All posts filed under “Lebanese

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MY 2012…

Happy New Year to You All ^_^

My 2012 started with a cancelled holiday, a lukewarm winter, a depressingly lukewarm washer-dryer, a cat that shuns me and no bloody decent restaurant opened during those festive days. No resolutions. Not too much to look forward to in 2012, apart from the grand opening of Pitt Cue Co., the arrival of Barrafina in Covent Garden and a handful more of restaurants, such as Mari Vanna, Dabbous, Lima, and Bubbledogs. I predict the street market scene prevails, and very much so for burgers, steaks, and quite possibly, fried chicken. There will be more veggie-oriented places to counter that trend. Small portions will still be in. Fine dining chefs will serve less jus and will plate their food in the same manner as Rene Redzepi. Ethnic food – Asian in particular – will never move away from being stereotyped and Asian supper clubs will be the ones (for me) to look out for. That said, I feel Latin/South American might be the new thing for 2012.

There will be more trips (for me). I have kindled interests in Russia, Central Asia and towards the East. Moscow, St Petersburg, a few places in Japan, China, Vietnam and Burma are on my agenda. I look into wandering into North Korea, too. For Europe, I will be scouring not-so-mainstream regions and exploring more of Scandinavia, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. By the end of 2012, I will try making it to all The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. There will be more trips, weirder food .. and The Skinny Bib will (fingers crossed) metamorphose into “something”.

2011 in Few Words..

Before all that to happen, this is my quick 2011 round-up..

To start. I ate dogs. I ate cocks. I ate raw chicken. The latter came from Bincho Yakitori, the super restaurant that dares push all the boundaries for those up for it. I caught my own fish, sampled blowfish and found the taste not at all deadly. I made friends with a great handful of amazingly cool food enthusiasts. I even woke up early to travel with one. The “woke up early” will not happen again. I also had the fabulous opportunities to stuff myself at CC and many world’s destinations. I have learned to book tables a year ahead, though I spent 10% of my life on auto redialing but failed to snatch a table at Keller’s popup. I also spent another 5% of my life figuring out a new and less confusing rating system but only came out with this lame one. I still insist on being among the first reviewers of restaurants.

… it was definitely an eye-opening (or mouth-opening?) year and it would have been a lot less fun without you lot to share all these exciting things with  >__<

I’d also like to extend my best wishes to these 10 eateries that, despite their being old or new, I consider (un)advertised powerhouses of my London existence and have made my 2011 a superlatively indulgent year…

In no particular order…

Roganic… exciting food. Excitingly friendly flocks. And, mind those ceiling lamps!!
Opera Tavern… inventive food. Relaxed glam. Hot boys. Greatest neighbours. And don’t forget the Iberico Foie Burger :-9
Sushi of Shiori… an out-of-this-world sushi gloryhole. Thoughtful creations. If walking in is not possible, there is a takeaway option.
Big Apple Hot Dog… the hot dog pimp that gets London well stuffed. Now mobilizing between two locations.
Gauthier Soho… bonker chef + cute French twinks = comfortingly gay elegance. Also London’s most budget Michelin starred.
Barrafina… a real Spanish bustle that never dies down since its first opening. Best tortilla.
Dinner by Heston… a place that oozes warmth and charm. Occasional celebrities. No pretense.
Beirut Express… the BEST Sherwarma and many other great things. (Just turn blind eyes on service).
Hawksmoor Seven Dials… the best burgers & lobster roll in London in my book.
The Heron… uncompromising Thai (with distracting karaoke and horrifying retro disco look).

Apart from this, I instantly crave for Beijing Dumplings from Jen’s Cafe, Beef Pelmini and Truffled Salad Olivier from Bob Bob Ricard, Mac & Cheese from Spuntino, Wagyu & Truffle Sushi from Zuma, Duck & Foie Gras Borek from Quince, Pickled Herrings from Goodman’s, Eggs Benedict from The Wolseley, Madeleines and ejaculating Custard Doughnuts from St John, Wagyu Slider from CUT, Afternoon Tea from Espelette/The Connaught Hotel, Peking Duck from Min Jiang and Chicken Rice from Old Town 97. And, before I sound like I do not eat vegetable, I love Mushroom and Walnut Miso Udon from Koya very much.

