Syrian Pie, Wallace Street, Glasgow

WHAT’S in the special sauce, I say by way of idle chit-chat to the man behind the counter as we are faffing about with the considerable leftovers from lunch, Bentley and I shoving them into take-away boxes, separating slices with napkins. 

“Ah,” he replies. “Mayonnaise, pineapple, tomato and four other ingredients.” The word “secret” should probably be inserted between the words “other” and “ingredients” up there because we won’t get any more detail than this. 

Apart from that it’s made fresh every morning. But frankly? My mind is completely blown the moment he says “mayonnaise”. 

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“We’ve just raved over a savoury Syrian pizza topped with mayo and pineapple juice,” I say to Bentley as we load up and head out the door. Forgetting that also in those boxes are our leftover slices of other fairly stimulating toppings: cream and honey, zaatar, haloumi and something called Toshka. Hang on though. Let’s rewind say 30 minutes. 

To when we are sitting at the huge picture window on the side of Sher Bros (a shopping mall surprisingly, and not – as I had thought for years – a cash and carry). This is the very window, I’m saying, that I glimpse almost every day as I fire through that Wallace Street chicane out there before hitting those big fast curves that lead to the motorway on-ramp. Vroom.  I always glimpse people sitting up here. And I always wonder. Syrian Pie is the answer. 

The name of the cafe we found as we wandered up escalators and down stairs, finally being stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of a very large, open oven, flames licking away at the back, hunks of hewn wood being loaded right in. 

We go to the counter, we pick up the very well-worn and slightly dog-eared laminated menu. Special pies jump out. Handmade, it says. 

Within minutes, balls of fresh dough are being run through one of those machines that squish them into pizza shapes, toppings are being placed on, paddles are being loaded then flicked into heat, offloading our lunch into the fiery depths with a semi-spin. 

It’s not that busy this afternoon. Only two other tables, which I’d describe as kitchen tables incidentally, are occupied, stacks of cans of soft drinks piled up at the fridge, Syrian hot dogs, and sausages being advertised on the back wall. 

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“Pies,” Bentley says as we each pick up a slice of the zaatar one, the crunchy Middle Eastern blend of sumac, thyme, coriander, sesame baked crunchily into the top like a crust. “I thought they meant like a deep-dish pie,” he adds. “But this is like a pizza.” 

It is. But somehow also completely different. The dough bubbled in parts, baked to a crisp crunchiness in others, satisfyingly mellow in the middle, thin at times, translucent occasionally, packed with the flavour that only something freshly baked can ever have. 

Toshka is next. I had asked for this during the rapid-fire guess-ordering process and only because the Shamiya (lamb, pinned pomegranate, yoghurt, spice) is available just at the weekends.

“We’re always very busy on Friday and Saturday nights,” we’re told. Toshka turns out to be a meaty topping, more lamb, spicing, cheese and extra-virgin olive oil. Nice, but our eyes are magnetically pulled to the one that looks like a Margherita and tastes like some very, very distant cousin of it, thrice removed. Except maybe even better. 

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This is the muhammara. The mayo, the pineapple, sesame, tomato and onion sauce blended into a fiery concotion that combines to produce something that in the first millisecond tastes familiarly like tomato then develops into a completely different, uniquely, tangy, delicious flavour. 

There’s no going onto the others from the first slice, OK maybe a momentary detour into the cream and honey, and by the time it’s finished there’s no room for much else. 

Maybe a mouthful or two of the haloumi (pretty much as you would imagine), a gulp of 7 Up (£1.20) a can and we’re off. 

Laden. But satisfied. 

Menu: Zaatar, Muhammara, Toshka all toppings for a freshly made, wood oven baked Syrian flatbread, plus a few other snackish things, if you’re so inclined. 4/5

Service: They’re not here to chat, but when we do speak to them they’re pleasant guys and busy shaping dough, loading that wood-fired oven. 4/5

Price: The Haloumi one comes in at £4, think small pizza size, Zaatar at £3.50, Muhammara with cheese set me back £5.50. Bargain. 5/5

Atmosphere: It’s a cafe and frankly it’s not in any way about the decor, apart from that big oven and the picture window-  there ain’t much to look at. 3/5

Food: In terms of artisan, made-fresh-on-the-premises food it’s hard to beat the simplicity and authenticity. Some great flavours. 8/10

Total: 24/30

Syrian Pie
211 Wallace Street
Tel: 0141-429-1719