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Scotch Malt Whisky Society Glasgow, restaurant review: We try the whisky bar's Sunday roast

Rosalind Erskine visits the newest Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) for a Sunday roast.

Scotsman Review
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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society founder, Pip Hills, recently was awarded the Dr Jim Swan Award at the fourth annual Scottish Whisky Awards.

Hills famously started the Society when he drove to Speyside and collected a quarter sherry cask of Glenfarclas which he shared with a few friends.

The friends became a syndicate who bought casks of malt whisky for their own enjoyment and then proceeded to uncover the taste of full-strength, unfiltered whisky straight from the cask.

In 1983, they opened their syndicate to the public and created The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Of this accolade, Hills said: “it’s rather amusing to be receiving a swanky award when for many years I think I was the most detested man in the whisky industry, for we were expanding at a time when they were declining.However, these days, I am immensely proud of what the Society has achieved in Scotland and around the world.”

The SMWS has had a continued presence in Edinburgh (the Vaults opened in 1983 followed by Queen Street in 2005), but made a move into Glasgow with the opening of their members’ room on Bath Street in March 2020.

The venue had barely had time to serve its first guests before the covid lockdown and subsequent restrictions came into place, but now the whisky bar and restaurant is fully open and hosting events and tastings.

More than 300 Society bottlings are on offer from across their 12 unique flavour profiles such as Old & Dignified and Oily & Coastal, with a selection of single cask, single malts available by the dram.

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And it’s not just drams on the menu, on opening The Society added that chef James Freeman designed a bespoke food menu to include Scottish Tapas, braised Scotch lamb hotpot and whisky cured salmon.

With this in mind, and after a great few drinks and Mexican snacks set to a live band over Halloween weekend, I booked in for Sunday roast on a cold weekend in late November. 

With Christmas around the corner, the venue is festively dressed, with trees and fairy lights in among the caged shelves of green bottles of the society’s whiskies.

The festive theme continued on the Sunday roast menu, which featured pigs in blankets sausage rolls and roast chicken with all the trimmings.

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While waiting to order, we decided to try a couple of the cocktails - a Last Word herbaceous gin drink, £10, made with the society’s own gin and chartreuse and a smooth, zesty barrel aged old fashioned £10.

Because we were getting into the festive spirit (pardon the pun), for starter we decided to share the pigs in blankets sausage rolls (£6), which were served piping hot. The sausage meat was delicate and succulent, and surrounded by slightly smoked bacon, and encased in golden, flaky pastry.

The mini rolls came with a vibrant and deliciously tart cranberry ketchup, which added a bit of sweetness and bite to the starter.

For main course, I chose the wonderfully autumnal roasted wood pigeon (£15.50), while my dining partner went for the full works - roast chicken with all the trimmings including roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding (£18).

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In my dish, pieces of kidney shaped roast wood pigeon nestled within mounds of creamy mashed potato that was cloud-like in its smoothness.

This was topped with bottle green cavolo nero and a cream sauce. The dense, gamey meat was mellowed by the mustard flecked cream, while the cavolo nero gave some not unpleasant bitterness and texture.

Across the table, the mountain of food on the plate was very much like Christmas day - with a leg and breast of roast chicken along with a huge Yorkshire pudding, roast parsnips and carrots, roast potatoes all topped with a thick gravy.

The chicken skin was salted and crispy, hiding the soft meat underneath while the Yorkshire pudding was light as air.

The roasted veggies were sweet and crisp while the roast potatoes (not as good as my dad’s but none are) were thickly cut, wonderfully crispy with a fluffy interior - as all good roasties are.

I’m told that the salty crispness of the chicken went very well with the cool and smooth old fashioned - a new pairing perhaps. 

We didn’t have room for dessert, and instead sat back with a coffee each, which came with a Tunnock’s teacake - a lovely addition, plus anywhere that serves a biscuit or sweet treat with a hot drink is a winner for me.

The staff were friendly, knowledgeable and nothing was too much bother (they also loved Archie - this members’ room is dog-friendly) - a testament to Hills’ pride in what he created all those years ago.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

40 Bath St, Glasgow G2 1HG

0141 739 8810

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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