And the most exciting of London 2011!?

Alex McKechnie!!… the superstar mixologist who came up with many super quirky, innovative cocktail and food pairings at Viajante Bar. (He has left, but Viajante & The Corner Room still rock). There will be more coming from Alex so check his site..

 

 

2012.. BRING IT ON  :-D

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Hiba Express: Lebanese Transit Via Holborn

A leaflet was dropped in my mailbox informing of the new-ish, fast-food-ish Lebanese grub clustered with MacDonald’s and English Language Schools near Holborn tube station, Hiba Express. Drenched in weekend laziness and feeling not bothered enough to pay a re-visit to Edgware Road, I went..

Hiba Express isn’t Beirut Express (which I love to death!!)…

The menu appeared similar. Traditional Lebanese mezze dishes, grills and wraps. The decor was sleek. The dining room was bustling. Despite all that, the service was not negligent. It’s not a place that would ever stop my heartbeat but it’s also a place I could feel bothered enough to go back.

On my visit, the Moutabal Baba Ganoush (1) was intensely smoky and velvety, though the dish lacked a distinct aubergine flavour. Tabbouleh (2) AKA chopped parsley salad with tomato and onions impressed me by this herbal explosion and freshness. Fried Halloumi (3) was utterly disappointing. The cheese did not squeak when bitten. The great sign for great halloumi is that it makes squeaking noise. Also was it too thinly sliced and had not been in the fryer long enough to boast a crispy skin.

Mixed Meat Sherwarma Wrap (no pic) was decent and filling. Generous spices in grilled lamb, to be more specific, which overwhelmed the chicken subtlety. Both of the meat, however, was on the dry side. Nothing to write home about but again it was agreeably edible. Hiba Arayes (4), to my surprise, was the dish of the night. Imagine da Polpo‘s Piadiana Meat Ball Smash but lighter. Crispy flat bread with enticing grill aroma sandwiching spiced minced lamb and chopped tomatoes. Finished with a squeeze of lemon juice. Gorgeous.

The meal concluded with Baklava (5). One was too dry; the other too syrup-y. I was picky..

Not a meal that changed my life. Definitely not. But Hiba Express is lovely.

So?

Ideal for…

.. tube commuters or those whose life has been snoozed by the disappearances of buses. Pop in and out at Hiba Express. The meal there won’t wow but won’t kill. And it won’t do much damage to your pocket. That night we paid about £30 plus fresh juices.

We were happy and we will go back ..

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

HIBA EXPRESS

113 High Holborn
London
WC1V 6JQ

Tel. 020 7404 7866

www.hiba-express.co.uk

Hiba on Urbanspoon

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Cheap Eat Soho

Right the title speaks for itself and I shall not ramble. There you go – all the cheap ones I have recently come across in and around Soho.

MD SANDWICH

Canape-looking open-top “German” sandwiches priced at £1 per piece. Handsome toppings on soft white bread. All made at the premise. While one quid won’t get you caviar, you can still indulge in the look of it. I’d say, don’t take MD too seriously. I had the crab(stick), the caviar with egg and the roast beef with horseradish sauce. Not bad flavouring. I can see some thought process put into it. Quite a departure from Pret-a-Manger opposite but won’t get you as filled up. Personally I think it’s more suitable for office parties than grab ‘n go lunch.

If you’re not into sandwiches, they also do Special of the Day savoury strudel.

 

BAOZI INN(?)

Baozi Inn on Urbanspoon

Can anybody confirm if this little boiled thingy place owned by Baozi Inn? It is right next to the restaurant and gives away plastic bags with the Baozi Inn trademark. The sign says “Beijing Street Food”. This anonymous hole in the wall sells vegetables and fish balls on skewers. All priced at 90p. They are snacks not meals. Not the greatest quality or the largest portion of food you’ll find. Fish balls, for example, there seem to be four half-ball pieces. These skewers are dunked into a caldron of bubbling spiced chilli broth for a few minutes. This broth I must say is quite intense in flavours as everything is boiled in it and the broth itself becomes the best kind of stock. For your skewers, you can opt for extra chilli power dust and chopped coriander. I’d say quite lovely in autumn or winter.

