Reviews of the two figs from local and national press:
all our reviews from the local & national press are reproduced below in chronological order, with the most recent first…
evening times – february 2010
“a west end wonder”
“Every so often, the Moll needs to feed her habit. It’s an addiction she’s held since her salad days and one which she has no intention of even attempting to shake off. The Moll, you see, is addicted to the West End.
It’s not a problem, we’ve learned to accept that every now and then, she will get a faraway look in her eyes and begin muttering a mantra: “Byres Road… Byres Road… Byres Road.”
We’ve tried West End substitutes – the Merchant City and Shawlands – but they never satisfy the Moll quite as much as the flurry of boutiques, bars and bistros which present themselves west of Kelvingrove.
I’ve grown to recognise the signs so when earlier this week, she began staring into the middle distance, I took evasive action and booked a table at one of the West End’s more recent culinary attractions – The Two Figs.
Crouched near the Partick Cross end of Byres Road, the Two Figs occupies premises which have seen more facelifts that Anne Robinson. At one point, I could swear it changed its name in the time it took me to drive up to the Botanic Gardens and back.
Thankfully, it seems to have found comfort in its new skin. Run by the same people who brought us the fabulous Left Bank on Gibson Street, I felt safe that it would feed the Moll’s habit, as well as herInternally, the Two Figs is a restaurant of two halves – the bar separated from the main restaurant by a narrow corridor. Despite being offered the option of sitting in the bar, we opted for the restaurant, despite being the only diners on this wet midweek evening. Unlike most eating places, however, the ambience of the place didn’t suffer from a lack of patrons – indeed the fake wall- mounted fire, funky designer wallpaper and friendly service only added to the cosy atmosphere. The cheap-looking, and quite uncomfortable metal chairs, however, could do with being consigned to the basement.
While not extensive – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the menu is inventive, eclectic and appealing. As a starter, the Moll chose tiger prawns in garlic and green chilli with a fresh tomato sambal. Deliciously fresh, she made light work of the prawns and declared an instant love of the sambal – a rich tomato puree.
Facing her and fast disappearing down my throat, were crispy cauliflower and halloumi fritters with a red onion raita. Halloumi, a Mediterranean cheese, can often be accused of being a tad bland, but the combination of spices and cauliflower florets made these little treats irresistible.
We didn’t have to wait too long before the mains arrived – chicken for the Moll, lamb shawarma for yours truly.
The Moll’s chicken, however, wasn’t just any old chicken (and I don’t mean to sound like an M&S advert here) – it was a fillet of corn fed chicken marinated, roasted and served with a chipotle sauce and a black bean salsa.
Once again, it was faultless and the Moll was delighted, especially with the combination of moist chicken and tangy black bean salsa.
Equally perfect was my lamb shawarma, served with a minty yoghurt dressing and sitting on a crispy flatbread. The meat was moist and tender and the dressings the perfect accompaniment. If this is a relation of the high street kebab, it’s as distant as they come, for this was truly a thing of great beauty.
A special mention also to the chips, which, although not necessary for this meal, were ordered anyway as I’d heard they were exceptional. They were. As was the entire meal. And I couldn’t give two figs what anyone else thinks, we’ll be back.”
18 february 2010
the herald – september 2009
“Waving not drowning”
“Nine o’clock, Sunday morning. The doorbell rings. Luca, who’s standing at the window, shouts: “Dad, it’s the police.” Uh-oh. Could this be a hangover from last night’s party? Curious. The only people who misbehaved at Cal’s 16th were the six year olds, out of their faces on purloined Irn-Bru until they were captured and imprisoned in the house. Or could it be something to do with those pizzas I made?
Okay, I confess. The dough didn’t rise fully on some of them. Well, you try keeping a battered old oven with a dodgy door seal hot for that many pizzas, officer.
