Number 38 is a rather nondescript wee place tucked between a sandwich shop and dry cleaners in The Village, East Kilbride. Nothing special to look at, to be honest, and you’d easily walk past without giving it a second glance. More fool you because you’d be walking past one of the best restaurants in Lanarkshire.
Tucked away on a side street, there is limited parking directly outside the restaurant along with one disabled bay. There is good level access available from the street into the establishment.
Remember I said it didn’t look much from the outside, well that all changes when you enter. It’s a very classy design style employed by the owners with lots of creams, golds and mocha colours with wooden tables and chairs. It’s not huge and will seat approximately 28 covers. For that reason, I’d strongly suggest you book in advance because even on a Tuesday evening visit, there were 12 other diners. Overall it gives off an aura of being almost a private dining experience. Oh, and you’ll not be bothered by any dreadful ‘muzak’ either. That’s always a bonus point in my eyes.
On arrival, we were shown directly to our table by David, who provided the menus and took drinks orders. And here’s where they get another bonus point. I’d asked for mineral water and a glass with ice and lemon. I received a jug of ice, almost a full sliced lemon and a bottle of sparkling water in order that I could determine how much ice and lemon to add. Nice touch folks.
David then explained that the menu was supplemented by blackboard specials which were located above the open hatch to the kitchen. The main menu has six starters, six mains, and two desserts while the specials board has a further three specials in both the starter and main categories. There is a pre-theatre menu priced at £14.95 for two courses and £17.95 for three courses, which, quite frankly, is excellent value for money. If this restaurant were to be transplanted into any city, they could easily charge another 25 per cent, such is the quality of the food, but more of that later.
There were only two members of waiting staff, David and Judy. Never before, in more than 15 years of reviewing food establishments, have I been in the fortunate situation of finding staff who were so professional, competent, friendly and fully committed to the business of food production and service. It was a refreshing change. Nothing was too much trouble for them.
They worked the tables like a pair of first-class croupiers, speaking to everyone, and I soon realised that a lot of their trade is return business - what better advert for a restaurant could you ask for?
There was no rush to take orders, and who’d have thought it would have been so difficult to choose from a single sided A4 menu, however eventually we had made our decisions. There was sufficient choice of meats, chicken, and seafood with a wee nod to a vegetarian option too. It’s always a worry to me when I am presented with a menu that resembles ‘War & Peace” in size. How can any chef, no matter how good they are, or think they are, produce consistently good grub when there are 200 items on a menu! This menu had some rather nice touches courtesy of head chef Stephen Allison.
Stephen has sort of fallen into his current role actually, stepping up from his previous sous chef role when the last chef upped and left. And it’s a role he’s embraced and run with showing flair, competence, a knowledge of flavours and how they interact with each other, and then turning some of the rules on their head with his own unique twists. This is a chef to watch out for in the future. Unfortunately, I suspect, for Number 38, he’s destined for bigger things.
So to the starters. I opted for a langoustine bisque off the specials board. How can you go wrong with anything which has west coast langoustines in its ingredients? A wee hiccup as I had to request a spoon and, although I had enquired if it was served with crusty bread, none arrived. This was soon rectified, although the chunky slice of white bread wasn’t what I was expecting. But such disappointment was soon forgotten as I tucked into a lush, creamy, sweet yet almost salty, bowl of delights which danced on the tongue. And, there was something different about this one too. On asking whether it contained white wine or Vermouth, I found out that the slight alcohol ‘bite’ I could taste was actually brandy. One of Stephen’s wee touches. Oh, and the pièce de résistance - two whole langoustines sitting atop the bowl. This wasn’t a ‘kick in the pants’ away from being added to my top ten dishes of all time!
My partner in crime for the evening was my son who had chosen the haggis hash with brown sauce and a duck egg from the specials board for his starter. I managed to secure the smallest of forkfuls for quality control purposes and can agree with his loquacious testimony that this was damn good. It was hearty with chunks of potato and turnip, onion, well spiced and a top quality haggis thrown in, and the addition of a duck egg was genius. It added yet another dimension in both taste and texture to this dish.
Next up - the mains. I had opted for one of the specials again, principally because I love seafood, any particular any form of crustacean always goes down well, and it always tests a chef’s cooking skills. So many just cannot cook seafood correctly. My Thai Green curry with king prawn and tenderstem broccoli with wild rice was eagerly awaited. My dining partner had chosen from the regular menu, a beer battered Coley, served with hand cut chips, mushy peas, and tartare sauce.
My meal arrived in two small bowls sitting on a rectangular serving dish. A metal one for the curry and a small china one for the rice. Now I knew I was in trouble the minute it arrived at the table, as I, like many others I suspect, like to pour my rice onto a plate, add the curry and chomp away. That was an almost impossible task as I tried to find space in the curry bowl to add my rice. Well, it all ended up a wee bit messy. That said, the rice was light and fluffy basmati or long grain and was well cooked. The curry, however, I have eaten all across the world, as it’s a favourite. This time, it does go into my top ten dishes. What an accolade Stephen. This was inspired, the coconut milk married with the hint of both lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, the fish stock, and the home-made green paste created the basis for an award-winning well-balanced dish. The prawns, a good six in the bowl were succulent and tender, just the way they should be, and the addition of the tender stem broccoli added just another dimension in texture and colour. But please, get rid of the silly wee pointless serving platter.
The traditional fish and chips meal looked the business too. What was nice is the use of a ‘renewable’ fish rather than the normal cod or haddock, which is much less sustainable due to overfishing in the North Sea. The beer battered Coley, was a golden crispy coated fillet of good thick white-fleshed fish, which when broken open held its flake well. There’s no getting away with it, it does taste different from both cod and haddock, but yet when you have both mushy peas and home-made tartare sauce, the taste isn’t as important. The chips were perfect, well cooked and crispy on the outside with a light fluffy interior. The mushy peas, well I’d have liked to have seen a good dollop as opposed to the ‘chefy smear’, but the tartare sauce was delicious and served in a bowl on the side. The only error here was the half lemon which hadn’t been wrapped in muslin to catch the pips. No big deal, but just would’ve been nice rather than picking them out of the meal.
And so to the desserts. What does one do when there’s a choice of some of your favourites, treacle tart, lemon cheesecake, chocolate brownie, vanilla ice cream, easy. Have them all. Yes, the kitchen did a trio so we could sample them all. If you could see me now, you’d see a very large grin - enough said I think.
Was Number 38 what I was expecting, certainly not. It’s playing in the premier league of restaurants, and who’d have ever imagined such a gem would be found tucked away down a side street in one of Scotland’s new towns.
I urge you, try it, this wee place is worth the travel.