Nevis for a dram [a single serving of whisky] and a half pint. It’s named after Scotland’s – and also the United Kingdom’s – tallest mountain. It’s one of the best places to get a whisky. Three nights a week it has traditional music, so if we’re lucky, in the corner there’ll be someone on the fiddle, someone else on the accordion, and maybe someone singing or playing guitar. Everyone’s watching the band and getting merry over a number of rounds of a dram and a half pint. There are a few venues like that in Glasgow. The Lismore is another such venue.

Mediterranean Small Plates

Alchemilla is a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant that was originally set up by chef Rosie Healey, who trained in London with chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Food writer Jay Rayner was absolutely raving about the focaccia when he was there. It was also one of the city’s first restaurants to embrace natural wines. Rosie’s since moved to set up her own place called Gloriosa. It’s a lovely place with amazing, Mediterranean small plates.

Where to Buy and Drink Natural Wine

When I moved back to Glasgow from Copenhagen four years ago, I basically got laughed out of a wine shop for asking for natural wine. But in the last three months, three different natural shops have opened selling natural wine: Made from Grapes, Judo Madonna Wine, and Big Counter (an eatery and shop). The availability and interest in natural wine has become a real litmus test of the orientation of a city’s dining scene and how progressive it is, which is kind of funny, but I think it does have merit. The natural wine options in Glasgow are mostly shops at the moment, but bar Brett is the one that’s closest to a proper sit-down natural wine bar. It doesn’t do exclusively natural wine, but it has a very natural wine-heavy menu. It’s actually the sister venue of Michelin-star restaurant Cail Bruich, so the food is also really good.  

Stand Up Pizza

Errol’s Hot Pizza has developed a cult following. The pizza is really, really good. It’s Neapolitan-style, only slightly heftier. They releases time slots for pizzas on Tuesday nights. If you show up five minutes late, you are done for. I made that mistake last week. Five minutes was all it took to sell out. If this is what the people who run Errol’s are doing now, imagine what they’ll be doing once they’ve had years of experience built up, and they make bigger and more ambitious plans. It’s something that really excites me.

Burgers and Natural Wine

Errol’s Hot Pizza has a sister spot called Big Counter. It does great burgers and sandwich subs. It’s a super cool place run by an alum of Alchemilla. There’s a counter for provisions as well and a great selection of natural wine to boot. You can pick up your Italian sub, some cookies, and a  Grégory Guillaume to go.

The Bacon Roll, Glasgow-Style

I absolutely love a bacon roll. In the cookbook that I’m currently writing [a Phaidon publication that will offer a comprehensive take on traditional British home cooking], I compare my love of bacon rolls to my Proust Madeline moment. It always takes me back to a very particular time and place: a really happy time and place, too. Bacon rolls are all over the UK, and generally it’s the same idea: a soft butter roll with griddle back bacon and either HP sauce or ketchup. In Glasgow, you’ll get asked if you want a soft or crispy roll. The crispy roll has a slightly crisp top with a semolina dusting. The Glasgow-specific version is what they call well-fired. It’s basically burnt. It’s a very curious tradition. Up the street from where I live there’s a spot that’s been open since the 70s called Caldwells Dairy. For me, this is the best bacon roll in the city. I usually take a crispy roll with tattie scones: thin fried pancake-like patties made from mashed potatoes, which is obviously a fantastic thing to chuck into the roll. I eventually figured out how to order this like a local: you have to ask for a bacon and scone roll. Caldwells also does a beef mince roll, which is basically the British version of a sloppy joe. They serve it with a spoon. It’s so great, and it’s only £1.50.

A Bucket List Sausage Roll

A treat that’s very Glasgow is a roll and square sausage. It’s what it sounds like: a heavily spiced beef sausage cut into a square and served on a roll. Back in the old days, workers used to carry a lunchbox with their square (bread) loaf and their square sausage meat, so that’s how it got its start. Comedian Billy Connolly is from Glasgow and there’s a quote of his about how a roll and square sausage and a cup of tea is something you need to have once in your life [“Above all, go to Glasgow at least once in your life and have a roll and square sliced sausage and a cup of tea. When you feel the tea coursing over your spice-singed tongue, you’ll know what I mean when I say: It’s good to be alive.”] That is just the most amazing thing. You can find a decent roll and square sausage roll anywhere that does bacon rolls.

Korean Fried Chicken

There is a wonderful Korean fried chicken place called Kimchi Cult. Some of the best Korean style fried chicken in the city. They’ve only got one location – in the West End – otherwise I’d be fattening myself up on fried chicken every week!

Great Malaysian Street Food

My friend Julie Lin has a Malaysian cafe called Julie’s Kopitiam. It’s a lovely, cosy little spot serving great Malaysian street food. Julie is half-Scottish, half-Malaysian. She’s done a lot of research into the Malaysian side of her family and spent a lot of time visiting Malaysia with her grandmother. She’s used those experiences to set up something really exciting, and so personal as well– my favourite kind of restaurant.

The Taste of Home

I would be completely inauthentic if I didn’t say I will always miss the chips when I leave the UK. It’s what I’ll eat after a night out. You know, you’ve been out at the pub with friends for a couple of drinks and then you go out and grab some chips and cheese. I will admit, I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve gone for one of the crazier offerings: Glasgow chippies, which is battered haggis, chips and cheese. Nothing more closely straddles that line between euphoria and death. It is wild, that’s for sure. I wish I could recommend a particular place for their chips, but usually I’ve had a few pints already and enjoy it all the same! If you’re going for a chippy, then Salt & Vinegar (near me) is good, or Old Salty’s in the West End. Also Benny’s Fish & Chicken Bar, though I’ve not been able to get there yet.

Scottish Pubs To Drink At

The pub scene is fantastic in Glasgow. The Laurieston, which is on the cover of the Glasgow issue of Fare magazine, definitely needs a mention – it’s operated by two or three generations of the same family, and has been for decades. The décor hasn’t changed since at least the 70s, and the clientele are a mix of old-timers and hipsters. Elsewhere, there are amazing options in terms of whisky at The Pot Still as well. Glasgow has many fantastic old pubs that are locals-only kind of spots where you’ll be the youngest person there by about 40 years. Those are such good fun, and I love to go for the karaoke. Absolute great times with lots of banter and people having a laugh. The Star Bar is one such locals-only experience. It has a three-course, three-pound lunch. I wouldn’t recommend the food, though. An absolute institution – and don’t judge the name too harshly – is Nice N Sleazy. It’s the kind of bar and club where you’ll find university age students to 30-somethings. Stereo is another good example of this, and also has an all-vegan menu.

A Scottish Pub To Dine At

A good Scottish place, a classic one, is the Ubiquitous Chip. It opened in the 70s and has been a mainstay of that scene. Its affiliated smaller sister restaurant is called Stravaigin, and this is where I would take someone who wanted to experience a Scottish bistro. It’s got a real gastro-pub kind of vibe. The menu has influences from elsewhere around the world, but they will at all times of the year have haggis, neeps and tatties on the menu.

Food on The Go

Glasgow is a city of not necessarily sit-down meals, but has great grab-and-go options. It’s definitely one of the city’s strengths. In my neighbourhood there’s an amazing falafel place called Kurdish Street Food. It’s four pounds for this giant falafel wrap, all made from scratch, and it’s fantastic.

Profile Photograph: Courtesy of Murray Orr.

Guide last updated March 2021

Our guides are fact-checked and updated regularly. Read more here.

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