Can’t we all just get oolong?

Cup // 9 Little Belmont Street, Aberdeen AB10 1JG

“Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.”

― Henry Fielding

 

I recently finished Kate Fox’s insightful Watching the English, which offers in-depth analysis on British behaviour, as observed by an anthropologist. One of the chapters focused on tea, and how, were we to enter into a third world war, our first reaction would be to “pop the kettle on”.

Giggle as we may, we also relate. Is there anything better than a hot cup of tea? Given the calming, cooling and medicinal effects, I think not. I remember the days of dissertation stress, employment hurdles, boy worries and friend bust ups, and how they always involved a “hang on, I’ll be over in half an hour” and then a cup or two of Tetley’s (other tea brands are also available, of course). In my last post I touched on how I would sit in the garden in Lewis with my cups of green tea – I find there is nothing better than snuggling up with a recent Waterstones purchase and some green (Bolay!) tea brewing in my favourite mug.

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And so, the perfect distraction for the “meh” job-hunting period that is currently my life was to venture to Cup in Aberdeen with my good friend, Hannah, who also needed time to recover from a wild weekend of sick beats, lots of wine and an Alice in Wonderland costume made from a white pillowcase. She looked as angelic as always, of course.

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Described as an “elegant tea salon”, Cup is situated on Little Belmont Street, which, for those who you have not been to Aberdeen, forms the studenty hub of Aberdeen city centre. Along with Belmont Street, this area is lined with pubs, bars, nightclubs (the infamous church-cum-nightclub conversion, Priory) and fast food joints for your late night culinary needs. I never knew of the place until Hannah suggested going there during one of our very silly texting sessions, but I guess if I was actually resident in Aberdeen I would have heard all about it. It’s quite exciting to have a list of new places to visit, now I have returned from Glasgow – of course, I will blog very pretentious and flowery posts about each and every one of them, don’t you worry.

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Before the space was transformed into this very chic purveyor of tea, it used to house a hair salon which, I have to admit, I never paid much attention to. But now, if you saunter down Little Belmont Street you’ll instantly notice Cup with its cute duck-egg blue grid windows which, at the time of writing were lined with an array of blossoming multicoloured flowers which I *think* are meant to emulate the flowers that spoke to Alice in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The interior is bright and open (unfortunately I was too engrossed in enjoying my tea and munchies and forgot to take some photos, but that just means you’ll have to go and see for yourself, doesn’t it? :-)) and they have a beautiful floral wallpaper adorning the sofa area. Cup has also sourced some adorable bits and pieces such as cute mis-matched framed pictures and quotes, and bird shaped salt and pepper shakers sitting in birdcages, which took me a good while to realise what they actually were!

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Whilst most coffee shops may not bother much with their restrooms, Cup has been uber inventive and went all out with not only the toilets themselves, but also the corridor leading to the them. It’s definitely a speaking point, and Hannah exclaimed, “You’ll like it, it’s Alice in Wonderland themed!” as I toddled along to sort my make up after being battered about in the harsh Aberdonian weather. It’s evident that a lot of thought has been put into the decor, from the hanging teacups to the quotes on the walls to the guestbook in the cubicles themselves. And I have no shame that I spent a good while snapping away at the interior of a bathroom.

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The food menu was extensive and contained a wide selection of sandwiches which could come in croissant, toastie, panini or open form. Hannah went for the Port Salut and basil mayo croissant which she accompanied with the Citrus Melon tea.

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If you know me, or have the great fortune (ha) to meet me in the future, you’ll know that I am one of the most indecisive people ever, in all aspects whether that is where to go for dinner or where to live. And certainly, when it comes to food I’m probably even worse. After umming and ahh-ing, consulting the menu, making a decision, closing the menu, then opening it again about five times, I finally settled on the chorizo open sandwich which included sunblushed tomatoes (my favourite) and some “chilili”, which were round, sour/spicy berry-shaped things. They were quite fun. What I really liked and thought was a cute touch was the inclusion of a “taster” cup of the soup of the day, which was tomato, pepper and chilli that windy Monday.

