I can remember going to the Fratelli Sarti restaurant in Glasgow ever since I was a little child. It was one of a handful of Italian restaurants my family always visited, having as we did a close connection to la bella Italia – my grandparents used to cycle (and subsequently drive the motorbike and side-car) there every summer, three kids in tow; my grandfather got his degree in Italian after he had retired as an accountant; my aunt worked as a primary school teacher in Naples; and we have been going there on holiday ever since. So you could say that we know Italian cuisine intimately, and at one time so did Sarti. In the Bath Street location we enjoyed the crunchy pickled vegetables served in the mixed salads, and the traditionally rich sauce used in their spaghetti al pomodoro. When they opened up a new venue in the old bank on Renfield Street, we rejoiced at being able to eat good quality pizzas and steaming bowls of zuppa di farro e legumi or pasta e fagioli closer into town.
I'm telling you all of this because when I visited my family in Glasgow a few weeks ago, I had quite a shock. I don't know if Sarti has been taken over by new managers, or they have just got lazy over the years, but my parents and I were less than impressed by the Bath Street fare. I ordered a simple bruschetta to start, but what I received was beyond pitiful – a few chopped, squiffy tomatoes on top of sliced bread. The bread hadn't been toasted or rubbed with garlic, there were no metallic basil leaves, and – even worse – there wasn't even any oil on the dish! Just a plate of cold tomatoes and bread... My parents' salads looked like as good a mix as ever, but the waitress seemed confused that anybody might not be keen on the now ubiquitous balsamic dressing (this stuff should really be used sparingly as it used to be in Modena – as a salad dressing it obliterates the delicate flavours of the vegetables) and took several minutes to rustle up a two litre bottle of wine vinegar which was plonked unceremoniously down onto the table. This, however, did not prepare us for the mains. My linguine al pesto genovese arrived stone cold, clearly having been sitting on a counter top for several minutes while the other dishes were finished, its bright green strands glued together by the congealing starch. And while Mother's spaghetti al pomodoro was piping hot, the pasta itself was overcooked and the whole thing came swimming in a plate of tasteless water so that none of the sauce stuck had any chance of sticking. It was also blindingly obvious that nothing had been seasoned.
We could have put this down to the usual chef not being in and given Sarti another chance, were it not for the appalling service we received. The waitress, who had been quite brusque with us throughout the meal, eventually noticed that we had barely touched any of our food and asked us if we had enjoyed it (!), but when Mother said explicitly why we had not she stomped off with our plates and proceeded to ignore our table for a good fifteen minutes (there were only two other diners in the restaurant at the time...). We were honestly amazed by her behaviour, and of course she never came back to apologise, another waitress having to bring us our bill. Neither of them seemed Italian, I might add, and I'll hazard a guess that the cook wasn't either.
Rubbish food served by rude staff. It's a terrible shame but we shan't be going back again.