Mala Project


THE dry pot then, I say to the greeter guy after we have been up and down the open fridges, looked at the ingredients, the spices, the skewers and I have asked a gazillion questions about … well, how the hot-damn does this all work then? 

“And,” I add, taking one of the giant clear plastic bowls I’ve been directed to, “I’ll take a few of these skewers.” In go two raw prawn skewers, £1 each, some raw beef, a couple of those coriander wrapped in tofu skin things, a string mushroom tofu whatsit too, some uncooked breaded chicken, a cuddly toy (yes, dated joke).

And off we head to the counter where the lady weighs my skewer bowl, calculates the charge, adds in the dry pot meal at £13.80, then waits patiently when I suddenly realise that this restaurant on Church Street – that Glasgow west end that you rarely drive down – opens onto another vast room I hadn’t even spotted. 

“Wow, what’s that?” I exclaim to the nice greeter guy as I look enviously at pristine rows of leatherette booths stretching off enticingly towards the horizon.

“That,” he says, “is our hot-pot section, not yet open, as we are waiting for special machines from China.”

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Special machines from China, I mutter, glancing at the not-invisible four people sitting in the not-opened, no-longer-secret section. And I am getting down with the student dudes in the formica-canteenish area out front, having given up on scoops and ingredients and pigs’ trotters and chicken feet and ordered ultimately – shamefully lazily you may think – from the “we’ll-pick-the-ingredients” tourists’ set-menu.     

Sheesh, I groan as I slide into a seat not far from the please-put-umbrella-here sign, ask the cleaner lady to give the table another wipe and gaze at my fellow diners: all university students from China I would guess.     

Of course, I have yet to get myself back up and head to the condiments area to fill a bowl with chopped peanuts, chopped coriander and onion, chilli, sesame oil, tahini oil and gloopy other stuff to pour over my tourist special when it arrives from that kitchen back there.     

Full disclosure: I only do the condiments conga  after I’ve noticed everyone else doing it and by the time I get back, my dry pot, spicy pot, seafood combo is touching down to land.     

Those on-the-side tofu skewers – stuffed with by-now wilted in the fryer, coriander, drenched in some sweet sticky, tangy moreish sauce – are here too.     

The Herald: Mala ProjectMala Project (Image: free)

And there are the beef skewers. These are rolled in some dry spicing with a real tang to it, maybe ground Szechuan peppercorn, maybe some dried fruit too. They’re moist and meaty, with a slight crispness.     

This I like. Not as much as I like the seafood pot – a thing of genuine beauty when it is placed before me. It’s all dark colours, vibrant herbs, prawns, squids, other seafoody things, mushroom, cobs, lotus root, cauliflower, celery, potato slices, fish tofu of all things – and everything clearly tossed in a flaming wok-full of deliciousness.

That dark, chilli tang sauce – are there black beans in this? – and a salty, savoury, moreish aftertaste that, oh about 12 minutes from now will see me scooping up the saucy remnants from an otherwise empty bowl.     

This was light, yet powerfully flavoured, freshly herbed and simply a pleasure to consume. I was not expecting that. Nor, frankly, did I expect the tofu skin gubbins – crisped and golden from the fryer, those enoki mushrooms burnished yet still juicy, the coriander becoming one big flavour hit – to be so interesting. And yes, good. 

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I polish off the beef, the now-crunchy chicken skewers, that big fat, green chilli and all of it enlivened by that sticky, salty dressing.     

Who knew Chinese students ate so well? Well, I should have, since this triangle around Glasgow’s Dumbarton Road is absolutely packed with restaurants for the uni’s huge student population.     

But has a fabulous new Chinatown sprung up – and we didn’t even notice? I think it has. 

Mala Project

7 Church Street 


07858 568888

Menu: It’s Chinese food, but not as we know it. Dry pots, hot pots, pick your own ingredients to be weighed and cooked in the kitchen. Good fun. 4/5

Atmosphere: We could be in China, so strong is that vibe, out front though it’s a plain Jane, cleanly efficient vibe. If you like different it’s a hit. 4/5

Service: The experience was vastly improved by the friendly young greeter guy who took me through the whole process. Staff want to help. 5/5

Price: The food is picked, weighed and priced per scoop unless like me, you opt for the set menu choice at £13.80. Worth a go. 4/5

Food: You pick what is cooked, so the emphasis is on freshness. Spicing magic turned the seafood pot into a triumph. Skewers good too. 8/10

Total 25/30