Actually, it’s neither. Apparently someone called the police to say my wife’s car tax is a couple of weeks out of date. Welcome to Newlands on the south side of Glasgow. I’m getting out of here and going to the trendy west end, where the sun always shines, the restaurants are always new and the neighbours are too busy tie-dying their sandals to be bothering the rozzers. Where there’s fattoush and lamb shawarma, thalis for breakfast even, and a waiter, noticing I don’t want a coffee as I spread out the papers, bringing me a jug of cool water instead. Nice touch, man. Very nice.
I can’t help feeling there’s a sort of New York ambience to Two Figs with its bare brick walls, remnants of white paint lingering artistically of course, openish kitchen and refreshing absence of irritating students.
I like this place already, so much so that I may hide out here for a couple of days with my bowl of noodles. Yep, that’s all it says on the menu. Noodles – we’re that laidback here – and not any old noodles. They’re tweaked and teased, with greens and sauteed peppers, a hint of sesame oil and a flash of fresh coriander with seeds on top. The effect is to take a fairly ordinary dish and make it better, elevate it, gloss over the vaguely sweet chilli sauce flavour. Add to this a bamboo skewer of lemon-marinated chicken and it’s a nice lunch.
Salt-and-pepper chicken wings come with a heavy crisp batter, a studding of black pepper and perhaps not enough salt. Pre-poaching the chicken southern style may make it more tender, but it’s still a cut above the usual.
The mackerel fillets? Flash fried and reasonably crisp. I love mackerel, and I love these fillets though the broad bean and watercress salad is too fussy and a bit tired looking, plus that beetroot dressing adds nothing except colour.
Is there more? Yes, there’s a clever series of interlocking all-day menus, a long list of fashionable and cross-cultural dishes, but it’s already clear that detail is taken care of in here. And often detail is what it’s all about.
What’s surprising is that the food is coming from one chef working in a tiny open kitchen by the back wall. Even more surprising is that this is a Jonah site for restaurants, with its split dining room and location at the cursed, bottom end of Byres Road. I’ve lost count of the number of places that have opened in here, flourished briefly and then sunk without trace. It’s a dangerous spot, but somehow there’s no feeling of that today. Just a hustle and a bustle and a steady stream of visitors.
Okay, so there’s a sort of fawning enthusiasm about what the owners of Two Figs do, their other venture, The Left Bank, being a west end darling. It doesn’t really do them any favours, raising expectations to a level nobody can meet on a regular basis. It’s enough to know that if you come in here you’ll get a decent meal at a reasonable price and that the standards are pretty much higher than anywhere else around.
Almost more importantly, it’s comfortable and relaxing and the management has a finger firmly on the pulse. If you’re on the run from life it will keep you long entertained. It has me..”
28 september 2009 – Ron Mackenna
5pm blog – august 2009
“two figs ripen”
“As is often the case with new bar and restaurant openings, The Two Figs has suffered a number of delays in the run up to opening on Byres Road. However, barring further mishap, the new venture from the owners of The Left Bank on Gibson Street should welcome its first customers this weekend.
The site at the bottom of Byres Road has had a chequered history with Arisaig and Cabbages and Kings both opening and closing there in recent years. It is an unusual space with two rooms divided in the middle by a close leading to flats. While the layout of the space might pose a few operational problems, it has also provided the inspiration for its name. Apparently, figs usually grow in pairs and, like the fruit, the two rooms which make up the new business will be similar but different.
The Left Bank is known for its eye-catching design and the Two Figs follows the same path. Concrete bars, sandblasted walls that look like ripe figs, antique glass tiles and some rather funky radiators are among the design features.
The bar area will feature ten draught beers including a couple from Glasgow’s West Brewery along with a thoughtful cocktail list. The owners are aiming to provide the best bar food in Glasgow by laying on the sort of dishes that people love but doing them as well as they possibly can.
One example is the chicken wings. Chicken wings aren’t necessarily all that exciting but the Two Figs’ version features just the chunkiest part of the wing and comes flavoured with Szechuan pepper and salt. The same goes for their burgers. Almost every bar offers a burger but at Two Figs they have planned every detail from the bun through the burger to the relish they make themselves. I’m not exaggerating when I write that they have been running in-depth experiments on the effects that changing the gauge of their potato chipper has on their fries.