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Mother Hen is very much into her teas, and always gave me exotic leaves to try out when I still lived at home, but back then, at the age of sixteen I definitely didn’t appreciate the taste of anything besides perhaps a cup of builder’s tea, at best. However, recently I’ve been living with people who have the habit of brewing interesting teas after dinner and hanging with friends who actually like green teas. So, as a result, I’ve a newfound interest in trying new flavours. At Cup, I ordered the loose leaf version of their Organic Green Mango Peach tea, which was a really clear green tea with subtle hints of (surprise surprise) mangoes and peaches. Hannah opted for the Organic Citrus Mint, which I didn’t manage to sneak a taste of, but she did say it was lovely. There’s a whole host of new and interesting flavours which I haven’t ever come across, so I can’t wait to go back and make my way through their list – I’ve already decided that Orange Pekoe and China Gunpowder will be next…

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Cup is definitely a place you’ll end up going to time and again with your friends, and for me, it’s great to have somewhere different to go to for my tea fix, and particularly somewhere that specialises in them. It’s in a brilliant and convenient location; when we were there it was filled with students, working professionals and families, and I’d imagine that it will continue to be just as busy as it attracts more and more people with its large variety of teas and yummy sandwiches and cakes (which I need to try next time)! Their interesting decor and cute teapots and cups mean that several photos had appeared on my Facebook feed before I had even stepped foot in their shop, so I can envisage Cup soon becoming the place to be seen in.

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Current Album: Animals with Amazing Disguises – Stanley (Aberdeen band! “Sumthins’ Burnin'” is my favourite.)
Current Book: The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick (Bradley Cooper is on the cover…)

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Isle of Lewis // 6 April – 13 April 2013

“The holidays stress people out so much. I suggest you keep it simple and try to have as much fun as you can.”

–   Gaida de Laurentiis

Having just graduated from five hectic and speedy years of university, there were many ways we could have celebrated our liberation from the confines of the law library, the endless essay deadlines and the hectic non-stop lifestyles we had been leading in the cosmopolitan, fast paced cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. We decided to commemorate the occasion by going to the Isle of Lewis. Along with my flatmates Nadia and Fraser, my fellow Aberdeen law graduate, Neil, my good friend Thomas (who followed the trip by jet setting to London for business) and my Diploma comrade, Greig (who has also documented the trip with some excellent shots over at his blog), I boarded various modes of transport on Saturday morning in order to reach Inverness, where I would join them all and we would set off on our journey of self discovery on the Isle of Lewis.

Stopping for some shots on the way to the ferry.

Stopping for some shots on the way to the ferry.

We had the privilege of staying in Tolsta Chaolais, a quaint and secluded village located on the west side of the island near Carloway. We have nothing but sheer praise for the cottage we stayed in. The landlords were nothing but friendly and welcoming, which was a perfect introduction to the island, given we had battled through snow (yes, in April) for about two hours to reach the cottage after departing the ferry, and wanted nothing more than to get into our pyjamas and have a lazy evening before our week truly began.

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In preparation for the trip I bought what was probably the most practical pair of shoes I have ever owned (shout out to Mrs Matheson for the invaluable advice)! Apparently, burgundy pumps wouldn’t have done much good when climbing rocky cliff edges. I was actually quite excited to get into the shoes on the Sunday, as I had worked whole outfits around them in order to channel a sort of Zooey Deschanel-goes-hillwalking look. (I wish I was kidding.) Admittedly, the floaty skirts and skater dresses could probably have been left at home in favour of thick jumpers and jeans, but what’s a trip to the isles of Scotland if there wasn’t an injection of floral print involved somewhere, I ask?

Thomas and some good looking emo Highland coos.

Thomas and some good looking emo Highland coos.

My Regat-boutins were put to the test on Sunday after a hillwalk turned slightly messy and we had to jump over fences in order to escape the charge of some Highland cows. Well, it was messy for everyone else but I refused to risk snagging my cable knit tights on barbed wire and took the long way round to reach the gate to escape. The cows turned out to be friendly though, and didn’t attack us – they even posed for some photos for Thomas! Granted, they were slightly emo looking, so it came as no surprise that they were up for some sultry photo graphs to be taken.

