The Calabash Restaurant
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.
This review is taken from the current (2016) edition.
Zebra and leopard prints abound and African textiles and artefacts dot the sparse dining room – but the décor in this basement venue isn’t the draw. This family-run restaurant is dedicated to serving up a taste of home to the entire African community of west Scotland, and so the menu reads like a whistle-stop tour of the continent (and beyond) with Kenyan grilled meat, cassava, plantain, coconut milk, yam and peanuts showing up in various guises. Those in search of the ultra-authentic may enjoy spicy Nigerian pepper soup and goat’s head stew. Chikina awaze tibis, from the Ethiopian section, is served on a stainless-steel tray covered with a woven lid, with spongy, sour injera flatbread laden with sautéed meat, fragrant with spices and best eaten with fingers. While meat is the main focus, there are a few vegetarian dishes such as spinach and plantain with peanut sauce, Jamaican rice and peas or kidney bean stew. The drinks menu includes beers from Namibia and Nigeria, African Fanta orange and a non-alcoholic malt Guinness. Weekends can get especially busy with DJs pulling in a lively crowd.
- High point: Authentic African cuisine
- Low point: Blaring stereo
- Notable dish: Nyama choma (flame-grilled spiced lamb)
- Delivery: £3.00 charge, 1.5 mile radius. Last order 10.15pm.
- Private dining: Up to 100 covers
- Provides: Halal options, Children's portions, Children's high chairs, Free wi-fi
- Live entertainment: DJs
- Capacity: 169
- Largest group: 100
- Open since: 2011
- Number of wines sold by the glass: 3
- House wine: £10 per bottle