Great Places to Eat in Scotland
- La Parmigiana, 447 Great Western Road, Glasgow

La Parmigiana

The Location
Kibble Palace Glasgow's Great Western Road runs for over three miles from St George's Cross to Anniesland Cross and is the longest (and straightest) road in the city. The eastern stretch, nearer the city centre, has the usual shops and apartments, but just along from La Parmigiana at No447, villas and terraced houses with trees begin to line the road and the Botanic Gardens at Kelvingrove with its Victorian "Kibble Palace" glass-house (illustrated here) are not far away.

Although located in Glasgow's "West End", La Parmigiana is away from busy Byres Road with its traffic jams, and so there is often parking available nearby for those travelling to the restaurant by car. And Kelvinbridge Underground station is right next door.

The Restaurant
La Parmigiana
is named after the Italian word for Parmesan, the cheese that is forever associated with dishes from that part of the world. There are not many restaurants that have lasted the pace for nearly 30 years, but La Parmigiana has become a Glasgow institution, having been established in 1978 by the Giovanazzi family. They originally came to Scotland just before the First World War, so La Parmigiana's owner and head chef, Sandro Giovanazzi, has a long pedigree in Italian cooking. Even so, he graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in history of fine art (with Italian language and literature). But a love of good food and all that background in Italian cooking soon brought him to La Parmigiana.

La ParmigianaShortly before my review visit to this restaurant (in February 2006), it had undergone a major facelift - not that there was anything wrong with the decor when I last paid a visit there. The new colour scheme is a rich, vibrant red, with a polished, hardwood floor and the large mirror on one wall has been retained. The effect is bright, but not in any way garish, and seems to blend in well with a prestigious establishment.

La Parmigiana is often very busy at lunchtime, but the efficient waiters (who have been at La Parmigiana for many years) work quietly and efficiently, yet still have time to have a chat with the customers and share a joke amongst themselves.

Talking of long service - the chefs Alan Watton and John Bagley have been working in La Parmigiana's kitchens for over 15 years. They learned their skills from Sandro Giovanazzi himself. These days, Sandro is not always on the premises, but if a customer makes a special request for a dish prepared by Sandro on a previous occasion, the two chefs can easily recreate it.

La Parmigiana is popular at lunchtime both with those who are lucky enough to work close by (staff and celebrities from BBC Scotland at Queen Margaret Drive are frequently there) and with customers travelling some distance to be there. It also seems to be attractive to footballers - the Scotland manager was there with some colleagues during my visit.

The Food
La Parmigiana is the only Italian restaurant in Scotland to be included in the "AA Restaurant Guide" as well as "The Michelin Restaurant Guide" and the "Good Food Guide". And the "London Times" rated La Parmigiana in the top ten Italian Restaurants in the country. Although the decor has recently changed, Sandro knew it was right not to radically alter the menu. The dishes certainly have an Italian flavour, with plenty of pasta, minestrone, cannelloni, lasagne and Italian cheeses (including Parmesan, of course). But the menu has also been geared over the years to local tastes, too, with such items as Scottish salmon and chipped potatoes (known as French fries in some parts of the world). Santos also specialises in fresh seafood and game dishes (such as Highland venison).

La Parmigiana has different menus for lunch and dinner and there is an à la carte menu available all day. There is also Pre-Theatre menu in the early evening. At lunchtime the emphasis is on a set-price, three-course lunch providing a range of good food, competitively priced. The menu changes each day, depending on the availability of fresh supplies. I have been to La Parmigiana on a number of occasions and it is this set lunch menu with which I am familiar.

Starters can include crespelle with spinach and Ricotta served with a tomato and basil coulis or spaghetti Aglio, with olio e pepperoncini. There is usually a soup as well, but I decided on the duck paté (see illustration) which proved to be smooth and tasty. Often paté is served these days with thin slivers of toast, but this one came with a good thick slice of toasted bread - which arrived piping hot too! Personally, I was also pleased that the green salad was not drenched in oils and so the flavours did not compete with the paté!

Main courses at lunchtime can include pan fried salmon fillet with a balsamic vinegar sauce served with creamed potatoes or lamb stew with olives, rosemary and grilled polenta or rigatoni all’Amatriciana. I went instead for battered cod with chips. As I expected, this was no ordinary "fish and chips" but came in a light crispy batter and with fresh fish that flaked on the fork. And with the kitchen handily next door to the customers and with good co-ordination between kitchen and waiting staff, this arrived nice and hot too. Amazing how many restaurants can't manage that!

Panacotta with blackcurrant coulisI maybe should have passed on the sweet, but all in the cause of providing a complete review, you understand, I ordered the panacotta with blackcurrant coulis. And I didn't regret it! The panacotta's delicate texture was complemented by the delicious flavour of the blackcurrant coulis. If this had not been a refined restaurant, I might have been tempted to lick the plate!

The wine list is extensive and totally sourced from Italy, with a great choice from well priced and flavoursome house wines to the top of the range vintages from Tuscany. The wine by the glass comes in a generously large glass too.

The Bill
See for current menu and prices.

It's always hard to pin down why a restaurant is successful. Usually, there is no single reason and in the case of La Parmigiana it's a combination of fresh food cooked with Italian flair and experience, a varied menu, efficient service and relaxed surroundings with only eleven tables. Certainly, the number of regular customers bears testimony to the success of La Parmigiana in combining good, honest, tasty Italian cooking with reasonable prices.

BBC Scotland is shortly moving to new premises, south of the river Clyde and they fought hard to have a new bridge built across the river, arguing that they had to have good communications. I wonder if that was so that they also had easy access to La Parmigiana?

For more information see the La Parmigiana Web site and to make a reservation, phone 0141 334 0686.

February 2006

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