The Calabash Restaurant

The Calabash Restaurant

Photo: Stephen Robinson

The Calabash Restaurant
57 Union Street, Glasgow, G1 3RB
  • Telephone 0141 221 2711
  • Food served Mon–Sun noon–1am
  • Email
  • Website www.thecalabashafricanrestaurant.co.uk
Photo of The Calabash Restaurant
in association with
Birra Moretti

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.

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The inconspicuous entrance to its spacious subterranean premises make the otherwise notable Calabash easy to miss. This lively African restaurant is a tad unpolished, but the convivial atmosphere compensates for any shortfall of style. There’s an air of a community hub, with diners insouciantly conversing and children merrily running around as they wait to be served. With its menu, the Calabash strives to map out the multitudinous African cuisines – by and large unrepresented in Glasgow. The mains are grouped into three sections – the popular stews often with lamb or goat meat, Eritrean and Ethiopian dishes, and the grill. Unapologetically aromatic and strong, the stews make frequent use of a capiscum, tomato and spice sauce, a combination that is not alien to the British palate. This is counterbalanced by a signature sweetness to many of the dishes thanks to coconut, plantain and other fruit. The katogo and the peanut soup are good examples of how such diverse flavours can be successfully consolidated into a thoroughly memorable dish.

The List's rating
6.4

Menu

Cooking

Service

Ambience

Appeal

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Marta Matvijev visited The Calabash Restaurant on 7 March 2018
  • High point: Diverse and aromatic stews
  • Low point: Furnishings show some wear and tear
  • Notable dish: Katogo - lamb and green banana stew
  • Average price: £14 (lunch); £14 (dinner)
  • Delivery: £3 charge for up to 5 mile radius, £5 over 5 miles.
  • Private dining: Up to 80 covers
  • Provides: Vegetarian options (at least ¼ main courses), Halal options, Children's portions, Children's high chairs, Free wi-fi
  • Live entertainment: DJs on the weekends
  • Capacity: 167
  • Largest group: 60
  • Open since: 2011
  • Number of wines sold by the glass: 3
  • House wine: £10 per bottle

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