REVIEWS OF ELENA'S


They say that the best form of marketing is word of mouth and we’ve been gathering momentum since opening back in June.

The first big hitter to cross the threshold was none other than Joanna Blythman, the Scottish Herald’s food critic.  We have to say we were waiting with baited breath to see what she was to write about her visit to Elena’s, and it was worth the wait!  She scored us 8/10 which is a phenomenal achievement of which we are all very proud.  She rightly says that there is work still to be done but rest assured, we’re on it!

We’re hoping that food writers, bloggers and critics will come from far and wide to sample our authentic Cantabrian cuisine and warm Spanish welcome.


Elena’s

90 Old Dumbarton Road, Glasgow

0141 237 4730

Lunch/dinner £10-£35

Food rating: 8/10

I VISITED Elena’s on a clammy, rainy, slightly mysterious evening, and felt as if I’d stepped onto the set of a Pedro Almodovar film; Volver, perhaps. The cast – co-proprietors and miscellaneous guests – was already assembled, an animated collection of larger-than-like characters volubly debating big themes of life. Does God exist? How do you recognise your perfect partner? And conversing not only in English, but also in German, and Spanish appropriately. The Spaniards in the front-of-house team roll their Rs as magnificently as Penelope Cruz or Carmen Maura. I’m only disappointed that Xavier Bardem didn’t show up.

Decor-wise nothing much has changed here since the venue was home to the Grumpy Goat apart from a silhouette of a large black bull on one wall, which only adds to the prevailing eclecticism where Moorish tiles rub up against Homes And Gardens twee. Almodovar would see its potential, I’m sure.

This new enterprise in Glasgow’s Yorkhill is not your usual play-it-safe Spanish offering; instead it’s self-styled as “authentic Cantabrian dining”. It’s good to see some regionalism breaking into the generic “Spanish” category. Eponymous co-owner Elena Xavier hails from Santander, the capital of this damp northern region, known for seafood from its turbulent Atlantic coast, and cheeses, especially smoked, from its mountain valleys.

I wouldn’t take the Cantabrian thing too literally though. Our first dish was actually the Galician classic, pulpo a la Gallega, discs of octopus sat upon warm sliced boiled potatoes, dusted with smoked paprika. This isn’t a complicated dish to make, once you’ve battered your octopus into a state of submissive tenderness. In fact, it’s quite plain, but it’s not your usual Costa del Sol offering either. It cost £12 but made a substantial starter for two.

The only tapas as such that you will find here are at lunchtime, or complimentary, in the evening, served before you get on to the “raciones”, much more substantial portions. On paper, this makes Elena’s seem expensive, but when you see the heft of the dishes, you see that on the whole, it isn’t.

And for £6, sepia a la plancha con alioli, described as “grilled cuttlefish with spicy sauce and garlic mayonnaise”, was a steal: again it served two. Here the cuttlefish was more exercising for the jaw – not tough, but firm, however I forgave that because its cooking juices (white wine or lemon juice, olive oil, and a ton of finely sliced garlic, fried golden) was great, especially when soaked up with the house bread, which is better than most. The alioli was the real deal, not a British garlic mayo, the garlic fresh and mellow. You could dip the cuttlefish in it, or add it to the cooking liquid, in the manner of a Provençale bourride. Either way was good.

We went for broke: seafood paella for two, £44. And I have to agree with my dining companion that it seemed a bit steep. There was much to commend it – notably, the right sort of short-grain rice, correctly cooked – but the seafood component didn’t quite merit the price tag. There was a handful of shell-on prawns, small langoustines (halved), some mussels and a few curls of squid, but they weren’t quite scintillating or abundant enough. The rice had the terra cotta potency of soupe de poissons, and was very salty. Yet I wasn’t gasping for water later, so this wasn’t overkill.

With dessert, we return to definite value for money. A rugged, broad-shouldered, sticky-edged slice of cheesecake made with Idiazabal – the celebrated, and very expensive, Basque smoked ewe’s milk cheese – was a thunderous success, fresh, unusual, generous ... and it only cost £5. “Budin de pan hech en casa” was really more like a combination of well-made eggy crème caramel with cake, a bargain at £3.50. Furthermore it was easy to believe that those ice creams (rounded vanilla, a non-cloying lemon, a really strawberry-tasting strawberry one) were indeed homemade. They tasted natural.

There’s tinkering to be done here. I’d check out alternative fish suppliers and lose some of the boring dishes. I’d also get a focus group to review the pricing structure. But Elena’s is promising.

Testimonial Joanna Blythman
Joanna Blythman
Cantabrian promise - 8/10

Elena's

Bill for two: £55

Food 8/10 - Y viva Espana.

Service 4/5 - Friendly and knowledgeable.

Decor 4/5 - More about food than fittings.

Toilets 4/5 - Clean and tidy.

Value for money 4/5 - Paellas apart, money well spent.

Total: 24/30

THE writing is on the wall at Elena’s - and it’s the Daily Record’s, naturally.

Who needs expensive paper and paint when you can paste Shari Low and Joan McAlpine direct to the plasterboard?

Fellas, try glancing at their columns from the bar while contemplating Just Another One then time how fast it takes to return home with a bunch of flowers from the 24 hour garage tucked under the armpit.

A feature wall of pages from the Scottish press is fitting because Elena’s, when it was known as The Stirling Castle, was the haunt of old hacks as hungry for a plate of Irene’s mince and tatties as a rattling good story.

It set a benchmark for pub dining others still struggle to emulate with fabulous fish, cheeses and a specials list pinned on what looked like wooden table tennis bats and which conveniently doubled as paddle boards to skelp raucous diners.