At this stage, I have fewer details on the menu in the restaurant space but the owners say it will be a continuation on the local, seasonal food that has been such a hit in The Left Bank.
That area of town is well served with restaurants. Ad Lib West End, Two Fat Ladies and No 16 are all 5pm members located within a stone’s throw of the Two Figs.”
14 august 2009
the sunday herald – august 2009
“You will give a fig”
“I wouldn’t normally review a restaurant as soon as it has opened. There’s a tendency among restaurant critics to rush to new places, so as to be up with all the latest openings. Most chefs would rather they held off, leaving space to shake off first-night nerves and allow for things to go wrong – like the kitchen extractor not working, or the butter picking up the smell of new varnish. There’s a persuasive counter-argument, of course, that if a restaurant is open enough to take the punter’s money, it’s open season to judge it without making any allowances.
On balance, I think that to get a more accurate measure of a place, it’s best to let it bed down a bit. Some places start well and nosedive. Others start shakily then pick up as they get into their stride. A visit four to six weeks after opening is a more reliable guide. That said, there I was on Byres Road, Glasgow, and noticed that Two Figs, a new enterprise from Catherine Hardy and Jacqueline Fennessy, the duo who gave us the enduringly popular Left Bank on Gibson Street, was open. Well, open-ish. Front-of-house staff were on the pavement outside, assembling flat-pack furniture (rather them than me).
Inside, there were two lonely tables of diners, the odd corner where the velvet or wallpaper wasn’t quite finished, and Hardy and Fennessy, deep in discussion surrounded by a sea of paperwork and half drunk cappuccinos. But Two Figs was, I was confidently informed, properly open. So being inclined to think that any offshoot of the Left Bank would tend to be competent, as a minimum, we sat down to eat, by the window, as it happened. Maybe Byres Road was just lined with fans waiting to see the place open up, or too timid to be the first. Although being Glasgow, the latter possibility seems unlikely. At any rate, by the time we left, the place was rammed and that was only 4.30pm. I have a very strong feeling in my bones that Two Figs will go down a storm.
The hallmark of Hardy and Fennessy’s style is to serve substantial portions of food at extremely reasonable prices. They achieve this not by trading down on the quality of the ingredients or padding out plates with stodge and a greenhouse of cheap salad, but by being focused on what they serve. They design intelligent menus that plug into the zeitgeist, and the kitchen, in the capable hands of Left Bank chef Liz McGougan, is assiduous in making every little element of a dish from scratch. Two Figs is also “on message” with its plant food-centric menu, its sustainable fish, its use of economy cuts of meat and the healthiness of its menu. In case you were worried that they had ditched the brilliant chips you get at Left Bank, let me reassure you. Two Figs’ chips might even be a shade better, if such a thing is possible, being more thickly cut but otherwise retaining all their virtues: twice cooked, floury spuds, a little bit of skin on to deepen the flavour.
A starter of mackerel fillet, its skin grilled to a crisp, then served with a watercress and broad bean salad spiked with beetroot dressing and fresh mint was satisfying enough to make light lunch in itself, but cost only £4.50. Craggy, crunchy croquettes, oozing roasted aubergine, potatoes, parmesan and gruyere, came with a intense sludge of cherry tomatoes: another bargain at £3.95. Both main courses, an original veggie burger (made from chickpea, mushroom, sweet potato and coriander) and Indian summer curry, were clearly painstakingly made with attention lavished on the side components, such as the gloriously fragrant brown basmati rice cooked with tomato and mustard seed. A white chocolate cheesecake managed to taste sharp rather than cloying. The chocolate, fig and hazelnut produced groans of pleasure.
Two Figs has started off with the menu equivalent of a capsule wardrobe. There will doubtless be additions, and I bet they’ll be good.”
