Damascus Chef pop-up at the Good Hope cafe – Hither Green SE13

Souq meze with a personal touch

The Damascus Chef (Abdullah Alawayed) and his partner host Syrian meze dinners at various locations in South London. Find out about their current pop-up events on the Eventbright website where you can reserve places. It’s currently £23.95 for adults or half-price for children and you pay locally, at the end of the meal.

We went to the ‘Souq meze’ pop-up at the Good Hope cafe, Hither Green (an award-winning community cafe run by the ForJimmy charity) on Friday night and joined the 6.30pm sitting (on Friday evenings there are 8.30pm sittings too).

Arriving early, the hostess welcomed us excitedly, and talked enthusiastically about the careful preparation that goes into making the dishes on this menu. Which rubs off on customers and makes for a good atmosphere in this small, cosy space, where candle-lit tables were decorated with pomegranate seeds at each place setting.

 

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Meze with fresh bread to share

Top l-r: Fool mudamas bi humous (fava beans crushed with chickpeas, chopped tomato, parsley, olive oil, lemon + cumin) and humous (crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini, cumin + garlic)
front l-r: Mutabbel (flame-grilled aubergine infused with yoghurt, tahini, garlic + cumin) and lebneh (thick, canvas-strung cows’ yoghurt)

 

We ordered a bottle of Rioja (@ about £16.00 – very reasonably priced and very nice too) and were blown away by the fresh tastiness of the meze starters. The food is familiar as middle-eastern but with a specific Syrian style – for example, humous is made with a ratio of more chickpeas to tahini, and is thicker and creamier for it. The mutabbel (aubergine dip) was absolutely gorgeous and the lebneh (really thick, creamy yoghurt) was a winner too. Shared starters are served with a variety of fresh breads and are limitless (if you dare).

Next came this shurbat adas, a traditional Syrian lentil soup with coriander seeds and cumin:

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Lentil soup

 

For main course, there was a selection of three dishes (we’d had to choose our main course in advance, when reserving):

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Kawaj – Levantine courgette, aubergine and green pepper casseroled in tomato sauce, sauteed onion, garlic and fresh coriander; topped with fresh chives and served with yoghurt and cucumber, pomegranates, walnuts, pine-nuts + fresh tabouleh

 

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Syrian lamb stew – Diced organic leg of lamb stewed with freekeh (smoked green wheat) infused with pine kernels, cashews, pistachios, almonds, green peas + raisins, served with optional yoghurt + cucumber (not pictured) + fresh tabouleh

I had this lamb stew. It tasted as though it had been slow-cooked and was steeped in many flavours. Really good.

 

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Jaj bil muhammara – Chicken thigh braised with lemon, coriander + pomegranate syrup, on a bed of crushed mild chilli muhammara, served with walnuts, yoghurt + cucumber, and tabouleh salad

 

For dessert, the choice was baklawa with ice-cream, or ice-cream with watermelon. I had baklawa:

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Jiljil wa hab ruman – Traditional filo pastry baklawa made with flour, syrup, honey, butter, egg white + pistachio, served with ice cream. Laden with fresh mint, pomegranates + pistachios.

 

For the fifth and final chai course, we had a choice of fresh mint, cardamom or cinnamon + walnut.

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Chai – cinnamon + walnut tea

 

The verdict: Good value for such a freshly prepared, unique and tasty banquet. The hosting couple put their heart and soul into making this dining experience enjoyable and relaxing for customers – the kind of personal touch that you don’t easily find in high-street restaurants. And the choice of venue for this pop-up makes it even more worthwhile. Eat, drink and be very merry – your money goes to good places.

 

Pop-up info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Syrian, middle-eastern
– Location: venues vary – this was at the Good Hope cafe, 216 Hither Green Lane, London, SE13 6RT
– Contact: chef@damascuschef.com
– Website + menus: Damascus Chef website
– Damascus Chef events (reserve places): Eventbright website
– Photos of Damascus Chef: Damascus Chef on flickr

Dalila – Lebanese in Battersea

Any restaurant that opens next door to Santa Maria del Sur on Queenstown Road, Battersea, is going to have fierce competition.