If you’d like something more substantial to go, you can also grab the buns from Baozi Inn. Quite nice.

 

YALLA YALLA

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Their sign says “Beirut street food”. This little Lebanese cafe tucked between peep shows and porn dungeons is nowhere near the glorious magnitude of Beirut Express. Atmospheric setup killed by nonchalant service. All the rolls – Shawarma included – are pre-wrapped and toasted. Served with garlic cream and chilli sauce. How good? Imagine Starbucks pannini but with Lebanese fillings. I had a lamb Shawarma. Dry lamp. Limp vegetable fillings. I am not keen!!

Yalla Yalla also does a separate freshly prepared menu which I was not informed when I was there. Good selection of Middle Eastern sweets but uninspiring in flavours.

BIBIMBAP

Bibimbap on Urbanspoon

Bibimbap for a heavier kind of lunch. A small cafe with a hell lot of Polaroid images of their happy customers on the wall. That’s some effective visual testimonials. Their specialities are the bibimbap which usually feature many kinds of cooked vegetable in aromatic sesame oil with a meat topping of your choice. All served in a hot and heavy stone bowl. My beef bibimbap (£9.45) was a spectacle. An almighty bowl of food. Good balance between the fluffy rice and the delectable toppings. Usually go for an extra of raw egg. Pop in and stir to cook. A dollop of chilli sauce. Gosh – this is my kind of heaven. I also like their “Nutritious” toppings (£7.95) including many exotic nuts (ginko, chestnuts, etc.). Flavour and quality wise, I must say I am impressed. The ribbons of beef are of decent quality. Plus, the execution is far more superior than another express Bibimbab Cafe in Bloombury. That said, side dishes at Bibimbap, such as pan fried dumplings (Mandoo), were so so..

Before and .. after the mixing!!

That’s it. Will come back with more compilation of Soho Cheap Eat ;)

Enough said,

My head rating for MD’s, Baozi Inn, Yalla Yalla and Bibimbap says, “6, 6, 6 and 8″.

My heart rating in the same order says, “5, 7, 5 and 7″.

MD SANDWICH

38 William IV Street
London
WC2N 4DD

Tel. 020 7240 0622

BAOZI INN

25 Newport Court
London
WC2H 7

Tel. 020 7287 6877

YALLA YALLA

1 Greens Court
Soho
London
W1F 0HA

Tel. 020 7287 7663

www.yalla-yalla.co.uk

BIBIMBAP

11 Greek Street
London
W1D 4DJ

Tel. 020 7287 3434

www.bibimbapuk.com

 

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Mangal II: G-Spotting

There is a good reason why one would travel as far north as Dalston to Mangal II. I came across a drunk man unleashing his pole-dancing talent on a busy street; I saw fresh seabass and king prawns being sold on that same street; but these were not the reason. Was it the ocakbasi-style restaurant itself? Yes, but no. Anyway, let’s talk about food first.

The cuisine at Mangal II was more Turkish Kurdish than Iraqi Kurdish while the restaurant boast a massive ocak grill at the back of the dining room. This open fire grill was instrumental in their cooking and marked the difference between Mangal II and other Middle Eastern restaurants.

But that was not my “reason” to pay my £ for the overground ticket for the meal of a lifetime at Mangal II.

Waiting for my raison d’etre of the evening, I asked for Tarama – a paste of pink whipped cod roe – and Yogurtlu Patlican Ezme – aubergine puree with yoghurt and lemon juice. Both dishes were served with warm flat but quite soft bread. The cod roe paste was very fishy and a bit too salty for my liking, while the aubergine puree, not described on the menu as a yoghurt-y dip, was, as said, yoghurt-y. The taste of aubergine was missing. Yoghurt, I should recap, and a few other diary produce are big in Kurdish cuisine. In the two dishes I ordered it was a dominant flavour making both taste not much different from each other.

