Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- Baloo, Glasgow

Some people collect books, shoes or paintings. Craig Johnson has a passion for restaurants, always dreaming up a new venture in order to start the planning process all over again - location, design, décor and of course the cuisine. Five years ago he joined forces with Chef Donald Angus Munro who had enjoyed wide experience in five star restaurants including Executive Chef at Skibo Castle. He was also looking for a challenge. In July 1999, their first restaurant, Loop, a contemporary bistro, in Ingram Street, Glasgow opened and was an immediate success. It was a combination of Munro's experience in the kitchen with Johnson's philosophy to keep it simple, with an informal and friendly environment. Boosted by happy diners here, the following year they created a second Loop restaurant on the ground floor of Bewley's Hotel on Bath Street. But by 2004, inspired by some stylish cafes and bistros in Australia, Johnson felt it was time to get their teeth into a new project - quite literally.

The Location
Bang in the city centre at 78 Queen Street, a couple of blocks from George Square, Baloo is extremely convenient for local office workers, shoppers, visitors, train travellers using Queen Street station and families on a day out.

The Restaurant
Enter a bright, airy but intimate space, (40 covers) with two long picture windows. Sit at polished pine tables (vases of fresh flowers and candles), on long brown leather banquettes around the wall or comfy cane-basket armchairs. The design has that bold post-modern industrial look with red-brick walls, grey concrete pillars and huge ceiling fans. A blackboard lists the menu and daily specials. It is a rather clever concept - relaxing café-diner by day serving breakfast, snacks, lunches and children's menu. By night the ambience remains casual while the menu switches to a quality 3-course dinner menu featuring contemporary Scottish cuisine tossed with a touch of Munro's creative flair. And the name? Well, life is one Hullabaloo, they say.

The Food
From morning to night you can eat well at Baloo with good food for all tastes. Good value prices too. Pop in around 10am for a cappuccino with chocolate cake, or a slap up breakfast with style - bacon bagels, wild mushrooms, black pudding, scrambled eggs ... Breakfast is served 10-12 Noon Monday to Saturday with a lazy Sunday Brunch 10-3pm. From noon till 6.30pm it's time for Baloo bites - homemade soups, prawn and avocado salad [scrumptious], Thai chicken kebabs [a house speciality], a choice of pastas and rice such as a delicate Smoked salmon risotto, perfectly prepared. Alternatively an unusual selection of salads - smoked haddock fishcake or crispy bacon Caesar. Bring the children for deep fried haddock with mushy peas and fries or roast chicken. Other dishes have an authentic American flavour including a Chicken Club sandwich or a Steak burger with Tomato and Sweet corn relish. Vegetarians are well catered for with a Mushroom and Bean Burger with tomato salsa. Tasty - but it was too soft and finely processed. Chunks of mushroom and visible beans would give a better texture. For dessert, a tempting choice of French pastries, cakes, Sticky Toffee Pudding and ice-cream.

A new dinner menu was launched for October 2004. Quality beef, lamb, chicken and fish are served simply and classically as well as certain dishes offer that spicy fusion taste of Eastern promise. Start perhaps with Tandoori Chicken strips with mango chutney, coriander and cucumber salad or Breaded Haggis balls with cabbage and whisky cream sauce. Creative imagination is at play with such combinations as Roast Peppers with feta cheese, anchovies and pesto dressing. Delicious, fresh flavours to get the taste buds going. Main courses include a light Angelhair pasta with garlic prawns and Roquefort cheese sauce, Beef Stroganoff with saffron rice, Baked Seabass with lemon and thyme or Braised shank of Scottish lamb with roast vegetables and cheese baked potatoes. The menu has been carefully selected to offer something for everyone, the Baloo motto being " best quality food at reasonable prices." Baloo is fully licenced and - a bold and brave decision - is completely non-smoking.

The Bill
Lunch - starters, £3.50. Main courses, £5.00 - £ 8.00 Puddings, £3.50
Dinner - starters, £2.75 - £4.95 Main courses, £7.95-£16.95,
Puddings, £1.95-£3.75.
House wine £9.95 bottle. £ 2.75-£ 3.50 glass

One thing for sure - I shall be returning to Baloo very soon. The whole experience was fun and enjoyable from the friendly staff, comfortable seating, quirky design, extensive menu (taking about 15 minutes to choose) and freshly prepared food. The lunchtime sandwiches may seem to be "fast food" but here you'll find the Slow Food movement philosophy - real home made chicken and steak burgers, fresh pastas and crisp light salads. To paraphrase a current advert, Baloo does not play with your food. Come, eat and enjoy a superb snack or meal any time, day or night.

Vivien Devlin

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