71-73 St Vincent Street, Glas­gow 0141 221 0202 Lunch/Din­ner £18-25 Mezzi­dakia 3½/10

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Review - Joanna Blyth­man

LIT­TLE Gem is a most re­silient let­tuce. You can leave it in your salad drawer for weeks, yet if you strip it back it looks OK. Its sweet­ness turns to bit­ter­ness, but still this let­tuce shows great tol­er­ance to­wards for­get­ful buy­ers. Even so, I’m eye­ing up the salad at Mezzi­dakia – rot­ting gem that’s fit for the com­post heap, with the odd speck of mushy tomato and red onion – won­der­ing just what its life his­tory might be. Visual ev­i­dence sug­gests that it has been chopped some time ear­lier and then re­frig­er­ated. What kitchen sys­tem al­lows it to re­main in the fridge, let alone be served to cus­tomers? Who’s head­ing up this op­er­a­tion? What’s his/her train­ing? Are the chefs given their head, or are they merely do­ing the best they can, given the profit mar­gins ex­pected of them by man­age­ment?

Mezzi­dakia, “of­fer­ing a taste of the East­ern Mediter­ranean”, is a sis­ter restau­rant to Topo­labamba Mex­i­can Kitchen and Chaakoo Bom­bay Cafe. This fam­ily doesn’t share culi­nary DNA. The com­mon thread would ap­pear the roll­out of mod­ish, eth­nic restau­rant con­cepts, mi­nus any obli­ga­tion to ob­serve their cus­tom­ary culi­nary re­quire­ments. The com­mon thread here is com­mer­cial, not cul­tural, what I call the Bar­bie Doll ap­proach. There’s In­dian Bar­bie, AfroAmer­i­can Bar­bie, Cau­casian Bar­bie, Latina Bar­bie, but they’re all ba­si­cally Bar­bies, and their pur­pose is to get you to spend money, time af­ter time, on vari­a­tions of the same thing.

Now if at Mezzi­dakia that same thing was safe, bland, uni­form, then it might be a lu­cra­tive for­mula. Let’s face it, most chain restau­rants serve trav­es­ties of the real thing and large sec­tions of the pub­lic en­joy, or at least ex­pect noth­ing more, pro­vid­ing it doesn’t cost too much. But here at Mezzi­dakia, the food slips below a stan­dard that even the slack­est mid-mar­ket chain would not coun­te­nance: in­gre­di­ents that seem over-stored, re­heated, greasy; cook­ing that’s cack­handed and crude, yet brim­ming with mis­placed con­fi­dence.

“Le­banese zuc­chini and cheese frit­ters, sumac yo­ghurt” – let’s ig­nore the af­fec­ta­tion, in Glas­gow, of us­ing “zuc­chini” not “cour­gette” – are the least test­ing. Their ex­te­rior amounts to a tough, unattrac­tively dark­fried cladding, their cen­tre is bor­der­line gummy, but with a slug of Volkan, a lava rock­fil­tered, honey and berg­amots­cented wheat beer from San­torini, they’re tol­er­a­ble. I’d love to as­sem­ble a fo­cus group of Turks and ask them what they made of the very firm Urfa ke­bab, which seems warmed through, not cooked freshly, to hear their views on the sweet, vine­gary “Turk­ish chilli sauce” that ac­com­pa­nies it. I can’t imag­ine that the ver­dict would be favourable. And if my fo­cus group was filled with Egyp­tians, would they even recog­nise the teak-brown, fried, sticky, mushy ob­jects with their over-pro­cessed, stretchy, orange-y in­te­ri­ors as falafel, which is ap­par­ently what they are meant to be? The Le­banese jury, how might it re­act to what Mezzi­dakia con­sid­ers to be kibbeh? They should be made with minced lamb and bul­gar wheat, but what with their Weetabix shape and the mix­ture within, which tastes like pre-cooked lamb blended with mashed potato that’s been sea­soned with some­thing jar­ringly sour, the best you could ex­pect would be a good­hu­moured laugh from the jurors.

“Ot­toman lamb borek”, de­scribed as “harissa and pine nut lamb filo pas­tries, golden fried, sumac yo­ghurt”, lack all the sub­tlety of that fa­bled em­pire, but here at least, they’re edi­ble, if chewy. Let’s not ig­nore Iran. This “Per­sian egg­plant and lentil curry” with its va­pid aubergine, which might have been added at the last mo­ment, and its am­a­teur­ish vine­gary- sweet, tinned tomato and split pea cook-up that achieves first-year-away-from-home stu­dent flat stan­dard, well, I wouldn’t blame the Ira­ni­ans if they felt mis­rep­re­sented. Or the Ye­menite Jews.

I’d like to see their faces when con­fronted with the tired, olive-green mix­ture pur­port­ing to be zhug, a dip which should be bright and ver­dant, thanks to heaps of re­ally fresh co­rian­der. And what might the uni­ver­sal ver­dict on the salty flat bread be? Unap­petis­ingly elas­tic, I’d wa­ger. I’m try­ing to find a re­deem­ing fac­tor, I am, but there’s re­ally no con­so­la­tion to be had at Mezzi­dakia for peo­ple of any cul­tural per­sua­sion.


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