More substantial Kurdish dishes are not far off from Turkish, Iraqi or Iranian and can be generally divided into the grill and the stew. To my understanding, Kurdish cuisine owes much to the long history of the Kurds’ nomadic life. Accordingly, dishes become less complicated than that of Turkish or Iraqi. My skewer of grilled lamb sweetbread was decent but could do with some sauce or more aggressive marinate. Interestingly, the dish was also let down by the domineering scent of the charcoal. Lamb, in my book, should smell like lamb. Mangal II’s ocak grill worked very oddly against the dish. My other bib’s Yogurtlu Pilic Sis – if I didn’t get the name wrong – was a dish of grilled chicken breasts submerged in yoghurt and toppled with tomato sauce. Despite the moisture from the yoghurt and the sauce, the chunks of chicken were dry. Overall, the dish suffered from a distinct lack in flavour dimension. I feel there is always a fine line between recreating an authentic dish and making the dish taste complete. Mangal II hasn’t quite achieved that yet in the dishes we ordered.

While my taste bud was being numbed by the flavour of the charcoal, my “reason” entered the restaurant in a green suit.

And took his seat.

His name was Gilbert..

The uno of the infamous British artist duo Gilbert & George. Think Ant & Dec but artsy and classy. Google if you seriously have no clue who they – Gilbert & George or Ant & Dec are. Rumours had it that this artist duo frequented Mangall II every night for god know how many years.. I was there to verify this urban legend; and he was there; and my heart leapt in joy.

A moment later George walked in.. and it was such a highlight for the day.

It took me quite a moment for my adrenaline to subside and my gastronomic interest to settle once again. Then, looking down at my sweetbread, I was not sure why G&G were there every single night..

We did not ask for desserts.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.

MANGAL II

4 Stoke Newington Road
Hackney
London
N16 8BH

Tel. 020 7254 7888

www.mangal2.com
Mangal II on Urbanspoon

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Maroush I: A Lebanese Crash Course

In this 21st century, Britons and the immigrants seem to agree that kebab is the new chips. Despite its popularity, it is not always easy to tell where your dose of kebab originate from. There is, surely, a cross over of origins – India, Central Asia, Iran, Lebanon, etc. – which, if you do not come from one of those regions, you don’t care much about. Neither did I, not the least when I was pissed and needed a greasy fix to seal off my late night ecstasy. Now I feel like tracing back the many kinds of kebab – not just in this post but in a few more to come – and shall we begin?

Middle Eastern Kebab?

The term “kebab” now is a blanket terminology over many kinds of grilled meat: say, doner kebab, also known as, a pile of meat grilled on a vertical rotating stick, or shish kebab as minced meat on iron skewers. This idea of cooking is believed to have borne out of Persian warriors and their cooking of meat in open fire with their swords. Mint, innit?

It seems, in London, the best place to kick of my kebab tasting is on Edgware Road. Maroush I – and also many other Maroush, Ranoush and my lover Beirut Express – is a safe choice for a Middle Eastern food virgin. It’s a nice place with good quality food, though the service can be relatively negligent. How negligent? I’d say, you’ll get this free bowl of green olives when the staff feel like giving you one…

The cold and hot mezze dishes at Maroush I are relatively generous in portion and ooze authenticity. Any first-timer can never go wrong with a plate of grilled Halloumi cheese. The texture and taste of Halloumi is a faint reminiscence of cow-milk mozzarella but more salty and dense in texture. Also, halloumi always makes this screeching noise when you chew on it. The ones at Maroush were very thickly sliced and I could taste some real great quality!

The usual cold mezze dishes I’d recommend are Moussaka and Moutabal Baba Ghanoush. Moussaka is a tomato-based aubergine stew with chick peas, served cold. It was sour and sweet, mellow and slightly crunchy. The aubergine pieces at Maroush were chunky, unlike many other places. The baba ghanoush – grilled aubergine puree with sesame paste and lemon juice – was smoky and velvety. Both came with (free) warm flat bread to sweep the bowls with. If these look too daring, get yourselves a Houmous. It was also very good!