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Upon arrival on Saturday evening the owner of our cottage, Sandy, informed us that we must not hang out washing on Sunday. Not that we had any intention of doing so, but we were now very much aware of the practices on the island. So, instead of putting on a wash, Fraser and Thomas, the wonderfully determined and patient drivers for the entire trip, took us to the Callanish Stones  – they were older than the Egyptian Pyramids, according to our useful fact distributor, Fraser. I found the formation and layout of them really interesting and it’s little wonder that they had been used as a backdrop and inspiration for various creative projects. There was some stunning scenery on the way, as you can see – it’s incredible how blue the water is and we were lucky enough that the unpredictable Scottish weather held up for us the whole week. Greig was busy clicking away with his DSLR, and many of my snaps included him being all photographer-like and cool-looking.

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The transition from peaceful fields and the sound of rippling rivers to the hustle and bustle (in the loosest sense possible) of Stornoway was not a simple one. Driving around the town, you could hear the cries of “Eh… I want to go back” and “I don’t like this at all” emitting from our cars. Not to do Stornoway any disservice, it is a lovely little town with cute shops and friendly people, but it seems we had “become one” with nature and was finding the adjustment to seeing more than three people on the same street (Not even a rugged path carved by the hooves of sheep… STREET!) just a bit too much to bear. We stocked up on vital provisions such as Peroni and jaffa cakes at the supermarket and also picked up some lunch at a local chip shop.

My favourite boy band, posing for their latest album cover.

My favourite boy band, posing for their latest album cover.

The shops there are recommended – Mosaic on Bank Street on North Beach was a lovely little gift shop boasting delightful trinkets and shabby chic pieces. You’ll notice it straight away as it is housed in a bright turquoise building! We also spied Delights, which is on the same street, but in a pink building – they sold some lovely Alison Appleton teacups and pots, which would definitely have been snapped up had I not had so much luggage to haul onto three different modes of public transport on the way home. (Upon arrival home I discovered that they were much cheaper there than I can find anywhere online… damn my tendency to bring too many dresses on holiday). They also sold some nom-some food and drink, such as fresh sunblushed tomatoes, lemon drizzle cake and Teapigs teabags, which Greig stocked up on.  There is a shop called WWE Shop on Kenneth Street which, as well as selling all your electrical and crockery goods, also has a counter selling various types of fudge – so naturally, we all indulged and spent our pennies on something sweet. I chose the Malteaser fudge, but my favourite had to be the Oreo one, which I stole a bit of from Nadia. Definitely worth it.

Some of the houses reminded me of Balamory... don't get this in Aberdeen!

Some of the houses reminded me of Balamory… don’t get this in Aberdeen!

We visited many beaches on the trip – the first one was Bolsta Beach which we randomly stumbled upon on Sunday during our car travels. Having grown up near the Peterhead “lido”, this was such a stunning sight and in such stark contrast to what I had been used to. Neil and I had a lovely walk ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the view and picking shells on the way. I don’t think words can really do it justice so I’ll just present you with the image:

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Right, so I thought, well that’s pretty impressive, and didn’t think it would get much better than this. However it was surpassed on Tuesday when we drove out to Port Ness.

Whilst I quite like this photo, Fraser criticised it for being "too hipstery"

Whilst I quite like this photo, Fraser criticised it for being “too hipstery”

Again, words kind of fail me here, and now, a week later,  I still can’t get over how blue and serene the sea is. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but I’m sure that these beaches are just as stunning as the ones out there. The scenery lends itself to quiet thinking and relaxation and it gets to the point where you just want to take it all in with your senses rather than trying to capture the moment with your 12.1 MP Fuji camera (in turquoise).

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There were two delightful dogs who followed us around at Port Ness – they impressed us massively with their mad climbing skillz as they scaled down cliff faces that were almost vertical. They played about and would disappear for a while, then reappear to make us coo over them again.

