I have to start this review by saying I don’t eat lamb and cannot stand fresh coriander. I don’t think I’ve eaten lamb since I was a small child and I often accidentally eat coriander, as it frequents many convenience salads and sandwiches that it frankly shouldn’t (looking squarely at you Pret and M&S).
It’s this combination of hated foods that have left me wary of Lebanese food. Having lived in the middle east for a few years, I am familiar with it, but never felt confident enough trying a range of dishes due to a potential lamb/coriander minefield.
Therefore it was with some trepidation that I ventured to Damasqino, a Syrian Lebanese restaurant on the outskirts of Glasgow’s Merchant city. Damasqino, which means Damascus in Arabic, has been open on Saltmarket for four years, and is billed as Glasgow’s first Lebanese Syrian restaurant.
Syrian born owner Mohammad Bashar Al Haj Ali and his staff serve up an authentic taste of home in the 35 seater restaurant and attached takeaway shop, with specialities including chicken shawarma, falafel, mixed grills, hummus Beiruti, okra lamb stew, and more. The traditional food is made fresh daily with spices including turmeric, saffron and peppers imported from Lebanon.
Mohammad and his family were restaurateurs in their homeland and came to Glasgow seven years ago after their home was bombed.
A tale that he touches on when helping me navigate the menu. The restaurant came about through Mohammad’s love of Glasgow and its people, and a want to show off traditional food and drink enjoyed in Syria.
Which leads us on to the food. Staff were extremely helpful when it came to explaining dishes and offering suggestions.
As the restaurant is dry, there are a range of fruit juices and soft drinks available plus traditional drinks such as mango lassi and Ayran - a traditional cooling drink made with yoghurt, salt and water.
We started our meal with small copper bowls of lentil soup which had a hit of cumin that added depth and flavour. If ordering a main meal, this soup, an additional starter and traditional Arabic tea at the end of the meal are complimentary for diners. We opted for the mixed mezze starter (£12) which included hummus, hummus Beirutty, fattoush, moutabal and warak inab.
Tabbouleh would normally be served but sadly this contained fresh coriander. The plain hummus was smooth and creamy, a classic while the fattoush, a salad of chunky tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and fried bread was refreshing while the Warak Inab, stuffed vine leaves, housed a sticky and flavourful rice with tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices.
The Moutabal was a deeply smoky dip of chopped and grilled aubergine mixed with sesame paste, lemon dressing and olive oil. But it was the hummus Beriutty that really stood out. This traditional hummus has been given a kick with spicy green chilis, but the addition of sesame paste, lemon and parsley mellow it so it’s not overpowering.
All of this is served with Lebanese bread, ideal for dipping. If you’re not as coriander-phobic as me, try the falafel, which is cooked the way Mohammed’s mother made them, and finished with a springing of sesame seeds.
Our mains were, for me, a chicken shawarma plate (£7) served with rice and a mixed grill (£13.50) to share. My friend confirmed that the lamb chops and kebab were succulent, with a good mix of flavours and just enough spice.
I avoided this like the plague but found the chunks and grilled chicken to also be succulent, with a nice hint of flavour from the grill. The chicken kebab was a bit too gamey tasting for me, but it was very moist.
The shawarma plate had roasted thin slices of marinated chicken, served over biryani rice and with a side of garlic sauce. The chicken, although in small slices, wasn’t dry. The garlic sauce, which was very creamy and very garlicky, held this dish together.
Dessert is a relatively new addition to Damasqino, and can be found at the back of the restaurant in a display cabinet. Rows of colourful cakes, much like you might see in a patisserie sit waiting to be enjoyed.
We decided to share a vibrant green slice of pistachio cake, which had layers of white frosting throughout and on top giving it the same colour and pattern of one of Glasgow’s main football teams. Light, fluffy and with a good flavour of pistachio, it was the right amount of sweetness to end the meal, and enjoyed alongside a cup of refreshing Arabic tea.
We visited Damasqino on a Thursday night to find it busy both inside and for takeaway.
Mohammad has plans to expand the restaurant soon and, with such a variety of dishes and an enduring popularity, it is clear to see why he is excited for the future and can’t wait to offer Glasgow customers an even bigger insight into his traditions and culture.
The restaurant and takeaway are open from 11am (with Syrian breakfast also available) to 11pm daily and the food is also available exclusively on UberEats.
Score - 8/10
94 Saltmarket, Glasgow G1 5LD
0141 673 0242