It may not be surprising then, that Dalila’s predecessor, Tom Ilic – a French-style restaurant that looked like a carnivore’s dream – only lasted a couple of years. Disappointingly for me, it closed before making it to the top of my ‘to try’ list. Dalila, a classy Lebanese restaurant opened in 2013 in the same spot.

J and I came here on a Friday evening recently. At the end of a working week in the City where everywhere’s overcrowded and hectic, it was pleasing to get out of central London and unwind over great food and wine in the serene, spacious restaurant that is Dalila.


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Fresh n crunchy falafel – divine


We ordered very leisurely. Our server gave us help with food and wine choices when asked. Nothing was rushed. We shared a ‘mezze’ selection of both hot and cold dishes, accompanied by a dry white Massaya Blanc wine from the Bekaa Valley @ £21.50 (very reasonably priced and very well suited to the food ordered – it went down very well).

I eat a fair amount of falafal. I love it. Some of the best I’ve had being from street food stalls. But Dalila’s falafel (deep fried beans, chickpeas and fine herbs croquettes, served with sesame paste @ £5.95) is in a league of its own. It is quite simply the best I’ve had, coated in coarse, crunchy crumb and stuffed with fresh herbs.

Just writing this makes me want to go back right now and eat some.


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Hummus + moutabel dips with Lebanese pitta bread


The super-soft, stringy, melt-in-your-mouth halloumi was in a league of its own too. No rubbery squeaking here that you often get with supermarket longer life halloumi packets. Though I must admit I quite like a cheese that squeaks.

The moutabel (grilled aubergine puree with sesame paste and lemon juice @ £4.95), hummus @ £4.75 and fresh pitta bread, plus calamari pane (squid dipped in a spicy flour mixture and fried with garlic, coriander and chilli @ £5.95) were all an absolute treat.


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Mixed mezze: halloumi, calamari so tender it melts in your mouth + samke harra fish


We also shared batata harra (potato cubes sautéed with garlic, sweet pepper, chilli, onions and fresh coriander @ £4.95), samke harra (grilled fish fillet with onions, garlic, tomatoes, green pepper, red pepper and coriander) @ £6.95 and – even though we were stuffed – managed to squeeze in five *tiny* baklawa pastries between us (filo pastry filled with ground nuts, baked and then drenched in honey) @ £3.95.


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Samke harra fish mezze


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Baklawa


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Total bill for two including a 10% service charge was £78.16


The verdict: Dalila might be off the beaten track (it’s a few minutes walk from both Queenstown Road or Battersea Park rail stations or a good 15 minute walk from Clapham Common tube station) but it’s well worth a visit. Some of the best middle eastern food I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go back.

The a la carte menu is reasonably priced as it is but they also offer set menus. And if you go during off peak hours, they accept Tastecard (currently 2-for-1 for a max of two people) but check the website for latest offers.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese
~ Address: 123 Queenstown Road, Battersea, London
~ Postcode: SW8 3RH
~ Tel: 020 7622 0555
~ Nearest train stations: Queenstown Road, Battersea Park (or Clapham Common tube station)
~ Website + menus: Dalila’s website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Dalila’s food
~ Location: Dalila’s map


RELATED LINKS
More Battersea fine-dining:
~ Nancy Lam’s Enak Enak – *best* restaurant on Lavender Hill (Indonesian / SE Asian fusion)
~ Santa Maria del Sur


Dalila on Urbanspoon

Veg as you go – Tachbrook Street Market

I can’t rave enough about the falafel sandwiches from the happy chappies at Veg As You Go, Tachbrook Street Market.


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Tachbrook Street Market runs Monday to Saturday 8am to 6pm


There’s usually a bit of a queue as it’s a popular stall but it moves quickly. And it’s not unusual to be given a hot, fresh piece of falafel to nibble on while you wait for your sandwich to be made.


