IT’S still nobody’s child – Glasgow’s Saltmarket. The Merchant City turns its back on it, Glasgow Green is not interested, the riverside improvements could be a million miles away.

The offices of hard-working and almost worn-out legal aid lawyers may line it but they don’t do much to improve the ambience, historically neither has the proximity of hostels for amongst others, the recently-released.

The old (No) Hope House and the District Court both drawing a certain exotic clientele may have closed, but there can still be an edginess to the street, a whiff of a more Victorian Glasgow. And of course the High Court of Justiciary is still there.

Yet, it’s not all gloom. Billy Bilsland Cycles flourishes, little shops sprinkle hope and promise. Today, The Brave Bakers' window is stacked full of promising-looking stuff. I must go there, I remind myself.

And where I’m having lunch right now? It’s like walking into a different world. When a QC from just down the road recommended Damasqino to me I sucked my teeth, having sat across from its huge plate glass windows many times in the traffic jams that run down High Street, and dismissed it, wrongly, as yet another kebab shop.

In fact, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, the tables are big enough for groups or families to sit, Arabic music plays gently in the background. The waitress smiles behind her mask when I ask if she is Syrian. No Algerian, she says, but the rest of the staff, she adds, tilting her head towards the open kitchen with its glowing charcoal grill are mainly Syrian and Lebanese.

I sit back and watch as a a mountain of food is delivered to what looks like a slightly scruffy student. He stares at it, gets up, walks to two cool dudes at a table along from him. “Brothers,” he says to people he clearly doesn’t know. “Do you want to share?” They smile, gesticulate, politely decline.

He persists: “This food is too much for me, I didn’t expect it,” he adds, setting it down and saying: “and so now it is for you”.

They take it, smiling. He returns to base. They return to their conversation. And they eat it. There’s no further conversation between the two tables apart from a nod and a smile as the student later leaves.

Crikey, I think. How considerate. And then I look at the dishes sprawled before me. Unfortunately being shared with nobody. A bowl of tabbouleh, the real deal with fresh and chopped parsley mounded high, cracked wheat, olive oil, lemon and cracked pepper; I have come to believe an Arabic restaurant can be judged by the quality of its tabbouleh alone.

This is a great one. There are pastries including kalaj bil jibn and manakeish cheese, the last like delicate little flat bread toasties, oozing seductively.

“Eat these while they are hot,” the waitress had said as she delivered a plate full of papery, just-fried pastry tubes stuffed with mint and cheese: I didn't get their name, I don’t even know if I ordered them, but I’m glad I ate them.

Then I move onto the batata hara special sandwich. Cubes of fried potatoes, peppers sauteed til melting like the Italians do, chilli, garlic and coriander wrapped in toasted Lebanese bread and then sliced crosswise. It’s got a real kick too.

I pick at the shish taouk, a dish I only chose because I heard just about everyone in the big family group over there order it as they sat down. The fat, thick grilled cubes of chicken have an appetising golden crust from the grill, crunch to the bite but inside they are moist, soft, fragrant with lemon and seasoned perfectly.

I feel a moment of greed eating them all. Of course there are dips, yoghurts; a dark red chilli paste so powerful I spread it micro thinly just to minimise burn. Damsqino then? Making the Saltmarket attractive again.


94 Saltmarket


Menu: They bill themselves as a classic Arabic restaurant and it's all flaming charcoal grills, fabulous pastries and an outstanding tabbouleh. 5/5

Service: One lady serving tables, quite a few guys in the kitchen, relaxed, friendly and comfortable vibe. 4/5

Price: Batata harra, cubed potatoes sandwich with garlic £4.50: shish taouk £4.50 or £9. Sambousek cheese £4. Kallaj bil jibem, bargain levels: 5/5

Atmosphere: Huge windows open onto the Saltmarket, (heating is on), Arabic music gently playing, Lots of chatter. Pleasant place to be. 4/5

Food: The shish taouk were going like hotcakes and for good reason, the tabbouleh was done properly with mounds of parsley and the pastries tasted super fresh. 8/10