As a Food Writer for one of Scotland’s top newspapers i get to visit the best restaurants, sample the best food, meet and greet top chefs from not just Scotland, but all over the world. Then Lockdown came, all the restaurants closed, people stayed at home and I found myself staring at a white screen with nothing to type. Imagine my face when i received a call from the newspaper to visit a cafe in Glasgow which was leading the way in preparing for social distancing once restrictions were eased.
I always do my homework, so, I looked up the cafe online. The Soggy Bottom didn’t appear to have a website but Tripadvisor had lots of reviews. I was so pleased I had something to do and opened up the first review of The Soggy Bottom like a child at Christmas…….
“…….the place is a bit manky and the waitress was a bit mouthy but where on the planet can you get an eight piece Scottish breakfast for £1.99. fantastic ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“…….we were the only people in and decided to order steak pies…….after twenty minutes the waitress announced the ‘chef’ had burnt the steak pie toppings……however, they offered us an eight piece breakfast for £1.99 instead. It was brilliant….. “ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Due to the 5 star rave reviews we had pre booked The Soggy Bottom for Gran’s 80th way in advance. We were a bit taken aback by the cafe’s exterior but everything went well until they started taking the food orders. Turned out they had run out of peas, sparkling water and battered fish. They only had one piece of lasagne left and one steak pie. It was a shambles. Then, they offered us all an eight piece breakfast, albeit for dinner!, for £1.99. Grannie loved it. I mean, an eight piece breakfast for £1.99. Greatest place in the world” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“We took our Northern Irish relatives along during their holiday. Things got off to a bad start as the wind was causing a draft across the table. When it turned out the window wasn’t even open and the draft was due to the window frame shrinking, we were amazed when the owner didn’t just move us. Instead he arrived with duct tape to seal the icy wind. It got worse when the Cumberland sausage and peas appeared. There was so much gravy the peas were drowning in front of our eyes and the potato mash had sunk underneath the surface. The owner was apologetic and offered us all an eight piece Scottish breakfast for £1.99 as well as putting the Cumberland sausage in a doggy bag. It was delicious. Can only give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A week later i stood outside The Soggy Bottom with it’s owner Carlo. A third generation Italian, he’d inherited the cafe from his father. Carlo’s grandfather, Luigi, had been a POW in Scotland. After the war he’d gained enough of a friendship with a senior official allowing him to stay after the war and start his cafe. Luigi’s opened in 1951, growing a reputation for fine pizzas. When Carlo’s father, Loreno, took over in the eighties, things went downhill. He had more of a reputation for womanising than great Italian food. The cafe gained a local reputation for producing pizzas with a soggy bottom to the point where the ever reducing customer base started calling the cafe by that name. When Loreno passed away, Carlo decided he would change the name and change the menu. Since his father had got rid of the old pizza oven (the star of the original cafe), he decided to go for cheap Scottish food. After many ups and even more downs, he decided to make the cheapest all day breakfast Scotland had ever seen.
Customers flocked from all over Glasgow to The Soggy Bottom just for the now famous breakfast. Carlo saw his profits grow and grow until, out of the blue, Covid 19 appeared. Suddenly, the world stopped turning. The cafe was mothballed, it’s staff furloughed, until one evening when they were told they could get ready to restart. However, they would need to maintain social distancing for a period to protect their customers. Carlo set himself the task of coming up with ideas to help him restart his business……..
I stood on the pavement in front of The Soggy Bottom a good two metres away from Carlo.
‘You’re our guinea pig. Our first customer ahead of our socially distanced re-opening. I’ve some PPE for you. A mask, goggles, latex gloves. You can take them off once you’re in your seat, but you must put them on before you leave’
I took the goggles etc. and headed towards the front door of the cafe.
