Shallal, 27 Gibson Street, Glasgow 0141-334 1414 Style: Backstreet Beirut Food: Traditional Lebanese with no frills Price: £7.50-£10 for a main course Wheelchair access: No There is something joyless about restaurants that deploy paper tablecloths, but it's quite a common occurrence where turnaround time is of paramount concern. It creates the impression of an eager young waiter biding his time to whip the table's contents from underneath some poor unsuspecting diner.
But at Shallal, Glasgow's first dedicated Lebanese restaurant, the cloths provide a certain degree of comfort. They recall those achingly-chic Burmese restaurants that were all the rage in late-1990s London, when Hoxtonites would form queues to eat noodles in a room that resembled a school canteen.
Shallal's shabby charms are of the kind that are best appreciated with one eye half shut while overcome with the optimistic forecast that "it's the food that counts".
Upstairs on the mezzanine level, the intimate organisation of the tables means that I am forced to suck in my stomach and curse my thighs before I even put a glass of water to my lips. Shallal is unlicensed and halal, so I request the clear stuff. A nearby table of handsome Lebanese men, happily ordering up course upon course in Arabic, bodes well. But the music is too loud for comfortable conversation - the unfortunate diva is clearly dismayed about something. Perhaps it is the tablecloths.
The menu is presented with little fuss, as might be expected from a restaurant that does much of its business in take-away form. A Middle-Eastern restaurant's reputation hinges on the quality of its mezza and Shallal more than passes muster. The humus is blended to perfection, with a tangy edge and a smooth texture that clings to rather than saturates the moist flat bread. At the other side of the table, the halloumi cheese, another staple, is grilled with consideration and melts gently on the tongue, when so often it can stick to the teeth. The kibbeh - I have never been to a Lebanese eaterie where they failed to recommend the kibbeh - is well seasoned, but the generous deep-fried lamb meatballs are best served only to the ravenous.
After the mezza, I grapple with the lamb meshwi, a generous portion of charcoal- grilled meat that has spent just the right amount of time on the spit. The accompanying vegetables and mountain of rice are well cooked but the gargantuan portions are off-putting. My carb-immune companion gamely wrestles with the marinated lamb, which is a little fatty, and proceeds to finish off my left-overs with the relish of a man with main-course envy.
Given the stomach-filling properties of the first two plates, dessert is out of the question, however, the mint tea is a soothing end to a hearty challenge.
Shallal will delight those who feel there is a dearth of good Middle-Eastern restaurants in the city, but, in the presence of serious competition, it might be found wanting.