Good evening folks, long time no posting! Apologies for the radio silence over the last month… Things have been pretty hectic throughout the past few weeks… I moved out of my flat in Camden, moved back in with my parents for a week, then moved back to London to a lovely temporary apartment in West Kensington and I started a job at a very exciting new restaurant, so I’ve not really had the chance to dine out at all… Well, actually, that’s a lie as i’ve also been given the VERY exciting job of writer for the incredible Tastecard blog, for which I have now written three articles! You can read those reviews here!
But yes, other than those restaurants, i’ve just not had the time to eat out and share with you my thoughts, and for that I am sorry… but the one saving grace about doing some work in a brand new restaurant in Borough Market is that I was given the chance to try almost the entire menu, and so by extension and default, I have for you a review of a brand new restaurant which officially opens on Monday… and yes, it may be a faux pas to write about a restaurant you have an emotional investment in, and of course you may think I am being biased, but I promise you i’m not. Just ask the friends and family I have forced to join me in the past week for the soft launch… they’ll tell you that the kind words i’m about to share with you are honest and quite true!
The Arabica Bar & Kitchen is a restaurant that freshly produces food from the Levant (the eastern most region of the Mediterranean; Syria, Turkey, Palestine, Jordan, Israel & Lebanon) and has been two years in the making. In fact, more accurately, it has been 14 years in the making, as it began life back in 1999 as a market stall with an 8ft trestle table and a cool box just around the corner from where it now currently stands under the rail arches. Since then the Arabica products from it’s Food & Spice company have found themselves venturing into the likes of Wholefoods, Harrods, Fortnum & Masons and more substantially in Selfridges where Arabica hosts a permanent concession selling all of the favourites from the market stall, which still runs Wednesday through to Saturday every week.
Unlike the market stall, which can also be found at the Real Food Festival at the Southbank Centre and at Broadway Market in Hackney, the restaurant serves a selection of clay oven, grilled and charcoal dishes, as well as a fantastic choice of desserts, an exotic collection of cocktails and a wine list that has no geographical boundaries! All of course in addition to the classic dips, nibbles, falafel and baklava which can be found on the stalls.
When I first applied for the job at Arabica, I have to admit I was slightly sceptical. I’ve never really been overly fond of middle eastern food; i’m not a fan of lamb, I have never really seen the point of falafel when you can have meat (sorry veggies!) and I never found myself too excited by a kofta… but in the past two weeks my eyes have been opened and my pallet has been proven wrong!
ABK doesn’t do starters, mains and desserts. Instead it does courses, of which, if you go by the individual sections of the menu, you can have 9! You’d be silly not to start with the Arabica Spiced Popcorn as it is spiced with the restaurants own blend of spices, including Ras el Hanout (made from cinnamon, cumin,, cloves, nutmeg, galangal and rose petals). You can graze on these while you peruse the rest of the menu. When it comes to the dips, I don’t think I can sing the praises of the Muhummara loud enough – this is a small plate of spiced roasted red peppers and toasted mixed kernels. It’s sweet, with a fantastic texture which is thick and mildly lumpy (in a good way!) All of the dips come with complimentary flatbread for scooping and dipping, and another worth ordering is the Tarama (better known to us all as taramasalata, which is a staple element of my diet) – unlike the taramasalata we all know from the shelves of the super markets, Arabica’s tarama is not pink! That’s just something the mass producers use to make the product stand out on the shelves. The Arabica tarama is instead cream in colour, very smooth and absolutely delicious!
Moving onto the other courses, my favourites are Kibbeh Nayeh from the Raw & Cured section of the menu which is essentially lamb tartare, and the Makale Samak from the Fried section (or fried whitebait to you and me!) This dish is great if you’re feeling cautious about leaving your comfort zone.
The Clay Oven is for me the best course, and I have recommended to all who have asked my opinion that they try the Armenian style Lahmacun (la-muh-jun) which is essentially a Turkish style pizza, or a flatbread topped with spiced lamb, tomato, onion, peppers and pine kernels. Despite not liking lamb, I honestly think this is one delicious plate of food. The meat is juicy, welled seasoned and the flatbread is crispy. I prefer not to share my food (i’m a pig. Sorry, not sorry) but this is really perfect for sharing if you’re feeling generous. Also from this section, both the Man’ousheh dishes (za’ata and haloumi) are fantastic and mouthwatering.
From the stove and grill, I don’t think you can go far wrong with the sauteed chicken livers with pomegranate molasses, which is a stunning plate that goes incredibly well with the sparkling shiraz (more about that later), and I can’t help but find myself in love with the courgtte, feta and herb omelette which is similar to a spanish tortilla and full of flavour!
My charcoal dish of choice has to be the Chicken and Pistacio Taouk which is basically a shish kebab, with a great combination of flavours, and the Tabouleh salad is refreshing and a great accompaniment to almost all of the dishes I have spoken of.
To end your meal, I don’t think there is a better dish on the menu than the Knafeh which is a warm Levantine cheese pastry with orange blossom honey and crushed pistachios. It looks a little like a shallow bowl of angel hair spaghetti which has been baked and turned crispy, and I know you might be thinking ‘a cheese pastry dessert? err, what?!’ but it’s not like cheddar or stilton… it’s light, sweet and honestly addictive. It’s recommended for sharing but I would have one to myself (which I did!)
When it comes to the drinks, the most delicious soft option is the Hibiscus Quencher which is similar in colour to cranberry juice, and reasonably similar in flavour. The lebanese lemonade (say that 5 times fast!) also has a great mouth watering tang to it that will make your mouth pucker.
The wine list transports you across the globe, from the better known wine regions of France, Spain, New Zealand, Italy, Austria and Hungary, to the Levant. As far as we know, Arabica is the only restaurant in London, if not the UK, that offers wines from Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Sod the politics, ABK is all about the best wines to accompany the food and stay true to the cuisine.
My favourite on the whole list is one only served by the bottle, and is one which when describes, always gets an eyebrow raise. I am talking about the Majella sparkling Shiraz. Yes, you read correctly. This sparkling red wine is obviously served chilled, and while it has all the characteristics of red that we know and love, it is made with the same techniques used to make champagne. It’s reminiscent of a sangria as it is mildly sweet, but it still has some oaky notes that hit the tongue. It goes particularly well with the chicken livers. I would definitely recommend you treat yourself to a bottle.
I’m afraid I am unable to be unbiased about the service, but knowing the team as I do, I can tell you that they are all helpful, kind, passionate and eager to recommend the other dishes on the menu. The vibe in the restaurant is relaxed, comfortable and it is obvious that a lot of love and attention has gone into creating the unforgettable experience you will have when you dine here.
With that, I hope you feel that my words have been honest, and that you might just consider giving your tastebuds a holiday to an area of the world we wouldn’t necessarily recommend the rest of your body takes (in parts, of course – not wanting to generalise!) and book yourself a table at this brand new bar and kitchen. Doors open for food at 12pm Monday through to Saturday.