Restaurant review: Calabash

Pan-African dining with a unique atmosphere

Restaurant review: Calabash

Glasgow’s African restaurants have dwindled somewhat recently but there’s some fresh life in the sub-Saraharan 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 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.

+ Authentic African food in a vibrant atmosphere
- Yet another windowless Glasgow basement

57 Union Street, Glasgow, G1 3RB
0141 221 2711
Food served: Mon–Sun 11am–1am
Ave. price two-course meal: £9.50 (set lunch) / £12.50 (dinner)

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