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It was agreed amongst all of us that Butt of Lewis was our favourite spot. Although it wasn’t the calmest of days, and indeed the spot had been recorded by Guinness as the windiest spot in the UK, the peace of the area almost hypnotised me into thinking that it would be absolutely fine to sit at a cliff edge as the wind batter my ears to point of ear ache. It was an incredible experience, and I don’t even think I’m exaggerating… Every time I tried to think about something, believing this would be the perfect spot to form resonant and meaningful thoughts, the crashing of the waves against the rocks and the teal hues that shifted below me made all those attempts futile, and I just went with it. It was all rather strange, yet subtlety wonderful,  and I’d love to sit there again.

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The last beach we visited on the Friday was one on the way to Uig. It was a massive stretch of sandiness, shells and water and made for a perfect picnic spot.

Despite the Easter holidays, it was very quiet, save for some dog walkers. It was beautiful and was a good close to our tour of the beaches on Lewis. Some of the group ascended some precarious hillsides and Nadia and Fraser mined some quartz for us, which now sits on my desk as a souvenir of the trip – I saw some of the photos and the view was quite something indeed. I wasn’t so adventurous or active; I sat on some dunes for an hour or so and contemplated the various profound issues in my life, such as which city I was going to move to this time, what junk food I was going to buy in the Community Shop and what I was going to read on the train home on Sunday.

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A blog post would not be complete with a breakdown of the food we chowed down on this week:

Sunday – Pasta bake by Nadia.
Monday – Lasagne by Nadia and Neil.
Tuesday – Scallops and Black Pudding by Greig.
Wednesday – Salmon Fried Rice by Anita (egg-free version by Nadia). Followed by strawberry cheesecake courtesy of Nadia.
Thursday – Thai Cafe on Church Street, Stornoway – Chicken and Cashew Nut concoction with corn cakes for starter.
Friday – Epic Roast by Commander Ross and Lieutenant Matheson. Followed by Fort Banoffee Pie built by Nadia and Thomas.

Every hour, every day – Flapjacks, tablet, muffins and tray bakes from Mrs Matheson.

Nomming dinner after a day of hill walking.

Nomming dinner after a day of hill walking.

We entertained ourselves whenever we weren’t sightseeing. I liked sitting out in the garden on some rocks which had been constructed into a bench-like shape – on Tuesday, sheep were delivered to the field we overlooked so they provided entertainment whilst I sipped my green tea in the mornings. There were also chickens in the garden next door and they woke us up in the mornings, although the cockerel got a bit confused and cock-a-doodle-dooed every hour, on the hour, for a couple of days. We often went for walks after dinner, and we barbecued on a rocky beach on Wednesday.

I was also knitting a scarf with Patons Colour Works Aran in “Kilt” – I was hoping to get it finished, thinking the cottage would be the perfect place to be sitting in front of a peat fire whilst clicking away with the needles, but I kept getting distracted and dropping stitches so it may take a bit longer… I also got a lot of time to read, whether that was in the chair on the landing, in bed, or out in the garden. I was reading Quiet by Susan Cain: it’s a refreshing book, laced with experiment results, statistics and the quietly-successful stories of entrepreneurs and academics, therefore giving me confidence that it’s perfectly OK that I don’t want to hang out with people all the time, or that I actually quite enjoy silence – I’m looking forward to delving into it some more back now I’m back home.

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As a group, we often indulged in board games, such as Monopoly and Scrabble – the former, as expected, led to arguments and friendship breakups. (I diffused the situation by pretending it was a Ouija board after sinking a couple of Coronas). We also played Charades, and being the sophisticated individuals that we are, we obviously gave each other perfectly sensible things to act out for their team. Examples include the 40 Year Old Virgin, The Vagina Monologues and The Kama Sutra. There are some actions that should not be performed in front of friends. That is all I’m saying.

And on Saturday, we all began our long journeys home. Car, ferry, more car, and then train for some of us, whilst I stayed in Inverness for the day before travelling by train back to Aberdeen, then bus home to Peterhead. It was tiresome to say the least. I don’t travel well and it is only now, twenty-eight hours after arriving home, that I’ve settled back to normality. Right now I am happy beyond words that I am sitting in my pyjamas in bed, getting fed and watered by Maw Wong.

Five minute walk from our cottage - my favourite spot for some post-dinner Spotify sessions.

