Courting comment: Taste Buchanan brings street food in from the cold
Is the food court of Glasgow's Buchanan Galleries shopping mall the new frontier for the city's better street food?
'Street Food' is a loaded phrase these days. It's buzzy, happening, more exciting, less expensive food that's sometimes even served on the streets, and not just in edgy (and wannabe-edgy) restaurants. It's on the move, in the grove, and a million miles – or at least a couple of blocks – from the sad old stuff we're used to from burger vans and takeaways.
To date, Glasgow's best experience of all this has been through various food festivals (most notably at September's Let's Eat Glasgow) and 'popups' across town. Mitchell Lane's had a couple, and The Fish Plaice had one in Saltmarket that went down a storm (and evolved into a new restaurant in Calton, near The Barras).
So it's a bit of a balancing act that Taste Buchanan is attempting on the top floor of Buchanan Galleries, above the shops and stores and shiny tiled malls. How many good food boxes can it tick, while still being mainstream enough for a shopping centre's palate? Operators Streetdots already run successful sites in London, and their partner Land Securities (who own the shopping centre) have placed signs throughout the shopping centre promoting and pointing customers to this new venture. The stated goal is for the collection of traders to rotate every three months. Logos hang on temporary wooden signs, reminding customers that this is a changeable feast, if not a moveable one.
The half-dozen or so operators each have hatches that are part food truck, part dining hall. With central tables and benches the set-up is still that of a familiar food court, except with more in the way of rustic rough wood touches and less garish signage. Burger King, still in place alongside, make up for that. Key to the offer is that the operators represent wee local businesses that are small and focussed in the food they offer, but still globally inspired. Bao (steamed buns) have been on the radar for a while, but this might be their big break. Those being served by Chompksy's, one of the first batch of open hatches, are fantastic: bang-on crispy fried chicken or sweet, moist Korean BBQ pork garnished with the brilliant colours and textures of Asian vegetables. Union Waffles do chicken and waffles (though not quite with the gusto of a US diner), then the appeal is broadened by Nomad's sourdough pizzas, and Surf Dogs' loaded, belly-filling hotdogs. There's also Slainte Mhath, a bar doing gin cocktails, Fyne Ales, West's St. Mungo's lager and Thistly Cross cider.
The most intriguing current resident is perhaps BRGR, whose gourmet burger concession is right beside its multinational burger chain rival. The latter's seating area takes up almost as much as the entirety of Taste Buchanan's communal zone, and it casts a long shadow – typically still commanding the biggest queue on the floor. But over the course of a meal, you do notice a fair few punters that inspect, swither and then choose street food over fast food. There's something in it.
All eyes are now on when more of these rotations kick in, and whether enough outfits are willing to take a punt on a residency while the concept finds its feet. For if there's one place more daring for local street food to prove itself than the street, it's the food court.
+ Potentially a great thing for good, diverse food in the City Centre
- Still feels like a bold punt