A few months back, one of my brothers was kind enough to put a few ‘guest posts’ up whilst I was away. They feature some nice looking photos of Lebanese food. If you didn’t see them, have a look here and here.
He would’ve been ideal company and sage counsel at Yalla Yalla a couple of days ago. This, after all, is a restaurant that defines itself by the not particularly original tag line “Beirut street food”.
But I didn’t go with him. I went with a different brother (there are quite a few of us), whose experience of the Middle East is more regime changing than foodie. Still, he had some decent observations and was generally pretty amusing. As far as elder brothers go.
We went to the branch of Yalla Yalla just off Oxford Street. The original restaurant is in Soho, and has quite a boho-independent vibe. I’ve tried to go to that one a few times, but it’s very small and I’ve never lasted the wait. The newer site is much bigger. What you gain in size and availability of seats, you lose in quaintness and intimacy; this one is altogether more brash and could well be a chain restaurant. But it’s a fun, informal and sociable space. If you go as a 2, 3 or 4, you’ll be sharing a long table with others. Fine by me.
There are some main courses on offer, but I expect most go for a selection of the mezze dishes. We had 6 between us. There are tasty and juicy jalapenos on the table and some olives too whilst you’re making your mind up.
I enjoyed the caramelised, charred lamb in our little dish of hommos shawarma, though personally prefer a little more texture in the hommos than there was here. Still good though. Tabboule was, as I’m told is correct, significantly more green than cracked wheat. I’d say the ratio was 95% parsley and mint, 0.5 % bulgar wheat and 4.5% other. Very enjoyable and great sandwiched in between some pitta with hommos and either one of the meat dishes we ordered.
We tried some sawda djej – mostly because I love pomegranate molases and this is what these sauteed chicken livers are marinated in. They were tender and punchy. Good stuff. I liked the Lebanese spicy sausage (soujoc). But wasn’t such a fan of the tomato sauce that it came in – there was a serious amount of lemon juice in there which I felt was overpoweringly acidic. Spinach parcels (fatayer spinach) were pretty boring. Probably knew that before ordering them though.
Better was a fairly decent sized chopped salad called fattoush, which was made up of gem lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radish, mint, sumac, red wine vinegar and bits of crispy pitta. It was refreshing and tasty and just a little bit different to green salads you often get.
Were we a bigger group, I would have liked to try a number of other mezze on offer – in particular their muhammara (roasted nut and red pepper dip), kibbe (deep fried balls of minced lamb – had a great example at Morito a while back) and the makale samak (deep fried tiger prawns with chilli minted greek yoghurt).
All in all we thought Yalla Yalla a worthwhile visit and a good option if you’re in the area – maybe you need a bite pre, post or during beers in the Fitzrovia area, or perhaps you simply want to get away from Satan’s motorway/Oxford Street for a few moments and a spot of lunch. There could well be better Lebanese joints around, but this is very passable. Service was quick and uncomplicated and it is undoubtedly decent value – those 6 dishes were enough for us and only cost £13 per head. 2 Lebanese beers each took the price for the meal to £20 per man, which isn’t to be sniffed at. I’d go back.
Yalla Yalla in 3 words
Oxford Street food.
£20 per person
www.yalla-yalla.co.uk – 12 Winsley St, W1W 8HQ – 0207637474