The first thing I noticed when we walked into Lupo’s was how glamorous it was – and that was before we even walked up the stairs to the restaurant space.
I can’t remember exactly what music was playing on that staircase, but it was something that made me feel decidedly dodgy – like I was about to have dinner with my lover at a little restaurant we were on fallen in the alleys of Sicily. , before sliding on our Vespa for the short trip back to my palace in the sun.
Lupo’s is so compelling it’s easy to forget you’re actually next door to the New Picture House cinema in St Andrews, so much so that three of their cocktails might make you consider re-enacting the beach scene in From Here To Eternity – if only the Scottish sirocco would finally stop blowing over the West Sands.
It’s a smart thing to set the scene for La Dolce Vita so adroitly just from a few artfully framed photos of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, and Salvador Dali and his intoxicatingly insane wife Gala.
I already remember thinking that Lupo was probably my kind of place.
Lounge music plays as you ascend the stairs, photos seem to offer a gateway to another world of Rat Packs, Milanese risotto and Ravello, and instantly your mind soars.
Clever minds have worked here and they have made a wonderful pearl of slightly decadent glamor out of a somewhat unglamorous shell.
I learned early on that there can never be too much glamor in life, an adage I still cling to today. Even when I was unemployed, I spent some of my benefit money on Vogue magazine and David Bowie’s new single, all the while wanting to give my mother money for my food.
My most desperate search for a glamorous teenage fix led me to take the bus to Forfar to see Marc Bolan’s film Born To Boogie, wearing a top hat I had found at Dens Road Market and glitter on the cheeks. I was 14 years old.
As an adult who’s been lucky enough to travel the world with an expense account and a restaurant guide as trusty props, I’ve learned that glamor can be found in the most unexpected places – a seafood shack sea on Santa Monica Beach, a secret souvlaki garden in Mykonos, or a hole in the wall soup on 55th Street in New York.
There, owner Al Yeganeh was handing out soup with all the charm of someone who truly despises the public, something he confirmed in a New Yorker article where he was quoted as saying, “I tell you, I hate working with the public. My philosophy is ‘the customer is always wrong and I am always right’”.
A regular would quote you the soup’s rules of survival as you innocently and obediently stood in line – “don’t talk, do as he says”.
I thought it was the most glamorous idea ever because you instantly feel like a New Yorker and also like you’re in a movie – all for the price of a paper cup of soup and the strange insult thrown at you.
Glamor doesn’t have to be the Ritz or the Savoy. He can be anywhere, even in the gutter – and yet he can sometimes be extremely difficult to find. Central Dundee restaurants are sorely lacking in glamour, Jute at DCA, Franks and Gallery 48 being the few exceptions.
Perth and St Andrews offer more hope for the budding Iris Apfel among us, the latter positively moaning with glamorous desire beneath her academic mantle.
Lupo at St Andrews
The smart thing about Lupo is that she achieves glamor with just artful use of paint, imaginative use of space, and good lighting. I may be wrong here, but I think that golden conversion may not have cost so much – but the effect is great.
This is actually an 80s interior idea, cleverly mixed with something fresh and inviting and as such it couldn’t really be more now.
The return of Stranger Things meant eBay reported a 400% increase in items related to 1980s shows, but something you can’t actually buy online are the painting techniques that helped make this remarkable decade and to make painting expert Jocasta Innes a household name.
If you want to get a sense of what was so ubiquitous in the design-driven decade of the 1980s, the sponge and rag painting techniques featured here at Lupo would be a good place to start.
Used 40 years ago, and now revived here to create a rustic, weathered patina on the walls and bar, this technique works because it’s combined with other decidedly 80s touches like scalloped curtains and edging. of paint to create a distinctly fun, relaxing and oddly comforting environment.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking back to the ’80s so much lately that the huge ceiling light, positively bursting with plastic flowers, just looks right here.
The truth is that I loved this space so much.
In fact, I liked it so much that I said a silent prayer to Bacchus that the food and service weren’t disastrous.
I’m happy to report that both were ace.
The night we dined, a special menu was offered, named after the movie La Dolce Vita.
At £39.50 for four courses it seemed like a bargain, with antipasti including burrata, fig and bresaolo, and mains – secondi – including tagliata di manzo (£5 extra) and penne alla vodka, a throwback to the 70s that is always welcome with me.
