Restaurant review: Tooting's jolly new diner Meza is a real find for foodies

Meza, 70 Mitcham Road, Tooting, London

Did you know there's a crater on Mars called Tooting? A huge great thing, 28kms in diameter, it was named after the south London district in 2005. What a comfort it will be for homesick British astronauts in the future, to land on the Red Planet and discover a piece of SW17 yawning before them.

Tooting has been considered rather a naff destination for too long. It was namechecked in Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets, as the epitome of suburbia. It was the manor of urban revolutionary Wolfie Smith, the Russell Brand of his day, in Citizen Smith – his rallying cry of "Freedom for Tooting!" stirred many hearts in the late 1970s.

But the mockers have always been misguided, because Tooting has form and pedigree. It was a village before Saxon times. It's in the Domesday Book. It can boast both George Cole and Paul Merton, those bastions of modern culture, as one-time inhabitants. And I'm happy to report that Tooting is now enjoying a foodie transformation.

Into the dispiriting wasteland that men call Mitcham Road, things are stirring. At No 122 there's Rick's Restaurant, a buzzy, pan-European eating house whose chef-proprietor, Rick Gibbs, was head chef at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Recently opened at No 145 is The Little Bar, a cool and friendly drinking establishment co-owned by Madeleine Lim (formerly food and drink honcho at this magazine) where the cocktails are terrific – they include the Vesper, James Bond's vodkatini, as invented by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale – and an excellent Osaado Malbec costs only £18 a bottle. Nearby in Tooting High Street, a Chicken Shop opens this month, part of Nick Jones's vast Soho House empire. The first Chicken Shop opened in Kentish Town, the second in Highgate, and both are now regularly crammed like a battery-hen coop, only with better seating.

The real find for foodies, however, is Meza. It's the second Meza opened in Tooting by Hikmat Antippa, aged 31, who comes from Tyre in the Lebanon; founded in 2750BC, it's even older than Tooting. Hikmat (nobody seems to call him Mr Antippa) started his cookery career working for Caprice Holdings at their flagship fish restaurant J Sheekey in London's West End, before leaving to start his first Meza next door to Tooting Bec Tube station.

We visited the new place on its opening night, to find Hikmat beaming with relief. "Four days ago," he breathed, "this place was a building site." We prepared to make allowances for first-night nerves, dropped vegetables, and outbreaks of temper, but none was forthcoming.

It's a cheerful, family-friendly place, whose décor is rather thrown together – woven baskets on the wall, Lebanon-souk ruggery on the benches – but the food is very focused.

The menu offers cold meze, hot meze and eight main courses, and you soon discover nicely original touches in familiar dishes. Moutabal, a Lebanese version of baba ganoush, combined lovely smoked aubergine with tahini. Hummus Awarma introduced walnuts and diced bits of lamb to the nation's favourite dip.

Reaat Bil Jeben brought pastry envelopes of cheese and mint, a combination that should have had nothing to say to each other, but did. I've had kibbeh a thousand times, but the ones in Meza – fat teardrops of minced lamb, crushed wheat, onion and pine nuts – were yummy. Soujouk is familiar from a hundred Greek dinners; the Lebanese version is the same garlicky lamb sausage, but with more chilli. A you-must-try-this dish of Bemieh Bil Zeit turned out to be Egyptian okra with tomato and coriander, the okra pan-fried in chunks to de-slime it.

My guest Tim opted for Kafta Djaj, or skewers of grilled minced chicken with onion and parsley, which were perfectly OK barbecue stuff. But nothing prepared me for my Farrouj Meshwieh. It's glossed on the menu only as 'Grilled baby chicken', but was one of the great chicken experiences of my life.

The poussin had been spatchcocked, then de-boned with surgical precision ("It's done by a master butcher of chickens called Nader Hachem," murmured Hikmat), then marinated in garlic, roast peppers, lemon and olive oil for 24 hours, and roasted over charcoal. The result was swoon-makingly soft, juicy and tender, the flesh puckered in nubbly ridges, the blackened edges deliciously crusty, the whole thing like comfort food as ordered by the gods of Lebanon.

I couldn't eat a thing after it, only finish the white wine and call for fresh mint tea. I hope Tooting enjoys its new incarnation as a gastro-district; one thing that would definitely bring me back here, time and again, is Hikmat's jolly neighbourhood diner and his perfect poussin.

Food ***
Ambience **
Service ****

Meza, 70 Mitcham Road, Tooting, London SW17 (07771 333157). Around £60 for two, including wine

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

    They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
    A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

    Dropout generation failed by colleges

    £800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
    Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch