We also ordered the special of the day – Grilled Baby Chicken (£9.95). It was a nice straight forward dish, with good, simple flavours but slightly overshadowed by all other sumptuous dishes that preceded it.
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Sunday, 20 September 2009
Lebanese Food is among my favourite cuisines, and I was counting the days to my dinner booking at Yalla Yalla. The combination of heady spices like cinnamon, sumac and coriander seeds, fresh herbs, pomegranate molasses and other exotic flavours make this cuisine a very sophisticated one.
There are large Lebanese and Syrian communities in Brazil and I was fortunate enough to have tried many of these countries’ main dishes. As in Beirut, sfiha and kibbe are part of the Brazilian street food culture and I had my fair share of these delightful snacks whilst living there.
Following rave reviews by Time Out and fellow food blogger World Foodie Guide, I decided to find out more. Off Brewer Street in Soho, Yalla Yalla is a small restaurant/cafe, beautifully designed in yellow, black and white. It is a warm, inviting and comfortable place, and very stylishly furnished.
It was a Friday evening at 21:15 when we arrived and we were quickly shown to our table. The place was heaving and the atmosphere was pleasantly boisterous. Their menu is reassuringly simple and short, and the accompanying wine list contains a few Lebanese options, one of these being my own favourite “Chateau Musar” at £18.75 which we promptly ordered.
Mr G, my dinner partner for the evening, and I decided to go for a selection of three meze dishes and then share a couple of mains. We started off with a plate of deep fried seafood (prawns, squid and whitebait) coated in a light crisp batter called “makalé samak”. The seafood was sitting on a bed of fried aubergines and tasted nicely of the sea. At £5.50, this was a satisfying little number.
Our second starter was by far the best of the evening – “kibbé nayyé”, a mixture of minced raw lamb with bulgur wheat, finely chopped onions, mint and coriander, priced at £4.50. We used to have this regularly at home, it being one of my dad’s favourites. Kibbe should be flattened out into a thin layer on your plate and seasoned with lime and olive oil for a few minutes prior to eating. The meat is cured like fish in “ceviche”, and should taste fresh and delicious. Very few dishes ever live up to childhood memories – but Yalla Yalla’s version was perfectly seasoned, the meat was fresh, and tasted as good as I remembered it as a child.
This was followed by another delectable starter of chicken livers cooked in pomegranate molasses called “Saeda Djej”. I was curious to try this, and found that the combination of flavours was outstanding. It was slightly sour from the pomegranate molasses but also sweet from the incredibly tender livers, a real winner at £3.50.
On my way home, I found a recipe for this dish in the “Syrian Foodie in London” blog. Kano is a real authority in Syrian cuisine and I would thoroughly recommend his blog to anyone wanting to learn more about the cuisines of that region.
The mains arrived as we were still nibbling our starters, which suited us well as we were sharing all dishes. The lamb casserole “Lahem Casserole” (£8), reminiscent of a North African tagine, was richly seasoned, the lamb was amazingly tender and went well with the spiced tomato base, swede, carrots, almonds, and accompanying rice.
Verdict – Stylish surroundings with unpretentious and authentic Lebanese food at a reasonable price. Every detail at Yalla Yalla was very well thought out - from their water jug to their food & wine lists and beautiful decor, they deserve every accolade they receive.