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Tuesday 12 January 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Zengi


After reading rave reviews by Time Out a couple of weeks ago, Dr G and I decided to visit this newly opened Turkish/Iraq restaurant on Commercial Street, E1. I normally go to Green Lanes, particularly “Antepliler” for my fix of Turkish food, but we were curious to try a local BYO place with some interesting Iraq dishes on their menu.

The entrance is not the most attractive part of this new restaurant, and I firstly wondered where we would be sitting as there is little sitting area at that level. The basement is where Ali, the owner’s son, brought us to, and we were pleased to find a warm and comfortable dining area there. 


The décor is simple but elegant, with white, arched alcoves furnished with colourful cushions & hanging lanterns creating a relaxed and private ambience. I don’t normally like eating at lower ground (unless it is Hakkasan) but was pleasantly surprised to find such a well furnished and cosy spot.

Ali was very attentive, and took great care and time explaining the various dishes on the menu to us. Soon after placing our order, he brought us a basket with freshly stone-baked bread which was hot and delicious. 

The first of the three mezze dishes that we ordered to arrive was “Mutabel” @ £3.50, an aubergine based dip with yoghurt, garlic and tahini. Despite the somewhat unappetising look of the dish, it tasted good and had a creamy and nutty finish from the tahini.

The second mezze was “Soudah” @ £4, a plate of fried chicken livers with onions, chopped peppers and coriander. I could also taste cinnamon and cayenne pepper in the spicy sauce although not much else. Despite loving chicken livers, I felt that this dish was a bit disappointing, good but not outstanding, and a tad dry.



The “Mosul Kibbeh” @ £3.50, a traditional dish of northern Iraq was an interesting choice. I had eaten kibbeh many times before but never in this way. Similar to a flattened stuffed croquette, a thin layer of cracked wheat had been filled with spiced meat, almonds and sultanas and fried. 

I really wanted to enjoy this dish but I was slightly underwhelmed by it – I felt that the fried cracked wheat “envelope” was hard and that there was not enough filling to justify all the chewing.

For main, I went for “Char-grilled Lamb Chops” @ £9.50 - this is my favourite dish at Antepliler, so I ordered this to find how Zengi’s version would compare. Zengi’s chops were delicious, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked but unfortunately there was not enough meat on them. At £9.50 I felt that the quantity of meat was a bit stingy, a problem that I never encountered at Antepliler.

Serving them on a large white plate (when there is not enough food to cover it) did not help either – the accompaniments, salad and rice, were passable - the salad did not look as vibrant and fresh as it could have done but it tasted fine.

“Dr G’s “Zengi Grill” @ £11.50 was a better choice. This consisted of pieces of lamb, kufta (or kofta) lamb shish kebab, and chicken tavouk (pieces). The meat was again well seasoned, very tender and perfectly cooked. 

We were served two small sauces (one garlicky and creamy and another spicy tomato relish) which accompanied the meat well, really bringing out the lamb flavours.  Ali also brought us some delicious pickles which had been made in the premises, and refilled our bread basket at no extra charge.

I noted in their menu a “Zengi Burger” @ £6.50 which unfortunately I was too full to try. According to the menu, it is made of grilled lamb burger, with sliced falafel and halloumi cheese topped with sweet pepper sauce and pickles in a stone baked sesame roll. It sounds very yummy, and I will most certainly come back for that.

Ali brought us our bill, and I noted that he accidentally overcharged us on the lamb chops but had forgotten to add the Mosul Kibbeh or the hot bread to the list of items. The total bill was therefore £32 for two excluding service.

I enjoyed my visit to Zengi and would like to return specially for their Turkish Burger and some of the other Iraq dishes I did not try this time. Ali was knowledgeable and passionate about his food which helped me to appreciate the menu and the food on offer. 

Verdict - Despite the teething problems, in my opinion, Zengi offers good quality food at very reasonable prices. Being a BYO makes it an even more affordable option although portion sizes and quality of accompaniments should be looked at. Excellent service. Recommended.

Zengi on Urbanspoon


  1. Did you point out the bill problem to them or did you just figure that it evened out?

  2. Hi Gourmet Chick, we did tell him, he was very apologetic and corrected the bill to £32. Apart from this, service was faultless.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  3. Great review - it's good to know you can find a decent Levantine eatery around Commercial Street. This does look like one to try, the Mosul Kibbeh in particular intrigued me - I wonder if it is a Kurdish dish? The Turkish burger sounded pretty tasty as well.

    Thanks for posting it, now there's another place to add to my list. I'll probably try out Antepliler too (I usually get my Turkish fix in Dalston so it'll be good to head out to Greenlanes for a change)

  4. Fab review. Funnily enough I was thinking of trying this place as it's very close to my flat, but after reading this I might give it a miss or at least give it a bit of time to get over those "teething" issues! Lovely to see you both on Sunday XX

  5. @ Grubworm - hi there, thanks for your commentary. The kibbeh was an interesting choice but now i have my eyes on their burger, i may be going back on Saturday just to try it.

    I recommend Antepliler on Green Lanes, their baklavah shop next door is also fantastic, the best baklava you will find.

    I really enjoyed reading your blog btw!

    @ Gastrogeek - hi Rej, I am sorry if i sounded too negative in my review, i think this place is ok and definitely deserves a visit. Being BYO makes it even more affordable.

  6. I had (or I think I had) Mosul Kibbeh at Jordan during a recent trip. There was mainly beans with some spices stuffed in it. Enjoyed it quite a bit. The dish (sliced into four quarters) cost a mere 15p! Then again, that's a local snack shop.

    Have you tried Hazev at Canary Wharf? The lamb shish was fabulous. :)

    C K

  7. Hey CK, thanks for stopping by. I love Levantine food and street food in such countries are sometimes the freshest and best you can get even at 15p.

    I haven't tried Hazev but will be checking it out. Have you reviewed it? I will have a look at your blog for it.

  8. Hmm, I'm in one of the photos (with my gf and my friend's bf). I really don't remember being papped that night!

  9. Hey mate, I hope you don't mind being "papped" by me, and as you can see, it is all for a foodie cause! Let me know if you would like me to take that picture off the site, and I will be glad to do that. But the real question is: what did you think of Zengi?

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  10. Loved reading your review - so in-depth! I go there quite often, probably once every few weeks and have to say that things just seem to have been getting better! I think the teething issues have been ironed out now and the food is only getting better.

    Ali is there as ever, to lend a helpful eye to the menu and always brings out something new for us to try at no extra cost. The service really is impeccable...

    Btw, the Zengi burger is definately worth a try!


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