Resting like Lego between the orange glare of Sainsbury’s and the bland bricks of student accommodation, vegan bar The 78 has a rather antiquated feel. Situated on Kelvinhaugh Street, just off Argyle, the building is low and white like a croft, in direct opposition to the imposing sandstone tenements menacing around it.
The 78 offers a typical student bar coupled with all-vegan foods. Open the understated double doors and you enter a bungalow flush with low couches, standard restaurant tables and ancient wooden booths. The style is undeniably Glasgow Uni; the staff even more so. No-one fusses, walking is relaxed and tiny black aprons are the only sign of service. More shabby than chic, cream paint coolly peels off the dresser doubling as a bar; the toilet stalls are plastered in free-thinking propaganda, and a polite collie dog sniffs curiously around the shadowy floorboards.
Since my first visit to the 78 in May, I have been an unswerving devotee. Very standard myself, I stand out inside as a non-Topshop wearing meat eater, but no-one looks twice. We all seem confidantes in this secret place, where students sit alongside liberal professionals with a beer and beetroot burger.
Whether a steak supporter or a violent veggie, The 78 does not disappoint. The menu is small compared to larger establishments but offers the full healthy quota of salads, hummus and curry, and the cheekier treats of falafel, spiced wedges and vegetable spring rolls. You’d have to be on a strict diet not to take advantage of the Monday evening 2-courses-for-9.50, or the beer-and-burger partnership for only 6 quid.
The prices do not reflect a desire to attract local students (though it helps) but instead show The 78’s wish to promote hearty vegan cuisine. Portions are generous, the plate colourful and well-presented, and surprisingly – at least for myself, a white meat eater – taste delicious.
A typical visit to The 78 consistently promises a bowlful or spicy coconut bean chilli, sour cream and near-flourescent jalapenos. The flavours are superb, the shavings of desiccated coconut alleviating the veggie texture, giving birth to an iconic dish that you’d jump to make at home, apart from the fact you’re terrified it woulld be a watery baked bean mess. After the starter, I always debate over a salad (which frequently features pearl barley, saffron yoghurt, super-fresh leaves and chilli jam) or their best-selling veggie burgers, standard or special.
‘Beetroot, bean and dill with chervil and chive mayo’ is scraped on the blackboards adjacent to the kitchen window, so I opt for that. On arrival, the sniffly server plays magician with the plates. It takes me a second to register that my companion is on the verge of slicing my red-tinted patty.
Flavours are one thing; genuinely good cooking is another. This is not Pizza Hut whose cuisine gets dunked in garlic oil aerosol; nor DiMaggio’s chain of HGV-delivered desserts. It’s not at the heights of Balbirs with a Saturday night pianist and accompanying musical tinkle in the toilets (though weekly The 78 provide their own DJs.)
What appeals about the 78 is its homeliness. No-one rushes, sofas fill with school-age students and mid-life workers, the porthole to the kitchen is forever open. Friends enter the croft and they feel part of a secret company, lucky enough to stumble upon the house in between hills of dark high-rise, the lights luring and the fire crackling.
After a long stint on the drumlins of the grey city, the nomad can find a warm haven. He or she may not discover the full quota of protein, but they’re at ease. There’s no pretence at the 78. What you see behind the bar, into the kitchen – that’s what’s served. And compared to the surrounding city, it’s culturally and culinarily refreshing.