The closest it came to tapas was a roll and pie and if you wanted a Spanish themed meal you had to settle for asking Irene over rhubarb crumble and custard about the fortnight she’d just spent in Fuengirola.

A couple of name changes later - it was also The Grumpy Goat for a while - it is now in the hands of Elena Xavier, who came to Scotland from Santander and is keen to share her passion for the cuisine of northern Spain.

Her Cantabrian region is famed for its fruit and vegetables, cheese and fish, all of which are represented to various degrees on a menu in which rationes - small plate dishes - are the order of the day, rather than bite-sized tapas.

The food is excellent and in some parts quite adventurous although, having only opened in June, the menu still needs tweaking.

My little sis Laura is vegetarian, for example, and found there was nothing for her in the main plate section of the menu, except a vegetarian paella for two at an eye-popping £36 - and you could add another eight quid if you fancied it with seafood.

If I want to pay over the odds for big turnips I’ll move to England and buy a season ticket to watch Premier League football.

Those numbers jarred, not least because the rest of the menu is reasonably priced, with most rationes ranging between £3-£7 and a drink won’t drain your wallet either.

Laura had a couple of glasses of a crisp verdejo at £3.85 and after giving countless restaurants stick for the outrageous mark-ups they charge on soft drinks, hats off to Elena for asking just £1 for a Coke.

We shared three rationes, grazing between a plate of cheese, some breaded asparagus and a bowl of patatas bravas, while yours truly also struck out on my own for a slice of red tuna.

THE writing is on the wall at Elena’s - and it’s the Daily Record’s, naturally.

Who needs expensive paper and paint when you can paste Shari Low and Joan McAlpine direct to the plasterboard?

Fellas, try glancing at their columns from the bar while contemplating Just Another One then time how fast it takes to return home with a bunch of flowers from the 24 hour garage tucked under the armpit.

A feature wall of pages from the Scottish press is fitting because Elena’s, when it was known as The Stirling Castle, was the haunt of old hacks as hungry for a plate of Irene’s mince and tatties as a rattling good story.

It set a benchmark for pub dining others still struggle to emulate with fabulous fish, cheeses and a specials list pinned on what looked like wooden table tennis bats and which conveniently doubled as paddle boards to skelp raucous diners.

The closest it came to tapas was a roll and pie and if you wanted a Spanish themed meal you had to settle for asking Irene over rhubarb crumble and custard about the fortnight she’d just spent in Fuengirola.

A couple of name changes later - it was also The Grumpy Goat for a while - it is now in the hands of Elena Xavier, who came to Scotland from Santander and is keen to share her passion for the cuisine of northern Spain.

Her Cantabrian region is famed for its fruit and vegetables, cheese and fish, all of which are represented to various degrees on a menu in which rationes - small plate dishes - are the order of the day, rather than bite-sized tapas.

The food is excellent and in some parts quite adventurous although, having only opened in June, the menu still needs tweaking.

My little sis Laura is vegetarian, for example, and found there was nothing for her in the main plate section of the menu, except a vegetarian paella for two at an eye-popping £36 - and you could add another eight quid if you fancied it with seafood.

If I want to pay over the odds for big turnips I’ll move to England and buy a season ticket to watch Premier League football.

Those numbers jarred, not least because the rest of the menu is reasonably priced, with most rationes ranging between £3-£7 and a drink won’t drain your wallet either.

Laura had a couple of glasses of a crisp verdejo at £3.85 and after giving countless restaurants stick for the outrageous mark-ups they charge on soft drinks, hats off to Elena for asking just £1 for a Coke.

We shared three rationes, grazing between a plate of cheese, some breaded asparagus and a bowl of patatas bravas, while yours truly also struck out on my own for a slice of red tuna.

The platters were exceptionally colourful and well presented - it’s the wee touches that often count, from the complimentary tapas when we arrived to the fresh nuts and juicy blackberries, bursting with taste, that adorned a cheese platter of sticky brie, soft manchega, creamy goat and pungent blue.

The patatas bravas were perfect little pyramids of golden crispiness, served with a spicy sauce, but it was the breaded asparagus that really grabbed our attention.

Fried simply, half a dozen stalks were placed on a rustic garlic mayonnaise that was clearly home made, reflecting the ethos of the kitchen to cook most meals simply and from scratch.

My red tuna was served with potatoes and with a disappointingly unimaginative side salad - one green olive, handed its independence by the kitchen, fought for space on a couple of lettuce leaves beside slivers of carrot and corn kernels.

Thankfully, the tuna restored positive order. Sweet and meaty, it was almost like a thin gammon steak and just as succulent. A winner.

We held out for a couple of desserts and my crema catalana was exceptional. Its light, citrus and vanilla tang and creamy custard revelled in its escape when the caramellised brown sugar lid was cracked by my impatient spoon.

Laura swears she got the best part of the deal, however, with a cheesecake that made her stop and think twice. She used to teach in Bavaria and her dessert’s smoky taste brought back memories of her favourite piece of German cheese - next to David Hasselhoff, of course.

In fact, the variety used at Elena’s is an Idiazabal, a smoky number from the Basque region. It’s a combination that really shouldn’t work in a dessert, but it was terrific.

We cleared a ball of £55 with servers who deserve credit for advising caution when we first arrived and threatened to race through the menu.

Instead, we were advised to order a couple of plates each, rather than crowding the table with dishes we wouldn’t finish, safe in the knowledge we could always order more.

It was a word to the wise and which, like the meal itself, proved pretty spot on.

Testimonial Gary Ralston
Gary Ralston
GARY heads to the West End for a meal with a taste of Spain.

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