31 august 2009 – Joanna Blythman
the evening times – august 2009
“Who gives Two Figs if it’s a bar or not when cakes are this good”
“IIts arrival has felt like the second coming. A chalk-board on Gibson Street had been announicing its arrival for months. Then there was the website, which tantalisingly hinted that it would be a better value of its sister the left bank, but said nothing of the opening date.
And then, in the same weekend as the opening day of the football season, the fun kicked off at the two figs the latest bar- cum-coffee-shop-cum restaurant to try to conquer the unsexy end of Byres Rd. Sitting opposite the recently opened Tony Macaroni (the former Cafe Francais), Two Figs might have a comedy name but looks a deadly serious attempt at creating a new must-visit venue in the west end. Split into two areas- one side housing the bar, the other more like a dining room, the pub follows the same shape as many of the new pubs to hit town.
But like the left bank, the interior designers have went to town, with fruity motifs every where, and colours, green and purple, like a fig, shading almost every available surface. The purple, velvet walled area in the dining room seemed to attract the women on our group, so where they went we followed. Thankfully, there is table service. And they are a patient bunch who put up with our inability to make a decision on what we wanted. We contemplated alcohol- the bottle of wine being shared by three yummy mummies next to us was attracting our attention. And we also clocked the Addlestones Cider and beer from the West Brewery- brewed at Petra Wetzel’s West Bar and Brewery at the old Templeton’s Carpet Factory at Glasgow Green- on tap as we walked in.But somehow on a Sunday afternoon, pints just didn’t suit the mood.
So instead it was a round of coffees. And of course you can’t have coffees without cake- and this is where Two Figs really comes into its own. It has chefs who know how to rustle up tasty treats at a bargain price. We ordered a slice of the richest chocolate cake known to man- and a cupcake that would make a desperate housewife jealous. Both were very impressive. It was all very pleasant. And, just a day-old, most people who popped in seemed to giggle excitedly and mouth the words “it’s nice” to one another as they looked around. Then I heard one person ask the question that was niggling me- is it really a bar? Do we give two figs? For whiling away a few hours of an afternoon then it’s nigh perfect. But don’t expect a raucous evening if you stay all night.”
the sunday times – august 2009
“Restaurant review: Don’t let The Two Figs sink
The site of The Two Figs seems to be a Bermuda Triangle for eateries, but its new occupant should be on everyone’s radar”
“Prior to its reincarnation as The Two Figs, this was a Joan Collins bridegroom of a restaurant; an ever-altering Generation Game conveyor belt of cafe-bar. You couldn’t help wondering if the leaseholder had placed it on the witness protection programme. Why else would it reappear at intervals with minor plastic surgery and the hint of a Cuban accent? Off the top of my head, I can recall it being the Parallel Bar, Tabac, the Haugh, the Living Room and, most recently, Cabbages and Kings.It’s a common phenomenon, though. For whatever occult reason, some spaces are catnip to dismal speculative restaurateurs, people who walk in and say, “I know what this place needs,” then six months later are tossing the fixtures in a skip and answering the phone with a terse: “Who wants him?”Nothing provokes pity quite like a short-lived restaurant: all that miscalculation and thwarted hospitality, all those local seascape watercolours nobody ever looked at and monochrome prints of the Empire State Building.
If there are ley lines and malignant energy fields determining how restaurants fare, what is now The Two Figs has always been at a point where they meet, a restaurant Bermuda Triangle criss-crossed by culinary Mary Celestes. It’s never helped, of course, that it’s located down at the head-injury end of Partick, a zone where gastronomy amounts to heating the baked beans prior to consumption. The Two Figs, though, has pedigree, being the latest venture from Catherine Hardy and Jacqueline Fennessy, the pair behind The Left Bank in Gibson Street, Glasgow, a sort of social club for hipsters and yummy mummies that has always been distinguished by its superior informal food. Here they replicate the formula almost exactly but over two rooms, one a bar, the other the principal dining space. This is Swiss Army knife dining: prodigiously flexible, every base covered, every whim catered to. Normally such variety is a recipe for horror, for encylopaedic menus that produce only feeble simulacrums of what they promise. There’s a certain thoughtfulness to Hardy and Fennessy’s establishments, however. Their base is broad, from fish suppers through Italian to such bar-food stand-bys as satays and noodles. Neither the cooking nor the presentation is what you would term restrained. None of it is flouncy; there’s no show-pony in the kitchen. But each dish does seem designed to be the Platonic ideal of whatever it is. It’s food that implies its progenitors have had intimate acquaintance with the poorer versions found everywhere else — and an urge to rethink them from the plate up. So there are some heresies on view here, albeit in reconceived formats, particularly some delicious, bulky chicken wings with a coating of salt and Szechuan sesame, or untreated snapped-off crab claws with an addictively vicious black pepper and curry leaf sauce.
