The mixing pot Glasgow’s African restaurants have dwindled recently but there’s some fresh life in the sub-Saharan dining scene, as Jay Thundercliffe discovers
A year or so ago Glasgow’s African dining options encompassed much of the continent’s varied cuisine, but a rash of closures left only Egyptian and Moroccan restaurants standing. Now the Calabash has filled the gap, offering traditional dishes from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and elsewhere.
It is easy to miss the doorway amid the Union Street hustle, though the thumping bass drifting streetwards is more obvious. On a Sunday afternoon the basement venue is positively jumping – partly due to Kenyan R&B and reggae star Wyre filming in the lounge area, with a DJ spinning tunes behind the bamboo-fronted bar. Elsewhere, children flit between the two dining areas with their unlaid and slightly mismatched tables while customers mix and mingle, giving handshakes, hugs and smiles all round. It’s all very enthralling, entertaining and highly infectious.
The food is a match for the unique ambience, with relaxed and friendly staff offering advice for the uninitiated. A handful of starters include peri-peri chicken wings and livers, sweet potato soup and mshikaki – a Kenyan skewer of beef with peppers that’s not the most tender of cuts but is given a tasty tinge of mellow spices. Mains feature hearty spicy stews such as mchuzi – popular throughout sub-Saharan Africa, served with
30 THE LIST 22 Sep–20 Oct 2011
N O S N B O R N E H P E T S
: S O T O H P
Authentic African food in a vibrant atmosphere Yet another windowless Glasgow basement
ugali (a doughy cornmeal mash) or rice. The Ugandan katogo is a thick stew with potatoey green bananas and lean beef in a spicy tomato sauce with a satisfyingly hefty afterburn. The menu plays to Kenyans’ taste for grilled meat, particularly the beef version, nyoma choma. Sold in half portions or a full version with added sides, it comes as a plateful of spiced meat, some on the bone, all deliciously grilled. Sides include sweet potato chips, mukimo (potato and veg mash) and chapatis. To drink there’s a selection of African beers including Tusker, Star, Castel and Hansa.
Prices are great value for such a central spot, particularly one offering an exotic cuisine of such quality in an entertaining environment, and the menu is small enough that it makes repeat visits to try absolutely everything a real temptation.
THE CALABASH RESTAURANT
57 Union Street, Glasgow, G1 3RB,
0141 221 2711, thecalabashrestaurant.com Food served: Mon–Sun 11am–1am. Ave. price
two-course meal: £9.50 (set lunch) / £12.50 (dinner)
SIDE DISHES NEWS TO NIBBLE ON
RESTAURANT NAMES are a- changing in Glasgow, with Blas at An Lochan evolving into Wee Lochan, Tattie Macs becoming Crabby Macs Seafood Café and The Partners Bistro in Bearsden rebranding as Brasserie 19. The latter two are still owned by The Partners Group, who have also closed their iTapela operation in town.
AUTUMNAL FOOD FESTS
keep rolling with the BBC Good Food
Show Scotland at the SECC in Glasgow from Friday 21 to Sunday 23 October. The same weekend sees the Peebles Food Festival and, nearby, the inaugural International Chutney Champs as part of One World, One Chutney at Neidpath Castle.
THERE’S BEEN A SUSHI SURGE in Edinburgh over the summer, with new
openings Nagoya near Meadowbank, Koyama on Forrest Road and Kanpai, a stylish new venture from the folk behind Dalry Road’s Sushiya, which has opened in the former Stac Polly on Grindlay Street.
ROOM AT 34 32-34 Potterrow, Edinburgh When Bar Crawler was a student, cheap pints were a third tapwater. Which means that Room at 34 represents an evolution, with its fancy homemade burgers and cocktail-juggling bar staff. Don’t let the flock wallpaper fool you, though - this is still a proper student pub with big screen sport, Jaegerbombs by the trayful and the noisy ambience of a union bar.