Other dishes I had had this more acquired taste. The Boiled Lamb Tongue served on a bed of crunchy lettuce with lemon juice was interesting in its simplicity. The chewy texture of the tongue as well as the very lamb-y scent – as the dish was prepared without any herb or marinate – could easily put a few Lebanese food virgins off. The Samaka Harra – baked fish with spiced ratatouille – might fare better. The big and firm piece of fish was toppled with fragrant fried onions and rather spicy mixed vegetable, which overpowered the delicate flavour of the fish a bit. Good value for money, nonetheless.

Then there was this Mixed Grilled to share. You’d get mini Shish kebab, grilled chunks of lamb and chicken in this platter designated for two diner. All meat was moist, tender and cooked to serious perfection. This was a deconstructed kind of good kebab. You’d have to put a bit of onions, green peppers and tomatoes into the flat bread yourselves, and then the hot sauce and the cooling garlic sauce.

Flavour-wise, it was well worth your DIY effort!!

Cooling down…

It was a pity Maroush I did not have a good selection of desserts; there was only Baklava available. This platter came with a variety of nutty choices: cashew nuts, peanuts and pistachios. The puff pastry was well soaked in diabetically sweet syrup but it still retained the crisp.

One meal done and there will be a few more kebab tasting meals to go..

*licking lips*

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

MAROUSH I

21 Edgware Road
Marylebone
London
W2

Tel. 020 7723 0773

www.maroush.com

Maroush 1 on Urbanspoon

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Beirut Express: Best of Shawarma

UPDATED 7 JUNE 2011

The best Shawarma wrap in London..

Somebody told me this.

I was first taken to Beirut Express by my other bib. I didn’t do cheap caff-like restaurants back then. But, as it happened, I was thrilled by the offering at this unassuming Lebanese eatery. The theatricality is unmissable. Tons of rotating meat with the chefs’ rashly carving it off during bustling service. You could feel the aggression in the slicing, the heat burning your face and char your skin if seated at the kitchen counter.

Big menu. Not as elaborate as Maroush (of which Beirut Express is a spin-off but surpasses in taste). Get drinks from the juice bar. All squeezed to order. Great variations, including lemon, orange, melon, pineapple, carrot, and the list goes on and on and on……

An easy way to get through the menu is to get a Mixed Starter (Houmous, Babaganoush, Parsley Salad, Moussaka, Pickled Vine Leaves, Falafel, Yogurt). £10? A melange of many things so delicious. Velvety houmous and delicately smoked babaganoush. Infectious. I couldn’t really eat them anywhere else now. Chunky bits of aubergine in tomato concentrate for their moussaka. Crispy skin falafel. So fragrant. I could go on and on about this!! The platter comes with warm flat bread and pickles.

Not particularly keen on the vine leaves.. but it’s my personal preference.

Our “special” = Halloumi Cheese

They do grilled and deep fried ones.. great quality cheese it squeaks when you eat. Inch-and-a-half thick!!! I love the deep fried ones but never manage to hang around and take pictures. Expect bursting crusty cheesy and something gummy inside.

And the Shawarma wrap. Mine is usually of mixed meats. Chicken and lamb. Wrapped in warm flat bread. Crunchy onion and salad. Garlic and chilli cream.. (sometimes it can be greasy but) it always satisfies me ^_^

And to finish off my meal.

Half a kilo of Baklava to go. At £6. Crispy layers not drown by the honey. Clear and generous crushed cashew nut filling. Too bad they don’t do any other variety. It suffices..

After years Beirut Express becomes the kind of greasy finger food I couldn’t resist. Many impulsive trips at midnight (as the place is shut at 2am). There will be a queue. There is always a queue at any time of the day.

More than happy to wait.. for all that food.

One thing. Don’t expect too much for the service. They’re there to do the job… not to smile and start conversation.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

BEIRUT EXPRESS EDGWARE

112-114 Edgware Road
London
W2

Tel. 020 7724 2700

www.maroush.com/pages/bexpress.htm

Beirut Express on Urbanspoon