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Popular Veg As You Go stall


First, decide whether you’d like chilli sauce as well as houmous on your wrap (it’d be foolish not to – it gives a gorgeous, subtle kick; their chilli sauce isn’t too hot by any means).


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Fresh ingredients go into each sandwich


Then, all the veg, salad and pickles will be piled on to the wrap, along with more sauce (sesame seed/ tahini) and plenty of falafel. The rolled up, filled wrap is heated through and squashed/packed in, on the sandwich grill (blending all the flavours together).


Sandwiches are *packed*
– full of cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, pickles, sauces + yum falafel:

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It may only be a sandwich but it’s a well-crafted sandwich with substance. Simply the best.


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Huge + very filling Veg As You Go sandwich


FOOD INFO:

~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Middle eastern
~ Address: 42 Tachbrook St, Pimlico, London
~ Postcode: SW1V 2JS
~ Nearest station: Victoria, Pimlico
~ Website + menus: n/a
~ Veg As You Go facebook page: Veg as You Go on fb
~ Tachbrook Street Market facebook page: Tachbrook Street Market on fb
~ Photos on flickr: images of Veg As You Go food
~ Location: Tachbrook Street Market map


RELATED LINKS

Nearby dining:

~ Pimlico Fresh
~ Seafresh
~ Taquitos Mexican Grill



		

	

The First Fez

An evening out in Hammersmith doesn’t end as planned but a mezza meal at Fez more than makes up for it.


I’d got tickets to be part of the audience for last Wednesday’s recording of The Last Leg at Hammersmith Studios (the episode featuring Russell Brand). To make an evening of it, I wanted a good restaurant that was handy for the studios, that served middle-eastern food and so would have lots of vegetarian options.

Fez on Fulham Palace Road scores well enough on community review sites like TripAdvisor, is convenient for the recording studios, has a varied menu and is reasonably priced. My only concern was that, from photos on the web, it looks like a very basic cafe – and a bit of a dump – from outside. I took a gamble and booked a table a couple of hours before we needed to start queuing (as with all TV recordings, audience tickets are over-allocated to ensure the studio gets filled and you’re not guaranteed entry).


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Vegetarian mezza at Fez includes moussaka, moutabbel, falafel, fatayer


It’s fair to say that Fulham Palace Road (the A219) is a traffic-heavy road, right next to the seriously busy Hammersmith Flyover. Any grubby shop fronts can be excused to some extent, as it must be a real challenge keeping buildings pristine here.

And immediately inside Fez, we get a warm welcome from the waiter and are seated at a table for two in the middle-eastern styled room with cushioned seating skirting the walls, ornate light decorations and candles. On ordering a mezza to share, he quickly moves us to a larger table that can accommodate all of the plates.

There’s a good food menu (typical Middle-eastern fayre) and wine list (for example, a good dry white like a Lebanese Cave Kouroum or a French Picpoul de Pinet are less than £20 a bottle) and G and I home in on the vegetarian mezza at £21.95 for two.

The vegetarian mezza comprises:
~ Kallaj – halloumi cheese in pitta
~ Hoummus – dip made from chick-peas, tahini + lemon juice
~ Moutabbal – aubergine dip aka baba ghanoush
~ Tabouleh – salad of bulger, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, mint, etc
~ Moussaka – baked aubergine cooked with tomato + chick-peas
~ Moujadara – lentil + onion mix
~ Falafel – deep fried chick-pea patties
~ Fatayer – small spinach + cheese pastries aka börek

I’m not sure why we think that eight dishes may not be enough (ok, two are ‘just dips’) but we also order a Fattoush Salad (lettuce strips, tomato + cucumber chunks, peppers, sprinkled with fried pitta bread ‘croutons’ and lemon juice) @ £4.50.


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Mixed salad and desserts – chocolate cake and baklawa


This is a very satisfying banquet (each dish is carefully cooked and presented and nothing disappoints). Even so, G can’t resist a chocolate cake for dessert @ £4 (it’s slightly frozen in the middle and I wonder if it’s a Sara Lee frozen cake) and I do the decent thing and keep her company with baklawa @ £4 (it’s slightly dry, there’s no honey in sight).