‘Just follow the instructions and we’ll see you inside. I’m heading round the back to the kitchen. I’m afraid we have a very limited menu tonight so I hope it’s okay’
With that he was gone. I pushed the door open. I found myself in a very claustrophobic space with a sign saying ‘PLEASE PLACE THE PALM OF YOUR HANDS AGAINST THE BLUE STERILISING FILM AHEAD OF YOU FOR 10 SECONDS. PUT ON THE GLOVES SUPPLIED. WAIT FOR THE BOOTH MIST TO BE ADMINISTERED, THEN ENTER THE CAFE VIA THE DOOR TO THE RIGHT. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION. ENJOY YOUR MEAL AT THE SOGGY BOTTOM’
I wondered what ‘BOOTH MIST’ was before placing my hands on the blue plastic. That was my first mistake. I’d stupidly put the latex gloves on already. After 10 seconds there was a click. I tried to take my hands away but they were sort of stuck to the surface. Then the film started moving upwards taking my hands with it. I managed to get my left hand free but my right became jammed at the top sending a sharp twinge down my hand.
‘STOP IT STOP IT’ I shouted
I heard a noise to my left and turned toward it. A window opened. Something spurted through the hole right towards me. Suddenly my eyes were stinging.
‘Arrrggghhhh!’ I screamed
There was shouting from through the wall.
‘You stupid nit. you’ve got the Hozelock on ‘Jet’ instead of ‘Mist’ for god sake!!’
I wrenched my right hand which was now throbbing backwards and stumbled through the now open door to my right. My eyes were running. I couldn’t see a thing.
‘I’m so sorry, so sorry’ came a voice from a speaker.
‘Are you ok? You were supposed to put the goggles on before you….never mind. If you reach to your right there’s a jug of water sitting on a shelf. Use that to rub your eyes. I’ll be with you in a minute’
I put my hand out hunting for the water. As I stepped forward, I felt my right foot suddenly being dragged from under me. I lurched forward and fell to the ground taking the jug of water with me.
The speaker crackled……
‘Shit, he’s stood on the robot floor cleaner. Shit shit shit!! We’re history!!’
The only good thing from throwing a jug of water over myself was I could open my eyes again. I waited for more pain beyond my sore hand and stinging eyes, but nothing arrived. I stood up. I was still alive!! I turned to find Carlo standing with a towel. He handed it to me.
‘I’m so so sorry. My waitress Angie had the sprayer on the wrong setting’
‘Look, I didn’t follow your instructions. It’s my own fault. I’m fine’
‘The bloody robot floor cleaner is supposed to come out of it’s hole at midnight. Must be something wrong with it’s timer’
‘Look…it’s ok. I’ll be dried up in a while, my finger’s feeling better already and I’m hungry, so let’s move on and get some food’
‘Yes, yes, let’s get you a drink and some food. Your table is through the curtain over there. Number 5’
I looked across the room. There appeared to be strips of black plastic hanging from the ceiling. Every so many feet there was a white number on one of the strips.
‘I got the idea from the telly. Another restaurant separated the tables with these. I thought why not.’
I pulled the curtain and stepped inside my ‘booth’.
It was quite dark with only a small flat screen in the centre of the table. I sat down and within a few seconds the screen lit up. There was Carlo.
Hi, I’m really sorry about all the things that have gone wrong. I hope we can redeem ourselves with our food. Would you like to order a drink?
Within a few minutes a glass of Chardonnay arrived in a rather conventional way. I’d never even noticed the little railway track under the window. The wine arrived in a little holder behind a little train engine. For the first time during my visit I smiled . How clever.
A minute later Carlo’s face appeared on the screen again.
‘Are you ready to order?
I was starving…..
‘Okay so we are offering you homemade lasagne, our ₤1.99 8 piece breakfast and, ehm,…….. pizza
‘Pizza??? Homemade lasagne??? I’m quite surprised by that choice Carlo. The Soggy Bottom attempting pizzas again!!’
