Gamba: Simple Seafood Cooking is the title of chef Derek Marshall’s cookbook and also his motto for life. From the East End of Glasgow, he left school with no qualifications and joined a youth training programme that was the start of a culinary journey of discovery that would take him to to the Channel Islands, the French Alps and Spain.
But it was during his time as head chef at Rogano that he developed his real passion and the concept for Gamba materialised. It opened in 1998. Food fashions have caught up with Marshall and his respect for seafood. Scotland has some of the best fish produce in the world. It has often been exalted in foreign kitchens and treated with casual disregard at home.
Marshall told The Caterer magazine last year: “when I came up with the concept for Gamba, I always believed that if I could let the food speak for itself, use the freshest ingredients in season and keep things honest, simple and consistent, I’d have the perfect recipe for success.”
And so it has come to pass. Gamba is a two AA rosette restaurant. One of the best in the city. You get a sense it is a serious operation as soon as you arrive. The smart, efficient staff. The plush surroundings. The heft of the wine list.
The inherent formality of a proper, grown-up restaurant is moderated by that Glasgow commitment to informality. Occasional bursts of loud laughter, the hum of conversation and bonhomie. You can have fun here.
As much as the simple, honest cooking mantra is to the defining principle of the menu, there are regular flourishes that demonstrate commitment to technique and flair. An unexpected Asian influence catches the eye.
One of the signature dishes, and the first item on the menu, is a fish soup of Portland crabmeat, stem ginger, coriander and prawn dumplings (£10.50).
I opt instead for that same Portland crabmeat served with mango, pink peppercorn and smoked caviar (£15). Mango and crab? What kind of sorcery is this?
The picture doesn’t do it justice. Dainty and complex and spiked with flavour highlights, this is one of the best things I’ve tasted this year. Unexpected as, to be quite honest, crab is not usually one of my go-to dishes. I can understand why this is such a popular choice.
Just to prove the non-seafood dishes are not just a sop to fussy eaters, we tried an excellent medley of Parma ham, rocket, parmesan, sunblush tomatoes, garlic and balsamic.
For the main event, there was crisp-fried sea bass on a bed of Norwegian prawns, avocado, pine kernels and spiced lemon dressing (pictured at the top). The definition of a great piece of fish prepared in a way that let the natural flavours shine through.
I ordered monkfish and scallops, cooked with ginger, spring onions, fish sauce and lemon.
This arrives in a parcel and our waiter does the honours and opens things out (apparently people sometimes mistake the wrapping for pastry). The contents are wonderful, the ginger zings through without overpowering the meaty fish chunks.
To close, a cheese board of Connage Clava Brie, The Bonnet, Auld Lochnagar and Roquefort Papillon (£11). For a sweet option, go for the parfait of white chocolate and pistachio, chocolate sauce and pistachio ice-cream (£8).
If you are looking for a showcase of exceptional produce and passionate, honest cooking, then go to Gamba.
225a West George Street
T: +44 (0)141 572 0899