El Santo is a recently opened Latin American restaurant close to George Square in Glasgow.
I visit without doing my research and assume it is a chain restaurant and brace for a frenetic atmosphere and gimmicks.
*Teacher voice* we all know what assume did don’t we?
The first thing we note is a gleaming, turquoise-tiled horseshoe bar which, it transpires, is the stage for expert libations. The restaurant has low lighting, our booth seating is spacious and comfortable, and the music is tasteful and not too loud for a school night.
The cocktail list prompts an immediate order of one Paloma, and one Pisco Sour. My grapefruit concoction is served in a tall tubular glass with fruit garnish and a waterfall of rock salt down its side. The first hint at the immaculate presentation that will be a hallmark of our experience at this saintly place. Liz is pleased that her Pisco is "benchmark Angostura-dressed" and “means business.”
Service is as polished as a Brazilian manicure. The menu is an extensive gastronomic tour of Latin America, so Liz and I grapple, like the legendary wrestler El Santo, as we try to choose from the many South of the Border specialities. Liz, however, has spotted the chef’s recommended menu priced at £40 pp and the waitress adeptly talks us through this broad overview of the restaurant’s offering.
First up is Guacamole bashed in a pestle and mortar tableside and served with a variety of fine homemade tortilla chips and a smoky mole of roast tomatoes and chilli. Liz describes the flavour as “deliciously intriguing as opposed to a mere flash of heat”.
Salmon Ceviche arrives in a bowl of dry ice which bubbles as it has been poured on hot water, a visual and auditory sensation. Salmon is thickly sliced and of good quality. Pork Bonbons are scrumptious, tacos tasty and the thick Argentinian Lamb Chops with minty chimichurri have Liz swooning at how they combine pink tenderness with properly crisped fat.
Aztec spears of corn are juicy, and the golden kernels are served on a dish the colour of the Sea of Cortez. It’s a multi-sensory feast. We struggle with the fries but eat enough to know they are ultra-crispy evading any flabby texture even when cool. They are served with a spicy mayo of course.
By now Liz has indulged in a Venezuelan Negroni: Caniamo gin from Diplomatico, watermelon-infused Campari and Cocchi rosa vermouth served with a scarlet wedge of fruit. I am eying up the Coconut and Chocolate mint Daiquiri.
But first, the showstopper dessert is the Cuban Chocolate Cigar with blackcurrant ash and gel presented in a humidor. It arrives smoking, and more molecular voodoo is afoot. When I bite into the chocolate casing it is filled with a delicate, white chocolate ganache. My daiquiri arrives virgin white in colour topped with an oval-shaped emerald-coloured mint leaf.
El Santo overdelivers in terms of décor, service, food, and drink. I hate to gush and wish I could dredge up a criticism, but Chef Juliana Kipper, and crew, don't put a foot wrong.
El Santo - 84 Miller St, Glasgow G1 1DT - 0141 260 0770