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Monday, August 13, 2007

Mata'm Abu Ali

A lazy Summer Saturday, after an unsuccessful quest for a decent 'mandolina' in Oxford Street (yes we know, wrong place), it’s past 8.00 p.m and we are not in the mood (nor in the attire - not that we usually dress up, but there is a limit to everything) for a full dinner out, but we’d still like to relax over some light meal…and Edgware Road is just round the corner beaconing with its Lebanese offerings. Hop on the scooter (what else did you expect from Italians ;) ), we skip all the Maroush incarnations (below par for both service and food every time we’ve been there) and we go to Abu Ali, out favourite humble Lebanese joint, at 136-138 George Street, London, W1H 5LD (020 7724 6338).

It’s a very simple and bare affair, but enlivened by the numerous 'shisha pipe' smokers outside. There’s plenty of equipment for the purpose:

(the blurring of the photo is clearly an effect of the smoke rather than our photographic incompetence...). We don’t smoke, so we go inside, where a TV is perennially on, perennially showing either songs or news. Despite our attempts to study Arabic we continue not to understand a word of either, so we focus on the

From the long list offering standard Lebanese fare (starters/mezes around the £3.50 mark, mains around £7-8) we pick Ful Moudammas (Stewed broad beans in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice), Taboulleh (Finely chopped parsley salad, with mint, pepper and crushed wheat), Koushari (Rice with boiled lentils toped with fried onions), Falafels (fried chick pea balls), Baba Ghanoush (grilled and mashed aubergine) and Shish kebab with rice.

Ehm, maybe for a light snack this is a little overenthusiastic ordering…but the place puts us in a good mood.

Everything is more than satisfactory and certainly not worse than in many of the posher, glitzier and more expensive Lebanese alternatives in the vicinities. In fact, some things are positively very good and bursting with flavours. The taboulleh is generous in quantity, very fresh, very zesty and nicely prepared.

The Ful Mudammas has a nicely lemony taste perfectly balancing the olive oil:

The Falafels have an excellent texture from really good frying.

And the best, the Babaghanoush: Tremendous toasted flavour in the rich, creamy consistency. Here it is next to the taboulleh:

We drank Ayran (a salty yoghurt drink, £2.00) over the meal, while a complimentary set of pickles and a generous portion of pitta bread was served

(we thought of taking some with us for the next time we go to Arbutus...).

We finished with a mint tea (which came as a combination of a fantastic amount of real mint and a rather needless Lipton bag. Two ‘baklava’-like sweets (we don’t know the Arabic name) were generously offered, how nice!

Hold tight, all this (we were stuffed full by the end, forget the light meal) for £33.50! This place skips all the flashy decorations and refuses to change its drab decor (you're unlikely to meet the Blairs here, despite them living in the area and him having developed a taste for the Middle East); but foodwise, though it’s not fine dining, it can’t be faulted. At these prices in London, it is a bargain. Next time you are approaching the end of Oxford Street, and you do not feel like a full Locatelli meal, leave Cavendish Square behind and consider going to relax for a fourth of the price at Abu Ali.


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