La Lanterna

La Lanterna, Hope Street & West End

There are a couple of restaurants on the planet where I have dined regularly over the years, none more so than La Lanterna on Hope Street.

Born from the ashes of the mighty Ferrari’s Restaurant;  I remember my first ever plate of spaghetti – always al dente, the Melba toast and the green grapes dipped in crunchy caramel like mini toffee apples. Glasgow lost something rather special when Ferrari’s closed. In the early 70’s a new champion of Italian food was created, La Lanterna. The realisation of a dream of ex Ferrari staff. I’ve been eating their delicious food ever since.

Over the years there have been a few subtle changes to the cosmetics of this basement restaurant. The entrance has had a pretty makeover and inside the theme is lighter than before but still the same feel of a traditional Tuscan styled dining room. There are new tables in the bar area and the overall sense is brighter but that’s about it. “If it’s not broke – don’t be trying to fix it” is a very ancient saying going back to Roman times which Julias would be shouting to the Christians as they attempted to wrestle the lions. “Shite, that’s a sore looking bite” was another.

The point of this rambling is simply that despite the fact that the guardianship of this fine restaurant has now passed to Chris, the super-fit son of one of the original owners and Luca, the mischievous and talented chef, nothing has changed in the standards of service and strong traditional cooking throughout all these years. This intrepid pair still produce classic Italian cuisine, served with some style, an eye to authenticity and love of what they do.

I tend to eat pretty much the same on most visits; the veal ravioli as a starter, but a full portion serving, is fantastic. I can’t get enough pasta so I’ll follow that with a full portion of spaghetti and meat sauce. Then for my main course either a fillet of fish, lemon sole or halibut, though occasionally I’ll have a grilled steak. As a treat I may complete my food orgy with ice cream and fresh fruit but only if my belt has a spare notch available to loosen off.

Luca prepares many more sophisticated plates in his kitchen, they look terrific as they whizz past en route to the tables of loyal regulars, but I am such a creature of habit. I come to Lanterna to be emotionally reassured as much as to be fed.

My birthdays wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lanterna. The staff are terrific, it’s almost like eating at home; if I lived in an Italian restaurant with a complement of professional waiting staff and an endless supply of Parmigiano.

I have had many memorable experiences in this restaurant, bringing my children with me ever since they were able to eat their spaghetti without the use of a spoon. WTF does that anyway? My youngest daughter, Aimee, at the age of about four, wandered into the gents one Saturday lunch-time where I found her washing her hands in a urinal.

Chris and Luca have now gone out west to the old Parmigiana R.I.P. on Great Western Road where recently they have invested their artistic minds, buckets of cash and opened La Lanterna West End.

In appearance it couldn’t be any further from the Hope Street dining room. Ice cool blues, tiles, whitewashed wood and a big window allowing daylight leave to create an almost coastal holiday ambiance. On my first visit I couldn’t help but be reminded of Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant. What a comfortable and pleasing place they have produced.  I’m looking forward to visiting in the summer months.

In at night on this occasion, it still feels like I’m on my holidays. I’ll be off for a midnight skinny dip after my espresso..

I’m just in the mood for a bowl of spaghetti, but this time my eyes focus on carbonara. If truth be told I wouldn’t under normal circumstances order carbonara in many places in this country; servings of overcooked sloppy spaghetti in a cream soup with diced ham, barf. I’m very particular about the preparation of this fine dish. To date either I make it myself or my dear friend Piero Sarti rattles up a huge steaming tasty plate for me. However, I know Luca is on the pans and if ever there was another man as passionate about pasta as Piero and I it’s Luca. What comes to the table is a wonderful sight and exactly as requested, without cream. A mound of spaghetti; al dente, pancetta and lots of egg. I can’t talk until I’ve finished every last drop. I’m in heaven.

There are a handful of accounts surrounding the origin of carbonara. My favourite, which I preach with conviction so please do not dare contradict me, is that after WW2 the chefs in Italy created this to satisfy the appetites of the American GI’s and their cravings for ‘ham and eggs’. I’ve heard other explanations, but I like this best.

This visit was only ever going to be a two course event, I’m not counting the perfect bruschetta and crispy little fried octopus as I had to share them, I’m trying to shed the winter weight. We order a pudding platter; tiramisu, cheesecake, crème brûlée and a chocolate mousse with a separate panna cotta as back up….. Every sinful mouthful delightful. No weight loss this evening then….

Undoubtably, the Lanterna stamp is evident on this newbie, but it has its own unique identity. There’s a terrific fresh pasta section, I will eventually get through that as well as the other dishes not on the city centre menu.

All of this now poses me with a real problem. Where do I eat on my birthday? Simple really, I shall just award myself royal status and have two birthdays.