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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Browns Bar & Brasserie - 1 George Square

Browns Bar & Brasserie, 1 George Square, Glasgow G2 1DY

George Square needed a place like this, something befitting Glasgow’s official centre and grandest landmark. Up until Browns, all we had were another bland Wetherspoons (Counting House) the shifty pubs under Queen Street station, the Millennium Hotel, and the modest The Edge on the corner with Cochrane Street.

Admittedly Jamie Oliver has arrived, but it is just a name and any place that forbids reservations just to create the buzz of queues at its door, doesn’t feature on my radar. I also doubt whether you can just enter for an imbibe-only visit.

Browns bills itself as a Bar & Brasserie and first impressions are well, impressive. There’s a large area greeting you inside the single glass door – should really be a double door to block cold north breezes – I’d say around 3,000 square feet, with a dais on the far right of the room.

Colour scheme is an elegant union of creams and browns and the seating eclectic, my favourite being the high chairs that have their own personal bar; the tables resembling a counter. The management seem to prefer having you wait to get seated judging by the way a waitress intercepted our path to a nice table with curved couch seating. My impatience, nay abruptness, causing me trouble again.

We were graciously allowed to stay where we were though and watched as others waited for a staff member to lead them to their table. At least half seemed to have booked and were led to the dais, joined soon by a group of ladies to our left who had been enjoying birthday celebration drinks at the aforementioned high-chairs. I like that: no, not ladies, well yes of course I do…oh forget it… I mean pre-dinner drinks. Gets you in the mood, so most people say.

The food is brasserie-style, no surprises there, and reasonable for such a central location. The grill options look particularly well-priced and does the Prix Fixe. This is the kind of place you would meet an old friend from out of town, fresh off the train, an easy rendezvous in an establishment that won’t embarrass the city.

A place also for taking mum for afternoon tea. That’s what me and The Muse did, even though respective mothers were missing. There had been a wee wait before we received any sort of menu, but we disguised our slight annoyance and took to observing the interior more closely. The distinctive small barrel-shaped chandeliers caught our attention, unusual. The large central bar – wood-slatted with a metal top - is quite stately but could do with being a slightly darker wood to give it real presence. And perhaps they could do without the branding on the large clocks, but overall there is a pleasing old-fashioned salon feel to this joint.

That extends to the nicely formal service and to the high tea we received. Cucumber, and salmon sandwiches minus the crust, cream scones, selection of four cakes, and loose tea with a strainer each. This and a choice of the particular tea blend. All for £10.95 for two. Great value.

I know a lot of places are doing high-tea now, but it can be done badly, as a recent visit to The Blind Pig on Byres Road demonstrated, their effort, including chipped crockery and lukewarm tea, was abysmal. Here, I had all the tea my pot could provide and the food was light and without obvious flaw.

A few groups of gents had now arrived around the bar seeking mere session-beers, and service was a little slow for them as the barman struggled with a few orders especially with cocktails. We decide to add to his troubles. The cocktail list is just one part of varied selections in all aspects of booze, from the often-neglected dessert wines & ports, to gins – 9 choices – to beers, which include one of my personal favourites, Cusquena. I don’t need, though, to be told the units of alcohol in each beer, as they have decided to inform you at the bottom of the page.

The offer of one of their Signature Cocktails, a selection of around 15, for £4.95 from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday close was too good to pass. The Muse went for a Bramble, while I headed east for a Sherbet Caiprovska.

After placing our order I went downstairs where there are more tables in an area that looks like an overflow or for private-hire. But it also features a really imaginative seating layout. A select few tables sit out under the glass pavement above, an outside-in feel to be enjoyed whether it’s sunny or when, more commonly, the raindrops gather then slide along and down the glass, making you glad to be indoors.

I returned to enjoy my cocktail and The Muse and I, reflected, as is our wont on these occasions that the city has gained something here. This is despite the fact that Browns is part of a London-based chain that has now spread into double figures across the country, we do like to see home-grown ventures.

Browns is likely to compete with establishments like Urban Brasserie in the middle-income-elegance stakes, and Glasgow has an inhabitant worthy of its most prestigious address.

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