The Duchess of Argyle is a curious beast. A quick look around shows only yet another nicely-refit Victorian bar turned trendy Finnieston nightspot – and then, perhaps, a double-take.
Is that a portrait of Rabbie Burns in a lucha mask?
The 9th venue of Kained Holdings (Lebowski’s), and their 5th in Finnieston, The Duchess of Argyle is getting billed as a “Mexican party bar” – but if the prospect of disposable sombreros and rainbow-coloured piñatas makes you feel queasy, you’ll still find plenty to love here. Fancy something a little different for a Saturday night catch-up with friends over some tasty eats – and perhaps a margarita or two? Then The Duchess of Argyle might just be the place for you.
First impressions are of a cosy little bar, with low lighting (lovely for atmosphere, terrible for photos) and a well-stocked bar at the furthest end from the door. The effect is that although the place is tiny, it never felt over-crowded – even on the Saturday night that we visited. The music is loud enough to hear, but not so loud that it drowns out the buzz of conversation.
Since it doesn’t take bookings, on a Saturday night you’ll have to try your luck for a table or kill a bit of time with the selection of mezcals and tequilas at the bar. Although the place was busy throughout our visit, I never once got the impression of feeling rushed though.
After being shown to our table, we were quickly set up with a bowlful of corn tortilla chips and some homemade salsa – as well as a round of drinks. I don’t usually drink tequila but it seemed rude not to indulge in a sweet, frosty frozen margarita; while Stringer ordered a whisky-based drink whose name I didn’t note, but which he tells me tasted like a Mexican twist on his beloved New Orleans sazerac.
We started off with a couple of baskets of “antojitos”; a word that is used to describe Mexican street food, although the snacks on offer here owe as much to tasty local produce as they do their global influences. Although the jalepeño poppers came highly recommended, I opted to play it safe with some Tijuana street fries and a basket of crunchy tabasco chicken wings…
…or two. I might love my Mexican food, but I don’t always enjoy what comes with it – specifically, the drizzle of sour cream that it turns out The Duchess of Argyle adds to every dish. Our server made sure our fries were free of a noxious substance – and, when the chicken wings emerged violated from the kitchen, went straight back to get me a second portion of my own.
All of which – plus the second helping of complimentary chips that arrived while we were waiting – meant that we were pretty much stuffed before our tacos arrived.
Apologies again for the shocking quality of my photos: my new camera/love of my life really wasn’t happy with the lighting here!
In keeping with the Mexican street food theme, tacos are absolutely the main event at The Duchess of Argyle: served as a pair on soft flour tortillas, they come with a variety of fillings ranging from smoked barbacoa beef and spit roast Apache chicken to tempura cauliflower, blackened tofu or charred pumpkin. Stringer went for Baja cod with pomegranate salsa and chipotle cream, while I chose crispy pork with white onion, pineapple and coriander.
Did you know that some people are hard-wired to hate coriander? It makes me sad, because its clean, peppery flavour compliments a spicy dish perfectly. That said, I imagine that any coriander haters reading this probably feel the same sadness about my dislike of sour cream. Something that most of the dishes we tried had in common was that they were a little bit dry – and it wasn’t just my insistence on having them without the garnish, because Stringer said the same about his taco and chicken wings too.
It’s a minor complaint though, because the flavour combinations on offer at The Duchess of Argyle were absolutely delicious – and with most of the taco dishes going for £6, you can’t argue on value. Personally, I think The Duchess of Argyle fulfils its mission of bringing something very different to the Finnieston foodie scene – and I can’t wait to check back in for a repeat visit.
I was treated to a complimentary meal for review purposes, but all views are my own and unbiased.