Food review: McCune Smith Café

Food review: McCune Smith Café

The thought-provoking venue that breathes new life into a dining-out dead-zone in Glasgow's east end

This Duke Street premises just off the High Street was originally taken over by former GSA student Dan Taylor as a design studio, until spiralling costs necessitated a radical business re-think. When a friend suggested opening a café, of which experience Taylor had 'absolutely none', with help from more foodie-minded cohorts Mhairi Nelis and Angharad Burney he switched art for artisan bread.

Drawing on his fascination with the Scottish Enlightenment, Taylor named his enterprise after Dr James McCune Smith, a 19th century African-American intellectual and abolitionist who studied in Glasgow after being refused entry to institutions at home on racial grounds. His name is invoked to reflect the way the city’s reputation as a hotbed for new ways of philosophical thinking in the 18th and 19th centuries awkwardly juxtaposed its commercial complicity in the Transatlantic slave trade. In essence, it's a café where you can eat a wholesome breakfast or lunch, served with a side of lesser-acknowledged Scottish history and culture.

Olive green Harris tweed barrel lampshades are the standout features of a stylish, minimalist aesthetic with a strong Scottish flavour. The café’s handsome retro-classical black façade wouldn’t have looked out of place on Glasgow’s High Street a hundred or more years ago.

Sandwiches (tenuously) represent the historical figures after whom they’re titled – a New York deli classic for Big Apple-native McCune Smith, for instance, or Mediterranean-themed feta and olives for Neoclassical architect Robert Adam, or hot smoked salmon for David Hume because, well, oily fish is good for the brain. Simple but sophisticated, served on thick slices of soft, fresh artisan bread and loaded with fillings, they’re about as good as the humble Scots piece gets.

Breakfast options range from rolls with Ramsay’s of Carluke bacon or pork and leek sausage to porridge pots with various healthy toppings, while sweets – all baked in-house – include chunky rocky road made with Tunnock’s Teacake. Considering McCune Smith’s unique positioning at a crossroads where food, design, history and much more meet, and its owner’s proven adventurousness (events-based late-openings are one idea among many being mooted), this very welcome new addition to Glasgow’s café scene could go any number of interesting ways in years to come.

+ Enlighteningly good pieces
- More hot food wouldn't go amiss