There are intriguing options for vegetarian and the herbaceously inclined, particularly a flat-cap mushroom with sweet miso, roasted aubergines, sautéed spinach and pistachio halloumi. I had a burger with blue cheese, carefully prepared with proper chips and spiral-cut beetroot on the side; it was perhaps the only small disappointment, but then burgers always are. I also tried the lamb shawarma with fattoush and grilled flatbread and a Puy lentil salad, both deeply flavoured and rendered with an evident attention to detail. The prices are worth mentioning, with starters averaging £4 and mains £10.
I rather suspect The Two Figs will buck the trend that’s been in train on this site for more than two decades. I’d advise a visit as quickly as you can manage, though not as quickly as was required in the past.”
23 august 2009 – Allan Brown
the list magazine – august 2009
“A Giving a Fig, or two”
“The team behind The Left Bank on Gibson Street have just opened up their second venue. Donald Reid went along. For Catherine Hardy and Jacqueline Fennessy, once the wallpaper’s right, the rest will follow. The Timorous Beasties design that’s on the wall of The Left Bank, their original bar-diner on Gibson Street, was central to the artful touch that helped make the place an instant hit when it arrived in 2006. Hardy and Fennessy knew even then that another venue was in their plans, but they didn’t know where it would be or what it would be called. So they began to look at wallpaper designs.
The discovery of some fig leaf designs by Devon designer Sam Pickard ‘set off a chain of events,’ according to Fennessey. It took them to the foot of Byres Road in the place once occupied by The Living Room and, more recently and briefly, Cabbages & Kings.
The venue is an awkward U-shape, which Hardy and Fennessey have addressed by putting the bar on one side (Fig 1, in staff shorthand) and making the other (Fig 2) a dining area. The latter has the fig’s mature purple colours, the former a younger, fresher fig green.
The food links in the name and imagery are no mistake. While Hardy describes the new place as ‘more bar-ey’ than the Left Bank, the menu is still light and sophisticated. It features standards such as chicken wings and a haddock supper alongside wok-fried crab claws in a curry leaf sauce or a dynamic seven seed salad. Bar snacks are served and beers on draft include WEST’s St Mungo’s and Addlestone’s cider. Irishman Peter Callin is lead chef, working under Liz McGougan, long-standing head chef at The Left Bank.
The energy and enthusiasm the team for their new project shows how much more limiting it would have been to do just another Left Bank – though firm plans to open a Left Bank bar and restaurant in the Merchant City next year are in place. That so many elements of The Two Figs reflect The Left Bank – not just the importance of wallpaper, but the the raw elements of concrete, wood and brick, as well as the engagement with top designers and local tradesmen – is an indication of how much they got right first time around. As Fennessy says, ‘In both places, it has been about trying to incorporate art into the design, not just sticking it on the walls.’
The danger, of course, is getting a bit carried away by the fig thing. There are a lot of the fruit around, from real ones on the menu to a wrought iron fig vine by Scott Associates (the people behind the Heavy Horse on the M8) crawling up a bare-brick wall. But for those who don’t really give a fig for such things the important element is the arrival of a bar with style and substance at the heart of the West End scene. Go fig-ure.”
august 2009 – Donald Reid