Original material by Ben Norum.
Welcome to a series of articles rounding-up the very best restaurants in London for specific cuisines. We’re not necessarily talking authenticity here, rather the kind of food we really love to eat. Value is kept firmly in mind, and most of our picks represent this. On the flip side, of course, some places are so good they're worth saving up for.
As ever, please do let us know your experiences of these restaurants and other recommendations in the comments below.
Before settling into its home on Westbourne Grove, Al Waha was based near Piccadilly for years. In both locations it served some of the finest Lebanese cuisine in London, and continues to do so. The name means ‘oasis’ in Arabic and the calm, plant-filled space is fitting, but the real beauty here is in the high octane flavours. Highlights from a long menu of well-priced, traditional mezze include hummus and moutabel (aubergine dip) which are exemplary in showing just how well these classics can be executed. Then there's spicy paprika-rich sujuk sausages, and foul medames (broad beans) that are brought to life with garlic, lemon and peppery olive oil.
Al Waha, 75 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UL
Arabica Bar & Kitchen
After trading at Borough Market for more than ten years, mezze-led food stall Arabica Food & Spice decided to upgrade to a fully-fledged restaurant in 2014. The team have made a buzzy home of a railway arch around the corner, serving vibrant, spice-filled dishes and similarly punchy Eastern-inspired cocktails. A few of our favourite eats are the fragrant pigeon pastilla encased in flaky filo, sensationally oozy grilled halloumi, tender lamb ribs cooked in cherry molasses glaze, and a duck and date shish cut through with sharp apple.
Classics such as hummus, stuffed vine leaves and falafel are also executed with flair. Be aware that portions are small (even for small plates), so prices can add up pretty quickly if you’re hungry — it’s worth splashing out a little, though.
Arabica Bar & Kitchen, 3 Rochester Walk, SE1 9AF
Honey & Co
This small Warren Street eatery looks like an unremarkable café, but the food tells a different story. A fairly classical selection of both mezze and main dishes are escalated by searingly fresh flavours, led by some very good quality vegetables, olives and oils, as well as a confident and capable kitchen.
Lamb meatballs gain an alluring sweetness from an apricot-studded sauce, creamy labneh (strained yoghurt cheese) well matched with the robust flavour of roasted red peppers and the crunch of pistachios, and falafel so heavy on herbs they appear slightly green, are pleasantly crisp on the outside and moist within. Just around the corner you'll also find their sister restaurant, Honey & Smoke, which is all about the grill, while opposite the original on Warren Street is Honey & Spice — a food store where you can find the ingredients to make your own Middle Eastern delicacies at home.
Honey & Co, 25a Warren Street, W1T 5LZ
Tucked away on a Maida Vale side street, Kateh is a charming little restaurant that serves Iranian-inspired dishes with contemporary touches. Meats and vegetables cooked to smoky succulence on the char-grill are a highlight, alongside intricate salads, fluffy fresh breads and traditional yoghurt-based dips. Tagine-like stews laced with dried limes, prunes and apricots are rich and enchanting in their myriad flavours, most served with saffron-infused rice. Upstairs is buzzy when busy (which is most of the time), while a basement area offers more intimacy.
Kateh, 5 Warwick Place, W9 2PX
The Maroush restaurant group has been serving Lebanese food in London since 1981 and now has 16 restaurants around west London. This branch on Edgware Road is the original and — along with Maroush Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge — still the best. It is traditional, lively and low-priced, and the tome-like menu overflows with choice. The cooking is authentic and homely rather than exceptional and the service can be a tad abrupt, but if you’re after the Middle Eastern experience of shisha and live entertainment then Maroush is the highlight of an often disappointing road of similar looking restaurants.
Maroush 21, 21 Edgware Road, W2 2JE
If cooking good food is the most important quality a restaurant should strive for, having a genuine character of its own is a close second. Set in riverside Hammersmith, Mes Amis has been doing well at the former for more than 20 years but knocks the socks off pretty much everywhere else in terms of the latter.
