Inhabitants of Dennistoun must have voracious appetites. Every place I’ve eaten in there has served up plates of Desperate Dan proportions, and recently opened Mesa is true to form. What a difference from effete eateries in more affluent postcodes, where preciously primped dishes involving a tablespoon or two of food are the order of the day. “Hearty” doesn’t do justice to Mesa. Seeing our waitress, humming as she goes, snaking through busy tables, her wrists bending under the near medieval weight of the stoneware plates and cast iron skillets groaning with food, we almost jump up to lend her a hand. Make sure you go to Mesa hungry, very hungry.

Before we eat anything, Mesa is doing a lot that I’m liking. It serves me one of the best espressos I’ve had in a while; the beans are from Salvador, roasted by Ovenbird. Fairtrade “lemonaid”? I’m suspicious, I scour the ingredients list for fake flavourings, but there aren’t any; it tastes surprisingly like homemade.

On the other hand, most of the cakes are vegan. Not being a fan of margarine, vegetable oil, gums, and other assorted food engineering stratagems for aping ingredients of animal origin, I make a note to enquire about the contents of each cake before I order one. Vegan empire biscuits? I want butter! In the end we haven’t room for cake anyway. Even the bread here- sound sourdough- comes hewn in rugged, inch-thick slices. You could do with a serrated knife to cut through its craggy crust, and it serves better than butter in foil wrappers. As for the pancakes, well, we’ll come to that.

The eggs in my lamb shakshuka skillet are too firm, a hazard of cooking in cast iron. This is quite a departure from the traditional vegetarian classic, essentially a piquant, brick-red, harissa-spiced lamb stew, with a dollop of onions cooked so slowly that they are dissolving sweetly. Herb-speckled pangrattato (crunchy breadcrumbs) are a nice touch. If only the yolks were soft this would be a winner. Curiously, it’s the modestly named “beans on toast” that taste much better than they sound. No Heinz nonsense here, and none of that brand’s sickly sweetness either. This is still comfort food, a well-seasoned sludge of borlotti beans with firmer butter beans through it, leavened with spinach, parsley, then finished off with an immaculately runny-yolked poached egg, feisty paprika oil, and a fistful of chopped, toasted almonds.

Another baked dish from the daily specials menu- rather dry-looking aubergine halves- turns out to be a bit of a revelation. Salty whipped feta contrasts with the dark fleshiness of the vegetable, a lemony kale and parsley pesto brings colour and zesty freshness, toasted pumpkin seeds import crunch. With a salad of paper-thin shaved fennel dressed in emollient olive oil, and a capably fried egg, plus sourdough toast, it all adds up to a dauntingly large proposition, but we finish it and mop our plate clean. This costs £8.50. Not bad considering how satiating and filling it is.


Ron Mackenna's restaurant review: Las Iguanas, Glasgow

Those pancakes? You get three of them, each easily twice as thick as a normal Scottish pancake, taller than many an English muffin. Generous, sure- I want to like them for their bronze-girdled extremities- but doughy, stodgy, and in need of some salt and sugar, their blandness defeats me, even with lime macarpone, caramelised pineapple, strawberries and coulis to help them slip down. In another treatment they come with a quivering malabi (a Middle Eastern milk pudding), an impeccably poached pear, sweet ‘dukkah’ (Mesa’s hybrid of granola and the venerable Levantine condiment). The latter is unusual. Do I like it? Maybe. I’ll get back to you on that.

Although its portions are enormous, Mesa is small, yet it is graced with tall windows, which allow you to feast your eyes on the beautiful tenement architecture outside, and double your sense of space. Although it ticks a fair few boxes on the hipster café scorecard- enamel lampshades, tables with hairpin legs, an indie play list- it hasn’t abandoned the area’s proletarian culture entirely. Would I go back? Yes, if I was in the area, even if it’s just for a non-vegan, non-hipster bacon, egg, or sausage roll. They only cost £2.50

Mesa, 567 Duke Street, Glasgow 0141 237 2040

Food: 7 and a half/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Value for money: 8/10

Joanna Blythman

Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018