THERE’S such a smoky punch from the baba ganoush that it comes racing on to the palate from nowhere like an aubergine express train. Bish, bosh, boof. It’s unavoidable. And good. Even though the chargrilled, mashed and tahini-ed dollop is almost invisible to the naked eye, being cunningly buried deep amid a plateful of wacky beetroot falafel, flatbread and sweetly salty pickles. There’s also a giant waxy-looking toasted chilli hanging out on the side of the plate like a creature from the depths of the pickle jar.

If, like me, you’re looking about the Greekish tiles and LED mood lighting of this place and thinking what on earth are something called nduja arancini and something else called skinny fries with bacon and harissa mayo doing on the same table as a baba ganoush then you, like me, also need to look around and see who is eating in here tonight. Kids, mainly.

The ex-burger crowd, surely. No beards on their fresh little faces any more, no teenagers looking like Victorian explorers, the hipster revolution being firmly over. Just large tables, clean coupons and a kind of studenty buzz.

There’s that from the waiting staff too, who I have to say are excellent – from the dude who didn’t flinch when I walked in and asked for a booth instead of a miserable two-seater to the young waitress who is just back from the Edinburgh Festival and chatting to customers.

Not that everybody is young. One of the two old geezers at the next table – about my age – turned around when my food arrived and uttered one single word: "Wow." I think he was talking about the volume of food and in particular that shawarma, wrapped across the diagonal in paper, about the size of a small loaf, pieces of chicken tumbling out. I’ve got to say I always thought the meat in a shawarma was meant to be shaved from the grill, but nowadays that’s probably like saying I thought pizza was meant to contain cheese and tomato. This has chunks of chicken – seasoned and grilled – absolutely crammed into the flatbread, plus pickles and maybe some tahini. It also contains flavour. In a good way. And I had been told they were a bit tight with the portions in here.

What have they done to the arancini, though? Shock, horror. The Italian snack balls of risotto, given a quick fry and occasionally stuffed with mozarella, are only now starting to appear in Scottish Italian restaurants. Sacrilege, you may think, stuffing them instead with spinach and feta – a Greek cheese. Or rolling them in prickly, peppery, spreadable Calabrian nduja sausage and feta. That was itself the hot new dish only a few years ago.

Actually? It works very well. As does what was surely the guaranteed culinary car crash of the night – skinny fries with bacon and harissa mayo. The bacon is crisp, the mayo fiery. It’s claimed the pickles, the arancini and many more things are made right here on the premises, and I believe them. There’s a delicately delicious flavour to something as humble as the sliced and pickled onion, a sweetness to the falafel.

Perhaps inevitably, because this is clearly a smart operation and also because if you don’t do this nowadays and expect to be taken seriously you are asking for trouble, there’s a banner on the website saying: made using ethical and local Scottish seasonal produce. Hurrah. If there’s any hangover from the hipster revolution it’s simply this – people want to know where their food is coming from. After that they don’t really mind if it’s all mish-mashed up, as long as it has flavour.

If you’re a purist, what are you going to make of the menu at Babs? You may be horrified. But it’s not really for you. If you just fancy some fresh flavours that have been given a whack and a slap and made all modern and just a little bit hip and happening? It’s not bad at all. Maybe even the future.


49 West Nile Street, Glasgow (0141 465 1882)

Menu: Kebabs but probably not as you knew them, skinny fries, beetroot falafel kind of post-hipster take on middle eastern staples. Interesting. 4/5

Atmosphere: Mediterranean tiles a go-go but done in a warm and pleasant manner with enough moody uplighting to make it feel comfortable. 4/5

Service: Food was slow off the mark from the kitchen but the waiting staff were friendly, chatty and otherwise impossible to fault. 4/5

Price: Kebabs £7 and up; side dishes including arancini start around £2.50, linger around the £4 mark and can hit £7. 3/5

Food: Traditional Mediterranean dishes with a hip and happening twist. Pretty good. 7/10

Total: 22/30