‘Well, Lockdown has changed us all. Rab, our chef’s grandfather died of Covid early on in all this. To take his mind off things I didn’t furlough him, I kept paying him to work with me each day, every day watching You Tube cooking videos, going through my grandfather’s old recipes when we found them…’
‘My grandfathers drawings for his pizza oven…’
‘We’ve rebuilt it out the back from scratch. We found pizza recipes, lasagne recipes, all sorts of Italian meals, hundreds of them. We’ve ditched all the frozen food even for our 8 piece breakfast. Everything’s fresh. Rab and I are different men. Hopefully, you’ll agree’
Over the next hour the little train brought me portions of all three meals. The 8 piece breakfast came first. It was beautiful. Even the hash brown had been homemade. The sausages were unique. I could taste herbs and a tiny amount of spice. It was genius. Then came the lasagne, trundling along to my table on the back of the little train engine. I was dreading this bit but I needn’t have. It was amazing. Loads of creamy béchamel sauce, spicy tomato flavours, beautiful beef, and, if I wasn’t mistaken, homemade pasta. So juicy and fresh, I’d never tasted anything like it.
Finally the moment arrived. A Rustica pizza. Serrano ham, juicy chicken, tomato on a thin pizza base, with a dressed fresh salad side. I tucked in with a bit of fear. I needn’t have worried. I’d tasted pizzas all over the world, including some of the most famous in Italy and New York City. This little pizza, in a tiny cafe in Glasgow which had gained it’s name for making soggy pizzas, was up there with the best. I sipped my Pinot Grigio. Simple fayre, but I’d just had one of the best meals I’d ever had in my life!!
A few minutes later I stood outside next to the pizza oven Carlo and Rab had built with their own bare hands…….
‘I cannot tell you how amazing that meal was. The lasagne, pizza and the breakfast. Just amazing. You should be very proud. I think you should charge five times more for that breakfast, and as for being called The Soggy Bottom…..I think you did your father and grandfather proud. Thank you. The only other advice I would give is to stick to hand sanitiser at the entrance and maybe ditch the robot cleaner’
‘Sorry again for the problems on your arrival. We’ve never made any money from the breakfast. In fact the cafe has lost money for a long time. Some of our customers can’t afford a proper breakfast, so that’s why it’s on the menu, but, I think we can open in the evenings with our new menu and after your comments I think we’ll do just fine’
I couldn’t shake their hands so there was an awkward goodbye, so, with a smile on my face and a full belly, I headed off into the Glasgow night.
Once home I couldn’t wait to get to my iMac and head to Tripadvisor…
‘To be honest I was dreading going to the new socially distanced Soggy Bottom. After all it only appeared to be notable for the cheapest 8 piece breakfast in the world. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Run by a lovely man and a great chef, this new version of The Soggy Bottom (aka Luigi’s), is amazing. Beautiful fresh food, and, dare I say it, the best pizza in the world. A pleasure, and, after all, where can you get an 8 piece breakfast for ₤1.99 😀 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️’
Three weeks later ‘Luigi’s’ re-opened……
Luigi’s Lasagne recipe (or it might be my wife’s 😂)
Add to pan in this order…
25g butter + tablespoon sunflower oil
Finely chopped large white onion + 5 garlic cloves
3 large carrots finally chopped
800-900g of minced Beef
200ml of mil (bubble for 10-15mins)
200ml white wine (bubble for 10-15mins)
salt pepper and nutmeg to taste
2 bay leaves
tin of chopped tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons tomato puree
simmer slowly for at least 3-5hrs
1 hour before the above rage is ready……… Béchamel sauce
heat 800ml whole milk with a white onion (halved), grated nutmeg, salt, pepper and a bay leaf. Bring to boil, immediately switch heat off and let it infuse for 20mins
Meantime make a rue in a separate pot with 6oz of plain flour and 6oz butter. Having discarded the onion and bayleaf from the infused milk, add it to the rue a ladle at a time to rue.
With béchamel done, grate cheese and parmaggiano cheese to add between layers of your lasagne
Butter large pyrex dish
add spoonful of béchamel t base
place fresh lasagne sheet
add layer of Ragu
add Béchamel layer
add grated cheeses
repeat (grating more cheese if required)
once dish full top with Mozzarella
Cook in oven at 180 deg C fan for 35mins
(any extra u can build a mini lasagne and freeze it)
“The Soggy Bottom’ was brought to you by David Linden aka @qosfc1919 on Twitter and Dodo Productions © 2020 Email firstname.lastname@example.org