Five minute walk from our cottage – my favourite spot for some post-dinner Spotify sessions.

Having been in a bit of state merely five days before the beginning of the trip due to the fact I “do not like change”, this was probably the best way to ease me gently into a life where I would no longer be able to text Neil on a whim to go to the pub; drive around Aberdonian suburbs with Thomas of an evening; go to yoga classes with Greig every Monday or walk down the corridor to a living room where Nadia and Fraser would be hurling abuse at each other.

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I kept saying on the trip that we would have a five year reunion and meet up again on the Scottish Isles, and I do hope that that will happen. It was a place that allowed us to giggle uncontrollably upon drinking strong coffees, and yet feel comfortable just sitting in silence on cliff edges watching the waves roll by. It was a place that allowed us to take amazing shots and experience stunning scenery with one another. Whilst others may plan a trip to Malaga to celebrate, we decided upon a different kind holiday destination (even Papi Wong was taken aback: “What is there to do?”) and it allowed for many good memories to be made. For me, it was the best way to draw to an end the crazy stint I had had as a student in Aberdeen and Glasgow: to spend it with the people who jointly had made me laugh and smile non-stop for the last five years.

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in action…

“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Living with fellow foodies/fatties means you never need to try out new restaurants alone – and luckily for me, my flatmates and best friends, Nadia and Fraser are those people. Upon moving to the dear green place, we vowed to try a new, non-chain and independent place each time we dined out and we now have under our ever expanding belts thirty culinary experiences, which makes for less than 3% of the total restaurants in Glasgow. (This also means we have eaten out on average five times a month, which, considering our painstakingly poor student lifestyles, is probably not the most economical of moves, but let’s not talk about that…)

After chowing down on some tasty cooking courtesy of Mussel Inn last night we decided to emulate Giles Coren and critique every restaurant that we have had the good fortune to visit over the last six months. A hundred grams of chocolate cookies, two pots of tea, several friendly, but sometimes vicious, arguments and three hours of Fraser’s favourite band Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ greatest hits on Spotify later, we had compiled a very sophisticated Excel document which emphasised how gluttonous we were as a group. Yes, that is definitely the way to spend your Friday night, kids – just remember, we did it before it was cool.

At our bi-weekly flat meeting (board minutes of which can be supplied upon request – not recommended if you are emotionally fragile as you will lose the will to live due to our endless mutterings of law, curries and pyjamas) we decided that these reviews could be a good blogging topic. Nadia already has a wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful blog, but I felt food would be an interesting topic for the starting post of my own little corner of the interweb.  We always like recommending, or even better, taking, our pals to nice restaurants, so why not extend that to the blogosphere and share the good, or not so good culinary experiences? Plus, this is a much more productive and rewarding way to spend hours on the interweb rather than watching Harlem Shake videos online or reading about Kim Kardashian’s sartorial disasters on the Daily Mail.

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Pesto
57-61 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5SH

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One of the first places we visited was the Italian tapas restaurant, Pesto, which is located in Glasgow city centre. Housed in the avant garde architecture of St Vincent Street, it is the first of the chain to open in Scotland and also the largest, occupying three floors of shiny wooden flooring and warm terracotta hued adornments linked by ornate spiralling staircases.

Along with a Londoner and a Highlander, we visited on a brisk Monday night in October, and certainly the shades and hues inside warmed us up substantially. Having pursued the menu for days in advance in heavy anticipation, we were very much looking forward to this, not least because we were all big fans of the food sharing concept, having nommed constantly on sushi and dim sum when we were all undergraduate class mates. And also because we are all fatties, of course.

Food – 8/10

There was a wide array of food to sample and gorge on in the evening menu, from simple goat’s cheese with garlic and spinach (the favourite of one of our particularly small friends) to pesto and mozzarella filled peppers, to “Arancini”, fun balls of saffron rice and cheese fried in breadcrumbs, so we were spoilt for choice – however, between the five of us we managed to narrow it down to fifteen dishes which we could share between us.

