Restaurants: A slice of the action

Gourmet kebabs are the next big foodie trend. Vivienne Heller got a sneak preview
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The Independent Culture
Tender, spongy and kidney-flavoured: I'm intrigued by my first experience of eating lamb's testicle. My male companions are having stronger reactions - Michael's in denial, Tim's having trouble swallowing, and Vincent's Hoovering it up with his usual gusto. Small and pink, this Lebanese delicacy looks as insignificant as I felt on entering the midnight frey of Maroush II on London's Beauchamp Place.

Beauchamp Place? Revered stamping ground of Chelsea's "it" brigade? The hip Knightsbridge hangout is certainly a cut above the fast-food joints of student days. And the clientele here comprises not so much lager lads as glossy Lebanese twentysomethings.

On the basis of a superchef tip-off, I'm here researching the next culinary fad: the gourmet kebab. As I write, it seems that every "name" chef - plus the odd installation artist who is himself no stranger to the world of internal organs - is planning his own upmarket version of the once- humble doner.

Though years old, Maroush is highly regarded, thus I find myself in the midst of this heaving throng, grappling with an exotic menu and trying to intercept one of the black-tied waiters, to whom non-regulars appear invisible. Thank heavens for a distant acquaintance who surged into our orbit and ordered our entire meal in seconds. Suddenly, doors opened, and we were embraced by the crowd as if we'd passed an initiation test.

After that, it was enormous fun; rather like a trip to the circus: heavenly smells performing aerial acrobatics with expensive scents, musical cadences of an unfamiliar language, whirling knives of white- aproned chefs - a bright carousel of colour and noise.

Waiters, now charm itself, appeared for our drinks order. The choice included an impressive list of wines, but the ambrosia fruit juices proved more tempting even than the vintage Moet. As for the food, two fat, crispy doner-kebab skewers - lamb and chicken - were sliced and served in paper envelopes perfectly origami'd to prevent fallout. The shwarma, nurtured on flaming grills, appeared on voluptuous mounds of lettuce. Other delights were kibbeh (crisp balls of minced lamb), a smoky, moreish aubergine dip, and succulent stuffed vine leaves, which Tim declared the best he'd tasted. And then, of course, there were the balls - or Lamb's Prize Fried with Lemon, as they are prettily described on the menu.

By the time dessert arrived, we were done for: my pistachio confection in rosewater syrup was really one morsel too many but, hey, it was late, and my inhibitions had vanished with my waistline. Sensible folk end with the fresh fruit platter.

When we finally left, having spent just pounds 15 each, we felt flushed with holiday fever. The doner kebab, indeed Beauchamp Place, will never be the same again.


Maroush II

38 Beauchamp Place, London SW3 (0171-581 5434)

Ranoush Juice Bar

43 Edgware Rd, London W2

(0171-723 5929)

Lahore Kebab House

2 Umberston St, London E1 (0171-481 9737)