Restaurants: Nights full of Eastern promise

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The Independent Culture
Middle Eastern food is now increasingly popular because "people are getting fed up with meals that consist of starter, main course and pudding," according to Judy Douglas-Boyd of the Sofra chain of restaurants and cafes.

The relaxed, leisurely way of dining particularly appeals, she claims: "You can be as quick or as long as you like. It's healthy, it's modern and it's the way people want to eat today."

Sofra started with just one restaurant in Shepherd Market in Mayfair and now it has five restaurants and 10 cafes in the West End and the City. And it is not the only London establishment producing Middle Eastern food in a modern setting. Momo has done it for Moroccan food, and recent arrival Midi is now offering traditional Lebanese dishes in a trendy environment.

But the plan is that we shouldn't just eat Middle Eastern food when we got out. After the restaurants and the cafes, yes, you've guessed it... this autumn the Sofra Cook Book hits the shops.

"The idea," says Judy Douglas-Boyd, "didn't actually come from us but from some publishers who are devotees of our restaurants."


Sofra Restaurants & Cafes

Restaurants at Shepherd St and 18 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London W1; 36 Tavistock St, Covent Garden, London WC2; 7 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2; 1 St Christopher's Pl, London W1. Open midday to midnight.

Cafes at 26 Wellington St, Covent Garden, London WC2; 15 Catherine St, Covent Garden, London WC2; 8 Shepherd Market, London W1; 8 Ludgate Circus, London EC4; 101 Fleet St, London EC4; 63 Wigmore St, London W1; and 33 Old Compton St, Soho, London W1. Open from breakfast to midnight.

These cafes and restaurants all serve modern Turkish cuisine. Most popular are the meze dishes including humus, felafel, salads and lamb kofte.

The Sofra Cookbook (Thorsons, pounds 14.99) by Huseyin Ozer, the creative talent and driving force behind the Sofra chain, will be published in October.


140-142 St John St, London EC1 (0171-250 0025). Open Mon to Sat, from 11.30am to midnight.

Traditional Lebanese dishes (above) served up in a pleasingly uncluttered Nineties environment.


25 Heddon St, London W1 (0171-434 4040). Open for lunch and dinner every day.

This atmospheric Moroccan bar and restaurant is currently one of London's trendiest places to hang out. See also The 50 Best, page 9.


21 Edgware Rd, London W2 (0171-723 0773).

If there is a Middle-Eastern quarter in London, the Marble Arch end of Edgware Road is it, with shops, cafes, juice bars and upmarket restaurants - perhaps most famously this one, with its fine food, glitzy chandeliers and belly dancers. It is open until 2am but this is no place for a quick bite after the pub. After 10pm the minimum charge is pounds 48.

There are also Maroush II, 38 Beauchamp Place, London SW3 (0171-581 5434); Maroush III, 62 Seymour Street, W1 (0171-724 5024); and, most recently, Maroush IV, 68 Edgware Road, W2 (0171-224 9339) which is more cafe-style and slightly but only slightly cheaper.