An unassuming doorway leads into a brightly coloured dreamscape of mismatched furniture, fans, flowers and lanterns. Not to mention banjos, masks, soft toys and all manner of other nick-nacks. A small corner constitutes an open kitchen, where chef-patron James Ilyas whips up juicy skewered meats, cheese pastries, substantial dips and other Lebanese-inspired dishes to be served at incredibly modest prices to the 15-20 diners who can squeeze in. It’s cheap enough that we’ll let it off for being cash only.
Mes Amis, 1 Rainville Road, W6 9HA
This Soho restaurant from Israeli chef, food writer and TV personality Yotam Ottolenghi is so named as it sits north (No) of Piccadilly (pi). The menu allows diners to either opt for individual starters and mains, or choose several to share at the table tapas-style. There’s also the choice of the informal café-style downstairs or a more restaurant-y area upstairs.
Fresh, bright flavours and bold textures are the signatures here, with some stand-outs including roasted aubergine with saffron yoghurt, mixed seeds and pickled chillies; beef with fennel; courgette and manouri fritters; and succulent twice-cooked baby chicken with lemon myrtle salt and chilli sauce. This good stuff doesn’t come cheap, though — be prepared to pay in excess of £20 for a main dish. Alternatively, make a breakfast trip for the likes of shakshuka (eggs poached in tomatoes) with smoked labneh (strained yoghurt), or black rice with banana and mango. It’s a notably good bet for vegetarians at all times of day.
Nopi, 21-22 Warwick Street, W1B 5NE
The eponymous deli-café chain that first made a name for Yotam Ottolenghi now has four branches: Islington, Notting Hill, Belgravia and Spitalfields. A changing selection of salads from the counter is the main attraction, with herbs, cheeses, roasted nuts and spiced dressings enlivening leaves and vegetables. There are also meat and fish dishes, which for the most part present excellent ingredients simply cooked. A heaving display of cakes, bakes, meringues and other temptations for the sweet toothed are piled up for afterwards.
We’ve saved the best 'til last. This Soho restaurant is almost unanimously raved about by all who visit it — including us — and rightly so. It’s a spin-off from Jerusalem’s hip Machneyuda restaurant, which has made a name for itself in the conservative city for taking traditional Israeli dishes and serving them with international twists, which controversially have sometimes included pork.
Three chefs from this restaurant are also partners in The Palomar, though this is a spiritual sister rather than a roll-out. Highlights include a sensationally rich polenta, a flavour-packed and texturally exciting ‘deconstructed kebab’ shakshukit, and some of the fluffiest and most delicious bread we’ve tried in the form of kubaneh. Genuinely friendly service, chefs that send out extra plates as ‘gifts’, and a bar that looks straight into the kitchen are further high-points. The only downside is the fact that it’s near-impossible to get a table without either booking weeks in advance or queuing for a seat at the bar.
The Palomar, 34 Rupert Street, W1D 6DN
The Barbary: After The Palomar's success, it's no surprise a sister restaurant has popped up in the form of The Barbary in Covent Garden. Middle Eastern but with North African influences, it's a firm favourite of Londonist's Lydia Manch.
Peckham Bazaar: Great ingredients and exciting flavours make this petite restaurant, set between Peckham and Nunhead stations, another recommendation of Lydia Manch.
Comptoir Libanais: There are now 12 branches of these brightly coloured all-day Lebanese eateries across town, including Gatwick, Heathrow and both Westfields. And there's more on the way.
Levant: Belly-dancing and bar snacks or full mezze platters in an atmospheric Marylebone basement.
Noura: Authentic cooking from a couple of Beirut restaurateurs with restaurants in Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Mayfair.
Orjowan: Rich and vibrant flavours set this homely Lebanese local in Earls Court aside from other Middle Eastern eateries in the area.
Yalla Yalla: This casual and competitively priced mezze chain has branches in Soho, Fitzrovia and Shoreditch.
Persepolis: A local shop-slash-cafe favoured by Peckham residents (and Londonist's Ruth Hargreaves), Persepolis is a gem of a place serving snacky Persian delights with utmost hospitality.
Berber & Q: A final recommendation by Lydia Manch, this barbecue joint in Haggerston serves up oozy, charred meat dishes and a veggie-friendly cauliflower shawarma which is truly divine. For something more central, check out their Exmouth Market Shawarma Bar instead.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.