Babs

49 West Nile St, Glasgow

0141 465 1882

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Lunch/Dinner: £7-£20

Food rating: 8½/10

BURGERS (yawn, zzzzz) are pretty boring. They’ll always find a favoured spot in the inglenook of the conservative menu along with steaks, and fish and chips, but they’re not the zeitgeist of eating out. Don’t, however, interpret the current brouhaha around the so-called plant food revolution as a sign that they’ve had their chips. For all the noise they make, vegans still make up a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Fashionable "flexitarianism" in the domestic kitchen melts as easily as dripping when many self-styled plant food enthusiasts eat out. Meat in all forms is a surprisingly resilient eating out category. Why? For all their efforts, men in white coats can’t engineer a convincing plant-based "meat" alternative because the real thing owes its singular flavours and consistency to a natural synergy of muscle, connective tissue, fat and bone that can be aped, but never replicated.

Seeing the drift and levelling off in the burger business, innovators are developing the meat category, yet again with nods to the US, as witnessed by the "pit master" trend for wood-smoked meats, spice "rubs", marinades, and barbecue sauce. In Scotland, however, restaurants that embrace this trend to refresh carnivorous menus ultimately come up against the block that once you ignore the ubiquitous slaw, you’re eating a pile of meat and chips. Even meat-loving omnivores want a bit more balance these days.

And this is what I think is so clever about Babs, the latest project from the successful Bread Meats Bread (BMB) operation. While BMB is streets ahead of other burger joints, I wouldn’t eat there often because it’s just too meat-and-potatoes for me. But Babs – "charcoal-fired gourmet kebabs made using ethical and local Scottish seasonal produce" – does. The vegetable components of its menu aren’t afterthoughts. And instead of referencing US culinaria ad nauseam, Babs looks out through the haze of its smouldering charcoal grill to the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, Italy, to different gastronomic traditions. Anyone who knows the well-curated Comptoir Libanais chain in London might also wonder if Babs has learnt a trick or two there. In decor terms, here’s a hint of Levantine luxury, a touch of North African kasbah, and a passing memory of Moroccan riad. In short, it’s a pretty convivial place to eat even though the pace is fast.

You’re unlikely to eat a three-courser here; the main dishes, hugely affordable in the £7-£12 bracket, are substantial. Be warned: we ordered too much.

Babs should feel proud of its beetroot falafels. The root veg gives colour and a hint of sweetness to the smooth chickpea mass, which is stippled with green herbs, and carrying a fresh citrus zest presence. There are four large cylindrical falafal, served on a charcoal-scented flatbread, a carroty root vegetable puree, baba ganoush that’s even more addictive than usual, thanks to its pronounced smokiness and original spicing: ajwain seed, perhaps? And the plate goes on with a lick of aioli, a tapering long green finger pepper that’s been blistered on the grill, and a generous array of homemade crunchy, sweet-pickled vegetables: cucumber, carrot, pepper, onions. It all adds up to generous, filling vegetarian/vegan platter, a stunning bargain for just £6.50.

I rarely choose chicken in restaurants because I won’t eat factory farmed so it’s a double delight to sample Babs's free-range chicken thighs that have been skewered and grilled. Juicy, adeptly seasoned, they smell divine, and once again, everything else on the ample plate is worth eating in its own right. Lamb spiedini, full-flavoured and charcoal-scented, come with fennel and squash puree, whipped mascarpone with olives, crisp grilled leek, Babs’s house-made focaccia glistening with flakes of sea salt, toasted on the grill. The only duff note here is the grilled shallots, which are too raw in the centre.

Desserts – stiff chocolate mousse, sharpened with orange zest and juice, possibly alcohol, and a less sweet than usual, buttery homemade baklava with a deep, green layer of crumbled pistachios – don’t let the show down.

So Babs, in precis? It’s miraculously affordable, given its ethically sourced ingredients, its mastery of the grill, and its creativity.