The total bill for two, including food, drinks and a 10% tip, comes to £64.00.

It’s worth noting that Fez is currently in the Tastecard scheme (offering a 50% discount off food to Tastecard members; some restrictions apply).

With happy hearts and bellies, G and I leave Fez to queue for The Last Leg recording at Hammersmith Studios. Our good luck runs out and we’re turned away.

Ah well. I guess I’ll just have to try more of Fez’s menu when I do get into the studios next time…

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Fez – doesn’t look like much from outside


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, Moroccan
~ Address: 32 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London
~ Postcode: W6 9PH
~ Tel: 020 8563 7176
~ Nearest station: Hammersmith
~ Menu: Fez take-away menu
~ Fez photos on flickr
~ Location: Fez in Hamersmith map


RELATED LINKS

More Middle-Eastern restaurants in London:
~ Azou – North African restaurant in Hammersmith
~ Meza – Lebanese restaurant in Tooting
~ Yalla Yalla – Lebanese restaurants in central London


Fez on Urbanspoon



		

	

Meza – cosy Lebanese by Tooting Bec

A teeny tiny Lebanese restaurant within spitting distance of Tooting Bec tube station, Meza can accommodate about 20 diners at a time and has the feel of being squished cosily into someone’s living room.

It’s intimate (an open kitchen takes up half the room), popular, and gets booked up quickly. It’s also cash only.

There’s a 1.5 hour turnaround time on tables (our table this evening was booked for 7.30pm and by 9pm we were being asked to leave, to accommodate another sitting). But service is fast and attentive (without feeling rushed) and it’s well worth booking ahead for.

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Falafel with garlic sauce

The menu is fairly short and sweet, and while you can choose a selection to share, we – at our server’s excellent suggestion – went for a mixed meze at £15 a head.

This included more than enough for six of us, of the following:
~ fresh pitta bread
~ hummus (normally £3.45 a portion)
~ moutabel (grilled aubergine, tahini + lemon juice and often called ‘baba ganoush’, normally @ £3.95)
~ tabbouleh (parsley, crushed wheat, olive oil dressing, normally @ £4)
~ wara einab (stuffed vine leaves, normally @ £3.75)
~ bemieh bil zeit (okra, tomato, coriander, normally @ £3.75 a portion)

~ falafel (normally @ £3.95)
~ grilled kallaj (haloumi bread, normally @ £3.95)
~ kibbeh (croquette stuffed with minced lamb, pine nuts, onion @ £4)
~ sambousek lahmeh (deep fried lamb and onion pastry parcels @ £3.95)
~ fatayer spinach (spinach, onion + pine nut pastry parcels normally @ £3.95)

~ soujouk (spicy sausagues @ £3.95)
~ mixed grill comprising chicken shish taouk, kafta meshwieh and lahem meshwieh
~ barley (?) with crispy fried caramelised onions

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Kibbeh

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Meat mixed grill

These freshly prepared dishes kept arriving at the table in a steady stream and all proved popular, particularly the moutabel (baba ganoush) stuffed vine leaves, and spicy sausages.

We shared two bottles of a very palatable house red wine (@ £12 a bottle) and, including a 10% tip, the total bill came to £22 a head. Excellent value for fresh, good food.


Home deliveries
As of summer 2013 deliveries are now available from Meza if you order through MyDeliveryCab at https://www.mydeliverycab.co.uk/Meza-Tooting


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, Turkish, Middle Eastern
~ Address: 34 Trinity Road, London
~ Postcode: SW17 7RE
~ Tel: 07722 111299
~ Nearest station: Tooting Bec or Balham
~ Time Out review: Time Out’s review of Meza
~ Location: Meza map


Other nearby restaurants
~ Gurkha’s Diner


Square Meal


Meza on Urbanspoon



		

	

Al Hamra – Lebanese restaurant in Shepherd Market

Three of us (at work) decided to go out for lunch today. It was a last minute idea and – this close to Christmas – wasn’t surprising that most nearby restaurants in the Mayfair/Shepherd Market area were booked up.

