Bites: Fizzy lassis, tangy chermoula, creamy hummous ...
Caroline Stacey rounds up six of the best Middle Eastern restaurants for a perfect Arabian night out
Saturday 15 August 1998
Moro 34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1 (0171-833 8336) Lunch and dinner Mon-Fri. Recipes from Spain and the Maghreb, improved and cooked with a sure-handed precision. Try the crab brik, a Tunisian pastry traditionally filled with egg; fatayas; quail in flatbread with pistachio sauce, monkfish with tarator sauce made from bread, walnuts and garlic. Around pounds 25 a head in a plain-but-handsome dining room with a long zinc bar and kitchen behind a counter at the back.
Casa Blanca 264 King Street, London W6 (0181-741 1177) Lunch and dinner daily. Unusually, this is a Syrian, rather than Lebanese restaurant. Exceptionally crunchy falafel, creamy hummous, moutabal and cheese sambouseks are all irresistible, and the pastries are up to scratch. The standard of cooking is high, and the prices reasonable (around pounds 15 a head). Decoration consists of rather overbearing blue-patterned walls, the service is courteous.
Alounak Kebab 10 Russell Gardens, London W14 (0171-603 7645) Noon- 11pm daily. An Iranian restaurant once famously housed in a Portakabin in a Kensington car park. Experts have the dish of the day or grilled meat with rice to which they add a pat of butter and an egg yolk. Flat bread is baked in a tandoor-like oven. Spend around pounds 15 on food. Drink doog, a fizzy yoghurt- like lassi, or take your own booze. (The restaurant isn't licensed.) This adds to its cachet.
Al-Shami 25 Walton Crescent, Oxford (01865 310066) Noon-midnight daily. A decade-old, still fresh-looking, graciously run. This is a rare out-of-London Lebanese restaurant, which can make it difficult for owner Sami Al Shami to source essential ingredients (though he doesn't resort to substitutes. Falafel are made daily; and the mezze line-up includes these, moutabal and all the other usual aubergine, chickpea and meat dishes. Main courses, from around pounds 6.50, are meaty grills.
Al Bustan 27 Motcomb Street, London SW1 (0171-235 8277) Noon-11pm daily. While glitzy, and lit by chandeliers, this Belgravia outpost is elegant with plants, trellising and pastel colours. The cooking is distinguished, and occasionally dares to deviate from the traditional recipes. Attention is paid to details such as breads, and olives served with chilli dip to start with, pastries, and thick, sweet coffee. Atr pounds 20-plus a head, it's one of the best but not the most expensive of its type.
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