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