A Little Lebanese In Streatham
We’ll admit that Streatham isn’t the first locality that springs to mind when thinking about Lebanese food. There’s an Italian community, sure (they make some of the best pizza in London), but we’ve never really associated the area with fattoush or shawarma. Ilili looks somewhat incongruous too, with its sunny and rather smart frontage popping opposite a vast, shabby bingo hall. We visited on a wet Tuesday lunchtime when it was, understandably, dead. The weather was truly miserable in fact, and there was serious need for the bright flavours of Lebanese cuisine: sumac, lemon and pickles.
First came hummus beiruti (£4.50) which, while not as good as any we’ve had in Lebanon, or on Edgware Road for that matter, was whipped super smooth (a defining characteristic of this style) and spun through with coriander. The portion is a little small for the price however, and someone in the kitchen has a heavy hand with the lemon juice, something we continued to struggle with throughout the meal.
Chicken wings are niftily butchered into lollipops of meat, making them easy to work over, and the spicing is good and clean, even if we do wish they had a stronger thwack of garlic and a lighter touch (again) with the lemon juice. We enjoyed the silken texture of the makdous alongside though, a dish of baby aubergines stuffed with red pepper paste, walnuts and garlic, and preserved in olive oil. Common throughout Lebanon and Syria, it's a curious mix of rich spreadable flesh and acidic preserve. Pickles are as solid as ever, a selection of classic neon pink turnip strips (they're coloured with beetroot), mild chillies and crisp, faintly musty (that's a good thing) Lebanese cucumbers.
Best of all is arayes, a dish of spiced minced lamb, cooked with onion, pepper and parsley, then grilled between flatbreads and finished with pomegranate molasses. A lemon wedge comes alongside, naturally... The richness of the lamb is very welcome here after battling all that acidity, and we've heard from a friend of Londonist that the makanek is one of the best dishes on the menu (house made lamb sausages fried with pine nuts and pomegranate molasses). Next time.
All in all then, a satisfying lunch that comes to just £24.20 for two people, without alcohol, which brings us nicely to one of the best things about Ilili — it's BYO booze. They have a wine list, but they also let you bring your own anyway and don't charge corkage. Brilliant. We left with rotund bellies and wallets that weren't much lighter, but we'll admit to considering sneaking around the back to confiscate that giant box of lemons.
Ilili, 53 Streatham Hill, London SW2 4TS
Last Updated 26 August 2015