A primo dish of pappardelle al tartufo sounded appealing, especially since it came with a quote from Fellini himself – “life is a combination of magic and pasta”.
As enticing as it sounds, we chose the main a la carte menu, mainly because set menus often only work if everyone at the table orders them.
There was plenty of choice on the regular menu, which offered a tantalizing combination of classics and more unusual dishes.
Starting with Italian breads with Tuscan olive oil and balsamic vinegar (£3.50), I already wanted to order the polenta fritta (£5.50) from the snack menu and the panzanella (£11) from a selection of only two salads.
But as there is a limit to what even I can eat by research and gluttony, I ordered the Calabrian scallops with ‘nduja, mashed peas and crispy speck (£13) and it was delicious.
Mash of scallops and peas is itself a bit of an 1980s classic, a dish I always ordered when Rowley Leigh was inventing it at Kensington Place in London.
It still tastes classic and wonderful (a recipe can be found in Leigh’s book No Place Like Home) and it also looks very appealing on the plate.
David’s burrata starter with roasted figs and beets, toasted hazelnuts and balsamic vinegar (£9) was as pretty as a chiaroscuro, the white of the mozzarella (substituted due to the lack of burrata) contrasting beautifully with yellow and red beets, pink figs and intense dark drops of balsamic. Simple, but awesome.
My main course of porchetta (£21) was so good – pork belly stuffed with roasted fennel, leek and thyme, served on creamed potatoes with tender stemmed broccoli, it was a dish to savor for the rich meat, the joy of fat and the ambrosial quality of the mash. Top stuff.
David’s risotto was also a delight (£16). Heady with aromas of black truffle, this nectar was served simply, letting the alliance of truffle, mascarpone and parmesan operate their supreme alchemy.
This risotto was well cooked, the grain still al dente and the dish itself creamy and harmonious – although a quick stolen spoonful led me to say that I like my risottos to be just a little more moist, either at because of the last minute addition of a little more butter or maybe vermouth.
Whatever your opinion of the gloopiness of risotto, it was an almost classic example of a dish that is often easier to cook at home than in a restaurant, given that it takes patience and time to achieve the optimal balance between rice and liquid.
I don’t know if it was the thought of clogged arteries inside our bodies that made us pause mid-stream to order grilled artichoke hearts with fava beans, chicory, peas, rocket and mint (£12.50) but this dish proved a wonderfully vibrant green contrast to the deep ballast of our main courses.
The desserts were excellent and we settled in like two happy veterans, delighted to find ourselves on the home run, with absolutely nothing to complain about.
Our excellent waitress Vicky mentioned to me that the tiramisu (£8) was her favorite but the portion was quite large. I think I stopped for a second to feel the fear of admitting it to my personal trainer and then ordered it anyway. It was delicious, a vast slice of melted, creamy goodness that was probably the best tiramisu I’ve had outside of Italy.
David ordered the caramel budino (£8) because he had googled the word and realized it was essentially a rich, creamy custard that was reminiscent of childhood, given that us 70s kids grew up on Ambrosia rice pudding and Angel Delight caramel. He got very quiet while eating it, which can sometimes be a sign that something is wrong – but here, silence equates to that happiness you get when everything seems right in the world.
Lupo’s is a bit of a find – great food, beautiful surroundings and great service.
The only thing I can fault is a 10% discretionary service charge added to the bill, along with overly complicated explanations of the split between food and wine. We were told we could deduct it if we wanted.
That in itself is good, because I always tip more anyway. But upon checkout we were then told we could add extra service if we wanted – a slightly embarrassing situation as two conversations about tipping are at least one too many in my book. This is Scotland, not New York!
Either Lupo should raise the discretionary service charge to 12.5% or scrap it all and allow the customer to tip whatever they want, given that the service here is pretty impeccable anyway – and you hope that customers will want to reward it.
That minor complaint aside, Lupo’s is a total joy and I can’t wait to go back.
Address: Lupo’s, 119 North Street, St Andrews, KY16 9AD
P: 01334 475950
Price: Snacks from £3.50; tickets from £9; mains from £15; dessert from £6.50.
- Food: 5/5
- Performance: 5/5
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[Spectacular Italian cuisine at Lupo’s in St Andrews]