Levantine, London W2

Pitta at the ready, our restaurant critic happily scoops, chews and feasts his way through 22 Middle Eastern dishes. And he can recall the thrill of them all
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Let's just get on with it, shall we? One: the breads - little powder puffs of pitta that are light, fresh and dip-worthy; strips of flatter, denser, lavash bread; and a roly-poly of onion and garlic bread that is heavy and chewy.

Let's just get on with it, shall we? One: the breads - little powder puffs of pitta that are light, fresh and dip-worthy; strips of flatter, denser, lavash bread; and a roly-poly of onion and garlic bread that is heavy and chewy.

Two, the pickles: mouth-puckering, beetroot-dyed radish chunks, crunchy, brined cucumbers, fruity little crushed black olives and green chilli peppers perky with salt. Best of all is a plump, peeled and pickled baby aubergine stuffed with a crunchy granola of nuts and spices. The traditional platter of vegetables arrives as the third member of the welcoming committee: whole baby cos lettuce, tomato and spring onions, with chunks of raw cucumber and carrot.

Dishes four to eight are small-but-deep bowls of dips. Koussa bil tahini is a bright, lively mix of fried courgette and sesame paste; muhummara is a gravelly, sweet red-pepper and nut mixture; raheb bi dabs roman is a smoky, garlicky aubergine dip spiked with pomegranate juice. They are all freshly made and fresh tasting, but the dip of dips is the hummus Beiruty, combining ful medames beans with the classic Middle Eastern chickpea dip, and turning it into the lightest, richest, creamiest, whippiest little thing ever.

Next, dish nine: juicy little chicken livers, hot out of the pan, are like no chicken livers I have tasted; sweet with cinnamon and sharp with pomegranate juice. Ten: two crusty falafel are nutty but nice, with a nicely gooey tahini dip. Eleven: tabbouleh salad of parsley, tomato and burghul is colourful, fresh, and alive with lemon.

Twelve: stuffed vine leaves feel slightly sodden. Thirteen: cucumber and yoghurt salad is dry. Fourteen: grilled haloumi cheese is warm and sizzly. It's time for a breather and a look around.

I am doing the mezzes thing, as you may have gathered, at Levantine, the new sibling of Tony Kitous's Levant restaurant in Wigmore Street. It's a charming place, with the equally charming idea of sending out lots of small share plates of delicious little titbits. After the initial burst of hospitality, the food comes in waves of little Japanese and Moorish bowls, crowded on to huge beaten brass trays that can stack on top of one another.

You can order à la carte if you just want falafel/tabbouleh/shish kebab, or you can avoid the responsibility of decision making by selecting one of four set menus. There's vegetarian (£19.50 per person), meat (£24.50), fish (£26.50) and, my choice, the regular at £19.50.

By mid-evening, the restaurant is an Arabian Night of brass lamps, flickering candles, loungey red banquettes and Arabic tiles, without the cheap theme-restaurant mentality. Unusually, the detail extends beyond the dining-room. The steps downstairs are of mosaic tiles, running past a fragrant pond strewn with rose petals. Even the loos have a Moorish charm.

Once you settle into the extremely low-slung chairs and brass tables or booths, it all feels like a darkly lit, exotic party, powered along by the addictive beat of Momo'ish Arabesque music. Staff are terrific: young, happy, helpful and with good food knowledge. There is an adventurous Levantine cocktail list and a reasonably priced wine list with Lebanon's greatest hits (Chateau Ksara and Chateau Musara) as well as a fruity Irache tempranillo crianza from Navarra, Spain at £23.

Now where was I? Ah yes, number 15, a deliciously spicy Armenian soujok sausage, chopped and served with tomatoes. Sixteen is marinated chicken wings hot off the charcoal grill, all scorchy, smoky, crisp and succulent, lifted by a marvellously light garlic sauce enriched with mashed potato. Seventeen is maqeneq, little spice bombs masquerading as chipolata sausages; and 18, sambusak bil lahmeh, are flat, slightly dry little pasties filled with fragrant spiced lamb and pine nuts. Nineteen is chicken kibbeh, perfectly pleasant fried little footballs of cracked wheat and minced chicken.

Twenty is a bowl of spicy, soft sautéed potatoes with coriander, which are neither here nor there, and 21 is gigantes beans in a good tomato and coriander sauce.

Next is - you guessed it - numbers 22 to whatever, as a tiered cake-stand carries fresh pistachio nuts, sweet if a little firm baklava-like pastries, divine stuffed dried apricots and dates, and chewy Turkish delights. Oh, and a well-endowed fruit bowl of plum, pear, mandarin, strawberry, pineapple and grapes. And mint tea, correctly poured from a height. And a fragrant finger bowl of mint and lemon, but I guess that cannot be counted as a dish even if it comes in one. Anyway, I've given up counting.

It might sound like a lot of food, but it is by no means gross. Instead, it invites you to exercise your taste and discrimination. You can eat what you like, and leave what you don't.

With its good humour, enticing food and professional service, Levantine falls happily between the come-as-you-are, no-frills high-street Leb and the new flash, designer celeb Lebs with their million-pound makeovers. The most delicious thing about it is how naturally everything you eat goes with everything else you eat.

OK, so there were half a dozen dishes I could have done without, but that means there were more than a dozen that I had to have. I can't think of too many restaurants that I could say that about on any given night. *

14 Levantine 26 London Street, London W2, tel: 020 7262 1111. Open every day for lunch and dinner from midday to midnight. Around £75 for two including wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings... Even more Lebanese mezze

Al-Shami 25 Walton Crescent, Oxford, tel: 01865 310 066 Popular with students and visitors alike, this lively favourite has been dishing up Lebanese hospitality for over 15 years. While the grills and baked dishes have their fans, it is the mezze that draws the crowds. Try good old favourites such as felafel, tabbouleh and hummus, or more adventurous offerings including lamb-brains salad and fried sweetbreads with lemon.

Sands 95 Queens Road, Bristol, tel: 0117 973 9734 When the good people of Bristol come down with an overwhelming urge for baba ganoush and spicy Lebanese sausage, they generally come to Raad Hassan's friendly Arabic basement cavern for some intensive Lebanese therapy. The restaurant is famous for its special Arabian Nights, where a very reasonable set price covers a selection of mezze dishes, sweet pastries, belly dancing and use of the shisha (water pipe).

Fakhreldine 85 Piccadilly, London W1, tel: 020 7493 3424 This long-standing Lebanese recently emerged from a three-month makeover with a sleek new look and a bright new chef. While much has been made of Karim Haidar's refined signature dishes (sea bass with onion tagine, five-spice lamb with Bukhari rice), he can also lift traditional,classic mezze dishes into another league.

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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