Lebanese, 11 Church Street, Reigate RH2 0AA (07495 528919). Messe £5.95 – £6.95, larger plates £9.50 – £17.50, desserts £5, wine from £24.95
With bad places, the moment never comes, no matter how you wish it were otherwise. Perhaps you make provisions for clumsy service, excessive decor, or the overly challenging menu full of simplistic attributes – lavish! Tasty! Fat! – which makes you mutter, “I’ll be the judge of that.” You accept it all in the hope that something you ordered will arrive and you’ll take one look at it and know, the way you know your name, that everything will actually be fine. With bad places, this dish never quite arrives.
With really good places, the moment always comes early. At Lebnani in Reigate, the first reassuring sign comes very early: a small glass bowl of intensely flavored black and green olives, delivered to the table with water. It was as if its consistency had concentrated its very salty essence within the taut, lustrous skin. It is mixed with preserved lemon, salted and chopped, and sprinkled with red pepper cubes. We pick them compulsively, sometimes with cocktail sticks, sometimes with our fingers until their tips shine with oils. Soften the slightly bitter edges with cups of their own lemonade, flavored with apple and ginger, or pomegranate and orange blossom.
Then Fattoush arrives in Beirut and we know, from the simplest look, that we have already found our way to the right table. It’s beauty. The delicate curls of the fried flatbread are golden and lightly oiled, covered in the deep purple of sumac. Some of these citruses have found their way into the bright green color of the leaves and cucumbers underneath. Shiny, burt, sapphire jewels of pomegranate finish the picture. You know it would be nice to eat, long before you raise your fork in fervor: crisp and refreshing, bright and rancid. It’s the food that makes you feel like you’re engaged in a deep self-care exercise. It’s “me” time in a series of beautiful dishes.
Lebanese Executive Chef and Owner is Beirut-born Gad Youssef who in 2008 founded what has become a small Come on Come on A group of Lebanese restaurants in central London before it was sold. For a while, he drove the kitchen at Fakhruddin, a fancier, now closed, and then joined a similar restaurant in Hong Kong as an executive chef. Now it’s also here in Surrey’s commuter belt, with a menu of appetizers at around £6 a plate and larger plates for your mid-teens. From Tuesday to Friday, they wrap you in salad, hummus and pickles for £11.95. Apparently, Youssef splits his time between the two restaurants, which, given their 5,989 miles distance – thank you kind Mr. Google for that exact number – sounds like a challenge. In fact, it seems to be a recipe for calling him.
He obviously knows how to work in a restaurant and relay recipes from afar. Or maybe we should give all the credit to the people who actually cook and serve the food here on a daily basis. Lebanese is a small but perfectly managed restaurant, with a beautiful half-tiled floor in white and blue, turquoise-lined banquettes and an open kitchen that pumps up the scents of goodies grilling over charcoal.
A little suggestion would surprise anyone who considers themselves reasonably well versed in the classic eastern Mediterranean repertoire. Versions of these dishes can be found from one end of the Middle East to the other. Here is the offer of falafel, hummus, tabbouleh and shish kebab. But in Lebanon it comes with a light and particularly refreshing touch. Bring two sprays of lemon juice, drops of green olive oil, and finely chopped fresh herbs. Bring on sunlight.
It is a reminder to me how much I love cooking in Lebanon. Small grape leaves, tightly wrapped, stuffed with rice, and covered in a dice of tomato, each one is perfect. There is a light, semi-foamy eggplant mash, smoked off the grill, the flavor deepened by the generous addition of garlic and tahini. The well in the middle is filled with olive oil, and danced with chopped chives. The hummus here is so creamy: It fills the soft pillows of flatbread like the best garlic-slicked butter. For an extra £1.50, they add a small mound of sweet, tender beef shawarma, topped with an overnight marinade seasoning, a dollop of nutmeg and cumin, paprika, cloves and more.
We have two charcoal grills. Chunks of chicken shish, breast drenched in lemon and red pepper paste, give the charred meat a rich bronze luster. On the side is a pot of tom, a wonderful white garlic sauce. Then there are the kebabs of minced and seasoned lamb shoulder, seasoned with spices, with their own little dish of tahini sauce to help him on his way. Both come on the same flawless layer of rice, spun with vermicelli, that Lebanese rice-cooking miracle where each buttery grain hangs together rather than clinging to starch to the other for safety. There’s roasted sweet peppers, sumac-marinated tomatoes, and a red onion salad.
The only thing they don’t make here is baklava. It’s a good example, but pay more attention to the pudding, a soothing milk pudding topped with ground pistachios and sweetened with a light touch of rosewater syrup. In the case of Prosecco, the entire wine list comes from the wonderful homes of the Bekaa Valley and Mount Lebanon, and includes affordable offers from the distinguished Chateau Masar. Next door is a branch of Cafe Rouge, which seems to do a somewhat better job at lunchtime. not the best price; In fact, if anything, you’ll get a smaller bill in Lebanon. I agree of course that some people prefer fake French to banging on the Lebanese. I know people make these choices. The problem is that I don’t understand why.
Much-admired Hyssop in the Derbyshire town of Glossop launched a crowdfunding campaign to enable their business to continue, after a fire destroyed the building. The fire broke out upstairs and they are now working on a way to trade and pay their employees and suppliers while the rebuilding work begins. To donate go over here.
A legal row has erupted in the small Mexican food restaurant sector in London. As I mentioned for the first time before eat london website, capLtd., which has outlets in Notting Hill and Exmouth Market, has filed for a stay against Sonora Takeria, a street food stall in Hackney, claiming to have trademark protection over the word “taqueria”. Sonora representatives pointed out that the Mexican term “taqueria” is similar to the word “pizzeria” which, being generic, cannot be monopolized. The case refers to the case of the Vietnamese Pho chain that, in 2013, claimed the rights to the name of Vietnam’s national dish. Regardless of the strength of the legal case, Pho eventually backed down in the face of consumer anger.
Finally, farewell to the great Alain Lhermitte who for half a century owned the magnificent Mon Plaisir Hotel in Covent Garden, London until it was sold earlier this year, his death was declared. Lermitt, then 80, came to Britain in his 20s with the ambition of being a racing driver, but got into the restaurant business. He joined Mon Plaisir, and rose to master’s degree, before buying it from the Viala family in 1972. At the time, he’d flawlessly developed Gallic Restaurant from a bric-a-brac stuffed room to four.
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