Jthere are few things more enjoyable than a stroll around Glasgow Cathedral Park on one of the first crisp, bright autumn mornings of the year. Going to eat at Celentano’s, the air was cold enough to make your cheeks blush, while the horizon above the Necropolis, the nearby Victorian cemetery, was a dreamy blue. The necropolis, perched on a small hill, is the archaic Gothic backdrop that Whitby wishes it had. Yes, goths love Whitby, but let’s face it, it’s a seaside town and, just like daleks and triffids, goths do poorly on the sand.
These are the sort of thoughts I toyed with as I sat alone in a graveyard, waiting for the nearby Italian-inspired Celentano to open for lunch. Chef Dean Parker and his wife Anna recently moved to Glasgow from London where their names were linked to several places I loved and visited often. Parker was head chef at Darby’s, a New York-style oyster bar and restaurant with Irish influences, located near the new US Embassy at Vauxhall. This is a place where I have pointed many people and their parents, as much for the pleasure as for the pie and the crispy potatoes with beef fat; it is a good quality establishment with clever cuisine. Before that, Parker was cooking at Sorella’s in Clapham, where I stayed for lunch for so long, drinking the homemade vermouth and eating gnocchi, that they closed and reopened for dinner.
In fact, I blame Parker for the start of my midlife addiction to affogato, or vanilla gelato drowned in hot espresso with a big shot of something alcoholic like Frangelico. An affogato isn’t big enough to be a good course, I argue, so doesn’t strictly count as pudding, which means you can also order a tiramisu.
And now the Parkers have headed north, opening Celentano’s within Glasgow’s Cathedral House hotel, a rather lavish boutique residence built in the Old Baronial style in 1896 and now tastefully restored, with eight bedrooms overlooking the cathedral and the necropolis. Celentano is a split-level dining room with sage green paneling, original wood floors, and attractive black and white tiling around a sit-down bar. It’s serene, a little dated and instantly friendly.
The menu is Italian, in that it offers pasta, cheese, salumi, etc., divided into antipasti, first and second, but it’s not some kind of red-tablecloth, garlic-bread establishment, but rather a delicious mish-mash of all Dean Parker’s talents and eccentricities. In the “snacks” section of the menu, for example, there are slices of his gloriously tangy homemade pork and fennel salami, alongside chunks of fried lasagna made with porcini mushrooms and Cora Linn sheep’s cheese. Yes, fried lasagna. I am a convert. See also tiny fritters filled with a really curious “jam” of salted cod and kimchi.
In fact, it would be easy to stand alone in the snack section, slathering Parker’s homemade chicken liver parfait on fresh sourdough or dipping it in premium Le Ferre olive oil, but I I was dining alone, so I had to be careful with my menu choices. If I opted for a big bowl of deliciously slippery fresh pappardelle in a rich, creamy Dexter beef sauce, might I have room for the big piece of toasted honey cake with miso glaze, to pear and tonka bean? And if so, would I dare to slip into a Jerusalem artichoke antipasti with stracciatella and chanterelles? It was a risk, but the one who dares wins.
The pasta here is exquisite, as you might have guessed. Had a Mossgiel ricotta agnolotti with cavolo nero and squash which I will definitely be back to try. The Jerusalem artichokes were a little soggy and slathered on a thick, almost earthy, taupe-colored mushroom sauce that was titillated with the occasional green leaf. It was experimental cooking rather than safe and filling, but it was very edible nonetheless. By the way, this toasted honey cake was beautifully moist – think a pleasant puffy Soreen malt bread wodge with an oozing cream center sitting on a base of sweet pear and ice cream, with a glistening note of umami from the miso. It is an excellent dessert.
Celentano’s is just getting started, which means now is the perfect time to book a table. In fact, it could be the perfect Saturday outing: there are 3,500 monuments to the dead in the nearby necropolis that you can spend an entire morning browsing, before heading to Celentano’s for lunch in honor of the living. Life is short, cruel, and bumpy, so make time for long lunches with friends that glide into dinnertime with honey cake, laughter, and bowls of cool, slippery pappardelle. You might as well. I’m not sure where we’re going after this life, and I know even less about the restoration there.
Celentano’s 28–32 Cathedral Square, Glasgow G4, 0141-552 3519. Lunch open Wednesday-Saturday 12pm-3pm, dinner Wednesday-Saturday 6pm-10pm; Sun noon-6 p.m. Around £40 per person plus drinks and service