ONCE upon a 1990s lunchtime this was the place to eat, at least if you were a reporter for either The Herald or the Evening Times, which were just up the road. Decent expenses, long tables, booths at the side also packed with shoppers and legal aid lawyers, bowls of Loretto’s pasta arrabiata flying out the kitchen for about a fiver.

Today? The papers have moved, reporting staff have shrunk and lunch times, shoppers and legal aid lawyers, not to mention expenses, are seldom seen.

Unsurprisingly, over the years this strangely shaped place has drifted from one type of restaurant to another, endlessly looking for that long lost audience. In fact tonight, what was once Loretto’s is now an Indian restaurant. South Indian. Oh and North Indian too – a first for Scotland, or so the website claims in that breathless manner websites always do nowadays. Hmm.

Walking in from the big November freeze I see the old chip shop frontage has been replaced with a new, very brightly lit dining area, but it’s a bit too much of a fishbowl for me, and I head on through the back. Here the old red vinyl booths are gone, replaced by new non-vinyl booths. It’s Tuesday, it’s quiet, the music consists of moody twanging on what sounds like a two-string guitar, there’s only one other table back here occupied – expectations are super low.

“If somebody comes to your house in Kerela this is what we make for them,” the waiter walks up and says, catching me awkwardly holding a fingerful of surprisingly fresh-tasting red onion slices marinated in lime and vinegar. What is it about lone diners that attracts waiters, I wonder, as I nod sagely, picking up an unattractively named meen cutlet, which is mashed fish and potatoes, crisply fried and nicely seasoned. I'm guessing salmon and cod. Good.

Now, the quickest way to find out what a restaurant is really like is to order something from the stranger side of the menu. On a Tuesday night. When ovens are cool and chefs are in that early-in-the-week mood. So while eating a surprisingly peppery bowl of rasam soup, all palate-puckering, super-sour tamarind juice, I skip past the curries, the tandooris and settle instead on the thoran: stir-fried beetroot, cabbage and beans with coconut and cumin. Why not try the whole tandoori sea bream too, for a not unreasonable £15.

By now I’ve got to say I have realised this is not your run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant menu. It’s all a bit off-piste. Mukkuvan soup with crab and coriander; kanava with baby squid and tapioca; boti kebab badami, lamb with fenugreek and almond paste, to name a few.

The sea bream arrives, attractively charred on the outside, jewelled with lemon slices, pools of the darkly spiced rub forming in the juices. The fish itself is freshly, pearly white, the spicing kind of delicious. It’s simple yet very good. On reflection the chef will probably be a bit disappointed in his decision to add that weirdly unnecessary balsamic vinegar squiggle on the side of the plate and also in adding the tired and bog-standard salad it’s supposed to go with, but it doesn’t spoil the fish.

There’s a bowl of rich, deep daal alongside, which smacks of fresh curry leaves and as I ordered the thoran – a stand-alone vegetarian dish at £8 – I’m picking from that too. This is exactly what it says on the tin, being a soft, sweet stir-fry of cabbage and beetroot, but somehow the addition of coconut and cumin lifts it. Impressive. Though there’s not enough of it.

OK, so the soup turns out to be so peppery-hot that I can’t actually finish it and the tamarind so powerful that I feel my mouth being slowly bleached, but maybe that’s the way its meant to be eaten.

Whatever. It’s an interesting meal on a cold November night, cooked with the sort of flair that might just put this old place back on the map.


42 Albion Street, Glasgow (madha.co.uk, 0141 552 6000)

Menu: North and south Indian, confusingly, but packed with interesting dishes including tandoori sea bream. 4/5

Atmosphere: Hard to overcome the weird layout in what was once Loretto’s but they make the best of it with soft colours and comfortable booths. 3/5

Service: A very slow night so nobody is being tested, but there’s no faulting the friendly and attentive service. 4/5

Price: Most of the starter dishes and soups are very reasonably priced at around a fiver. The bream hit £15 but that's a bargain for a whole fish. 4/5

Food: On a quiet Tuesday night they pulled off a great sea bream, some mildly delicious fish cutlets and even the vegetarian thoran had a lot to say for itself. 8/10

Total: 23/30