Restaurant review: The Bungo, Glasgow.
Funny thing is, there I was on Sunday. Sitting in Cookie, just up the road, drinking excellent coffee, when my eye was caught by a steady trickle of people passing by. People not normally seen south of the River Clyde without nosebleeds. Yip, that quite-nearly-endangered-species: the loud and proud west ender. Which was odd. What with the great Glasgow divide being what it is, even today. So I wandered down for a look-see and sitting there almost at the bottom of Nithsdale Road, hidden from general view by Portakabins and scaffolding, through smoked-glass windows and full of bustling Facebookers, as it transpired, is a brand new restaurant-cafe-bar thingy.
I didn't go in. But I did Google it. And all of a sudden the mystery was solved. Bungo is an expensive transformation of an old south side pub by the people behind the trendy Left Bank in Glasgow's west end. What I was looking at from the cold of the street was the Facebook soft launch, as these things are called.
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Fast forward 24 hours, maybe a little bit longer, and here I am in the now officially open Bungo. All long bar, exposed stone, lovely rough woods on the tables and still with that lingering feeling that most of the customers have been here since that soft launch. There's a bit of gushiness about the place. I can't put my finger on it, but I settle into my seat and watch.
Well? So far I'm kinda ho-hum. It's not like this part of Glasgow needs yet another trendy caff – it probably has the highest concentration of decent ones in the city. Especially now the west end has become, er, shall we say a little, er, rough.
But there is that smell. Curry cooking. No, not the acrid, harsh smell of cumin and coriander, but a deep, delicate and soft tastebud-tickling aroma that takes me back to my dad standing in the tiny kitchen in Oban furiously experimenting with pestle and mortar, tubs of ghee and a note from Mr Singh.
I order lamb badami from the very friendly Dutch waiter guy with a shlight lilt to his acshent. It's delicious. Slow-cooked, full of soft meat with crunchy toasted almonds, cinammony gravy, a marvellous fragrance and a coconut rice on the side that is sweet and savoury and almost a meal in itself.
Around me, plates of big, puffed-up and battered haddock and chips are flying by. In the next booth people are greeting each other like they're Livingstone and Stanley meeting in that far-off foreign land.
The banana and chocolate bread is off, so are a few other things, but it is Day One. The pork rillette is excellent, served with fresh bread, an unctuous, sticky, salty mix of very soft meat and herbs, a sharp baby gem lettuce salad on the side to wash it all away. Better still? The Rajhastani red onion fritters. The first bite is crisp, then a scary uh-oh, bland moment followed by a rush of fresh vegetable flavours and a hit from the garlic tzatziki on the side.
It's an all-over-the-place menu this: a little bit of upmarket breakfast dishes; a Luberon-style beef daube; grilled seabass fillet with a fennel bisque. I try the burger. Great chips. Though why bill them as "twice cooked"? All chips should be twice cooked. The meat is tender, the pickles sharp, and the bun – while not as soft and elastic as it should be – is not bad.
OK, there's a language difficulty with the soft drinks order and try as I do three whole times I simply can't get a bottle of Coke brought to the table and end up with slim glasses, loads of ice and not much to drink.
But it's nothing. Perhaps there are too many aiolis, or they're too salty. I had two. One with green chilli, which added a zero to the flavour. But serious criticisms? None. Even the prices are at south side levels. Very good, then. Actually, make that very, very good indeed.
17-21 Nithsdale Road, Glasgow (www.thebungo.co.uk, 0141 423 0023)
MENU Trendy and therefore a bit of anything they fancy cooking – French slow dishes, Bangladeshi curry, fish and chips, and all-day breakfast. 4/5
ATMOSPHERE Hip 'n' happening. Have a drink at the bar, a meal in the booth or breakfast if you fancy. Looks good. 4/5
SERVICE Grown-up, friendly and efficient though it was the first official night. 5/5
PRICE Just right. Big main course curry glided in at around £12, fish and chips at £8; others are reasonable. 5/5
FOOD Badami curry was sensational and even the burger was far better than most. A bit heavy on the salt but generally excellent. 8/10