There are no hubbly bubblies at Ali Baba, but it is quite a bit cheaper and, perhaps, more atmospheric. At the back is a little restaurant which feels like a Cairo chop-house, with paintings of turbanned men feasting and market scenes. The down-to-earth cuisine covers all the bases, including molokhia and the Ali Baba Special: lamb stuffed with rice and nuts. The front is a takeaway, offering shawarma sandwiches and sweetmeats.
If you want to cook your own, London's Little Middle East, the Edgware Road, is lined with shops catering to Middle-Eastern cooks. The best is Al Mustafa, which assaults your senses with the smell of spice as you walk in. It is tiny, crowded and offers specifically Egyptian ingredients - tinned ful, frozen molokhia and plenty of spices, nuts and vinegary pickled vegetables. It also has hubbly bubblies. (A second option might be the Turkish shops around Newington Green.)
The Egyptian-run Greenfields, which comes recommended by the Egyptian embassy, has the cheapest molokhia in London, fresh (it all looks rather like mint leaves), frozen or tinned, and all the other essential ingredients. But the aristocrat of Egyptian food shops is undoubtedly Green Valley, which offers molokhia, tinned or dried ful, Egyptian ghee, tahina, spices and mouth-watering Middle Eastern pastries. It also has pigeon freshly flown in (pounds 3 each). Unfortunately, cows' and sheeps' heads and brains cannot legally be sold in Britain, the charming proprietor will tell you. There are no Cleopatra cigarettes, but you can get flavoured tobacco for your hubbly bubbly Lesley Downer
Valley of the Kings, Elizabetta Hotel. 162 Cromwell Road, SW5 (beside the Cromwell Road Sainsbury's). Tel: 0171-370 4282. Open
7 days, 6.30-10.30pm. pounds 15-20 per head upwards; Ali Baba, 32 Ivor Place, W1 (off Upper Baker Street) Tel: 0171-723 7474. Open 7 days, noon- midnight. Average pounds 10 per head; Al Mustafa, 133 Edgware Road, W1. Tel: 0171-402 7707. Open 7 days, 8am-12pm; Greenfields, 25 Crawford Street, W1. Tel 0171-723 2510. Open 7 days 8am - 10pm; Green Valley (Alwadi al Akhdar), 36/37 Upper Berkeley Street, W1. Tel: 0171-402 7385. Open 7 days, 8am- 10.30pm