There was a time in Glasgow city center when a small section of St Vincent Street and West Regent Street became known as the burger corner.
Major brands such as Byron, the Handmade Burger Company, Burger Meats Bun, Bread Meats Bread and Gourmet Burger Kitchen have all opened within walking distance of each other.
Clearly the nation’s appetite for a burger was strong, but didn’t last (and with local boy Nick Watkins creating the UK’s best burger in the West End at El Perro Negro, why would- you somewhere else?)
Now, most of those restaurants are long gone, and the latest restaurant to open on the site of one (inside the beautiful Phoenix Assurance Building that was once The Handmade Burger Co.) is Mowgli.
Mowgli started life in 2014 in Liverpool, and owner Nisha Katona has since opened in Manchester, London, and now Glasgow, which opened in April – her first Scottish outpost – with Edinburgh soon to follow.
The food offering is a diverse range of curries and unique dishes that ‘Indians eat at home and on their streets’.
Speaking to my colleague Gaby Soutar earlier this year, Katona described the restaurant’s interiors and their inspiration, as well as why she is so active, saying: “Mowglis have an atmospheric temple-based look in breakdown behind my grandmother’s house in Varanasi.
“It was full of monkeys and vines, like in a movie. The restaurant must look like an ancient temple rather than an Indian restaurant, so I wouldn’t trust anyone else’s hand because ‘she comes from such a personal place.
It’s definitely this sense of style, along with the warm ambience of hundreds of fairy lights, that customers will first notice upon entering the restaurant.
Although the marble floors, ceiling cornices and pillars speak of another life in this building, the design has been cleverly undertaken so that the rope-adorned swings, fairy-lit trees and monkey motifs do not not seem out of place or forced.
There’s an elegance here that has to be seen to be understood. It’s nice to know there’s a backstory to the look, and it’s not just there for the gram.
Another surprise is that Mowgli is dog friendly, so it was a rainy Monday that we headed out, dog in tow, to try Katona’s food for the first time.
We started with a sweet but refreshing Old Fashioned Smoked Cardamom (£8.50), made with Monkey Shoulder Whisky.
This fruity yet subtly spiced drink was an ideal start to the tasty meal to come.
As with many restaurants these days, the dishes are smaller than you might expect (from a traditional curry house) as they are ‘tapas’ style and can easily be shared.
There is an extensive vegan menu, which we were keen to try, alongside the range of meat dishes.
In the Street Chaat menu we choose Yogurt Cat Bombs (£5) and the intriguer Molasses Tamarind Fries (£6.50).
Chaat bombs are described as the “heart of Mowgli” and were small, round almost like pillows.
Biting into one, you really understand the word flavor bomb, as the fresh yogurt mixes with the rich, spicy chickpeas and sweet tamarind.
Across the table, the molasses fries, which are small pieces of potato rather than the traditionally shaped fries, arrived sparkling like jewels.
This rich, sticky sauce would be at home on a rack of ribs and is smothered on the potato and topped with fresh chunks of red pepper and red onion.
Sweet, rich and totally more indulgent, I can see them becoming the go-to Glasgow restaurant dish, much like Ka Pao’s Caramel Fried Chicken.
The next step was the Gunpowder Chicken (£7.50) in the Street Meats section of the menu.
These golden fried chicken poppers had a satisfying kick thanks to the ginger, garlic, and garam masala topping. From the kitchen of the house we went to get Bunny Chow (£9.50), House Chicken Curry (£8), Mother Butter Chicken (£8.75) and the Vegan Picnic Potato Curry (£5).
First, you’ll probably want your phone camera ready for Bunny Chow, which is basically curry in half a loaf of white bread.
The favorite of a South African Indian railroad worker, this chicken and potato curry was a good mix of spices and fruit, with a thick sauce that mopped up easily with the bread. A new meaning to rip and share.
While butter chicken and homemade chicken curry are comfort foods that will please spice lovers, but are not lacking in flavor.
Butter Chicken’s sweet and slightly spicy tomato sauce is as authentic as it gets and will wow those who love Glasgow’s tikka masala.
Homemade Chicken Curry is a Kerala curry simmered with fragrant curry leaves, coconut milk and ground almonds, and is just rich enough to satisfy without overdoing it.
While the tangy potato curry had hints of fenugreek and a depth of flavor from Bengali Five Spice.
Unfortunately we didn’t have room for dessert but next time I go to Mowgli I will definitely order the decadent bran Gulab Jamun (£6).
A traditional sweet treat consisting of syrupy nutty brown milk dumplings served warm with ice cream. It’s apparently the Indian equivalent of a sticky caramel pudding and it sounds fabulous.
After paying the bill, of which £1 goes to charity (the Mowgli Trust has raised over £1m for charity) and a decent amount as tip for the extremely helpful staff, we leave full and satisfied, and ready to face the rain again. .
It’s great to see an iconic Glasgow building once again bursting with life after the departure of another chain.
With Mowgli’s breadth of food offering (only thing I missed was more seafood or veg options for those who didn’t like chicken) and Glasgow’s love for the curry, I can see it’s a match made in heaven.
See you soon for more tamarind fries and Gulab Jamun.
78 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5UB
0141 345 2564