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As well as the usual bruschetta, olives and potato croquettes, we also chose to nom on a delightful pasta dish named “Linguine al cartoccio con gamberoni” which was definitely a favourite among the seafood lovers amongst the group. The parchment paper which it was served in acted as a great preserver of the sauces inside and enabled the flavours to gently steam inside, so when the time came for us to unwrap the dish we were in for a great culinary treat. The cream and white wine was well balanced by the addition of chillies and tomatoes, and the king prawns were incredibly succulent and tender. On the more intense side of the scale were the tasty “ali di pollo al formo” which were marinated chicken wings – they were extremely well cooked and the Tuscan flavour were very well absorbed into the meat. Whilst a five inch pizza may not sound the most exciting of dishes, the “pizzetta margherita” was well seasoned and provided additional, and very important, carbs for the group. The classic dish, calamari fritti was a further highlight of the evening as the crispy batter managed to maintain the texture of the squid – certainly, nobody wants overly chewy seafood. There were a wide array of dishes as you can imagine, but for us, these were the highlights and definitely dishes we would order again.

Value – 5/10

As financially challenged fifth year students, we are all too conscious of the ramifications of dining out-with our means, but we simply just love eating. So much so that we often throw caution to the wind and spend what should technically be our budgets to spend on Tesco own brand goods for a month, for the transient happiness and joys of savouring good food in a pretty setting.

Pesto is pretty average for a tapas joint, costing around £3-£5 for a dish. The dishes were also decently sized, and certainly enough to share. This is ever so slightly cheaper than Cafe Andaluz. The wine menu was pretty average with a glass of house white priced around £5/£6. As such, cost-wise it isn’t something that we’d write home about, but certainly not somewhere we would complain about either.

The lunch menu is £7.95 for 3 dishes from 12pm-7pm and is, in my opinion great value for money. My good friend Stephanie and I visited for a Sex and the City-esque “Ladies who lunch”, post dress shopping and pre-drinks food fest and ordered 3 dishes each. We soon lost our gracious (to an extent) demeanours and were absolutely stuffed, resting for a good while before dragging our not-so-svelte selves home.

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Nadia, me and Zen trying to look classy…

Service – 6/10

Like the prices, the service was fine. Staff were attentive the first time we went, maybe due to the lack of diners that evening. However, the food did take a while to arrive, as Nadia recalls. One point that I have to applaud is that the staff knew the contents of each dish. Whilst this may seem silly, there has been often times when a chicken dumpling has dangled dangerously from a pair of chopsticks held mere inches away from the mouth of a vegetarian companion, just because staff were uncertain of what they had placed on the table, so it has always been imperative amongst us to be certain of the contents of each dish that we all share.

Atmosphere – 8/10

I can’t speak for my two food comrades on this, but every time I walk past the establishment, which is pretty much every day on my way to work or university or the shops, I sneak a wee peek inside, and it feels like a piece of Sicily has been cut and pasted into the business hub of Glasgow. Truly! The terracotta shades inside provide much warmth and welcome to all its diners, and the mismatched vases and mirrors gives a charming rustic ambience to the whole atmosphere. The epitome of Mediterranean shabby chic!

On the two occasions I have eaten here, I have been seated on the ground floor, which is the main dining area. There are two further floors which I guess would become available on busier days or are available for functions. As expected, the Italian decor continues as you descend or ascend the spiralling metal staircases…

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Total – 2:1

Whilst it is not the cheapest of places to visit, Pesto’s bill won’t break the bank and would be a nice and delicious treat for a cold winter’s night, or a shining Spring afternoon. All three of us have returned for family gatherings, meals with visitors from foreign lands (Aberdeen), romantic dates and quick lunches. Judging by our Excel spreadsheet, there are few restaurants we would happily return to, so Pesto must be doing something right! If you are a tapas rookie, Pesto is definitely worth a try. For us, Pesto has surpassed many others on our list of tapas restaurants, certainly aided by the thoughtful decor and wide variety of mouth watering dishes.

Because we are the epitome of cool, and also because we are grieving for the loss of our student lives, we have resorted to a grading system based on the degree classifications, and we have the great pleasure of bestowing upon Pesto an excellent 2:1. ConGRADulations..!