A restaurant with humble beginnings, having started off with a tiny joint in an alleyway in Soho, this restaurant has now expanded to two other locations in London and looks all set to expand some more. Having read some rave reviews about the food, I decided to go ahead and try it out for myself. And being used to good Middle Eastern food, I went in with a lot of expectations to the Oxford Street branch on a weekday for dinner and found the place packed. Now that was a good sign to start with.
What I didn’t like: Since they operate on a walk in policy with no reservations, we had to wait a good half an hour before being shown a table. Also, the restaurant does not have a lounge or waiting area which meant that we had to wait right at the door which did get a bit annoying.
The place is packed to the full by tables and but it’s not a fancy joint so I won’t complain (though it does somehow seem to invade upon the personal space factor). The service however leaves a lot to be desired and does not hit the right chord with friendliness and efficiency.
What I liked: The décor is simple with wooden plank seating and tables which gives it a sort of communal dining experience. It does have a few table & chair options fit for couples however and two long tables by the bar. The music has an Arabian influence but is unobtrusive and allows for easy table conversation.
What I loved: The food however was a completely different matter from the other distractions and yes, I’m finally getting to that. Appetizers of ‘Hommos’, ‘Falafel’, ‘Tabboule’ and ‘Sawda Djej’ were our picks for the night and the only thing – food wise – which was below the standard set by the rest of the food on the table was the falafel. Not that it wasn’t good, no. It is just that I’ve eaten better ones in my time. The hummous – which is a thick chickpea puree with lemon juice and served with pita bread – and the tabbouleh – a salad of parsley, mint, spring onions, tomatoes, a dash of lemon juice and a generous sprinkle of olive oil – were fresh and spritely on the palate and along with the falafel which had a drizzle of tahini over it did succeed in dishing out a good vegetarian start to the meal. The sawda djaj listed under the ‘100 Best Dishes by Time Out 2012’ definitely had to be sampled and the sautéed chicken liver swimming in a gravy of pomegranate molasses was indeed a different treat. The sweetness of the gravy did not overpower the taste of the soft liver.
For the main, I went with the ‘Lahem Meshoue’ which is grilled lamb skewers served with basmati rice, a salad and a thin piece of khubz (Arabic flatbread). The lamb was succulent and not very chewey and the sumac added a slight tanginess to the meat. Definitely a good choice and filling at that. To round off the meal (though I’m not a huge fan of Middle Eastern dessert), I decided to pick the Mohalabiya which was a milk pudding topped with pomegranate seeds and a rose syrup. It wasn’t too bad but in hindsight, I should have picked the tried and tested Knefe ( Kunafah) which one of my friends’ did. The kunafah is a cheese and semolina cake and here it’s served with a scoop of rose petal ice cream as well. That’s a must try.
A plus is that the the presentation of the dishes were very appealing as well.
Conclusion – Drop by if you’re in the mood for some lip smacking Arabic food and an extremely satisfying meal. It’s reasonably priced as well and a meal for two would come up to £40.
P.S: Don’t let the service dampen your spirits.