Fortunately, we were able to reserve a table at Al Hamra, which turned out to be fairly quiet over lunchtime.


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Al Hamra in Shepherd Market


Al Hamra describes itself as “the finest Lebanese restaurant in London” (quite a superlative; quite a claim – we would see). Their menu has an un-customer-friendly warning that the minimum order is £20 per person excluding drinks, even at lunch time. And there’s a cover charge of £2.50 per person.

So, be warned – don’t come here if you’re after a light lunch in the region of £10 – £15, as you’d end up being charged £22.50 minimum (plus drinks and service) anyway.

The three of us shared a few dishes including:
~ Baba ganoush – smokey aubergine dip
~ Houmous and pitta – chickpeas + sesame seed dip
~ Olives
~ Grilled halloumi – Grilled Cypriot cheese
~ Falafel – ground chick peas, broad beans, etc rolled into balls + deep fried
~ Chicken wings
~ Foul Medames – mixed beans
~ Fatayer – pastry filled with spinach


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Meze at Al Hamra


The total lunch bill came to £102 (so £34 each). While the food here is good, it’s probably a bit over-priced.

I suspect we’ll stick with our regular lunchspot, Ye Grapes (Thai) – also in Shepherd Market – in future.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, middle-eastern
~ Address: 31-33 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London
~ Postcode: W1J 7PT
~ Tel: 020 7493 1954
~ Nearest tube station: Green Park
~ Website: Al Hamra website
~ Location: Al Hamra map


MORE LINKS

Nearby dining:

~ Ye Grapes – good Thai food in Shepherd Market


Al Hamra on Urbanspoon



		

	

Azou – Hammersmith

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Never-ending banquet

Azou – with its Bedouin-style decor – is a cosy, little restaurant on King Street, Hammersmith, serving fabulous North African food.

W6 residents were probably trying to keep this little piece of perfection to themselves. However, it’s particularly popular since Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurants TV series when it topped the ‘best North African restaurant’ category in 2010. It’s also won a shed-load of other awards – with good reason – and you do need to book in advance.

My visit last night was for a friend’s birthday and we had the Azou feast set menu – an amazing banquet that seemed to be never-ending!

It included all five of these ‘starters’:
~ olives marinated in chermoula and a piquant sauce
~ king prawns in a spicy coriander sauce
~ calamari
~ falafel – patties of minced chickpeas, fava beans, spices + sesame with tahini
~ bourek – crisp pastry filled with marinated minced lamb, herbs + spices

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king prawn

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calamari

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falafel

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bourek

And a choice of main course, from:
~ mechoui – lamb shank, marinated in chermoula and slowly roasted
~ fish tajine – fish of the day with king prawn, mixed seafood + potatoes in a ‘gently sour’ sauce of preserved lemon, spices + herbs
~ tajine constantine – tender lamb in a hot and spicy chilli sauce with potatoes
~ tajine romanne – chicken breast in a sweet/tangy fresh pomegranate sauce, garnished with almonds, raisins + caramelised onion
~ berber tajine – fresh vegetables, artichoke hearts and chickpeas

I had the slow-roasted lamb shank – it was absolutely divine and so tender and flavorsome being slow cooked in spices, but I was too full to eat it after the previous five courses. Shame – must go back and try harder next time.

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my melt-in-your-mouth slow-roasted lamb shank

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H’s tajine constantine – tender lamb in chilli sauce with potatoes

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K’s tajine romanne – chicken breast in a tangy sauce, garnished with almonds

And finally…

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baclava

Oh. And I have enjoyed clarifying to people this week that my friend hired out ‘Azou’ not ‘a zoo’ for her celebrations…

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Moroccan
~ Address: 375 King Street, Hammersmith, London
~ Postcode: W6 9NJ
~ Tel: 020 8563 7266
~ Nearest tube station: Stamford Brook, Ravenscourt Park
~ Website: Azou website
~ Menus: Azou menus
~ Location: Azou restaurant map

Azou on Urbanspoon