Abd el Wahab: Review
The trick of a great restaurant – and, for that matter, many other creative endeavours – is to make the whole thing seem effortless. It was halfway through a selection of beautiful, vibrant mezze in the dining room of Abd el Wahab in Belgravia that the thought occurred – why are so few other Lebanese restaurants in London as good as this? It doesn’t seem like rocket science: some cheese-spiked salads, some judicious use of smoked vegetables, a healthy dose of offal. Eastern Mediterranean food is familiar, and easily enjoyable, and so it stands to reason it should all be fairly straightforward to produce as well, right? What’s the drama?
But of course, where such a strong template exists for a style of cuisine – as it most certainly does for Lebanese – the achievement and the success lie in the details. At any number of cookie-cutter grills on the Edgware Road, plenty charging just as much as Abd el Wahab does for their wares, you’ll be given packet flatbread to go with your mezze, that strange lifeless product that looks like dry elephant ears (and tastes like it too). At AEW, they make their pita from scratch, and the fluffy, buttery result, little pillows of joy, is in a different league entirely.
As lovely as the bread is in its own right, far more fun is to use it for its intended purpose – scooping up mezze. Hummus is the super-smooth Beiruti style, attractively swirled around the edges of the bowl to create a cavity for chickpeas and oil. Moutabbal was beguilingly smoked, the aubergine and tahini in perfect balance and seriously addictive. Perhaps only labneh with garlic fell a bit flat – not disastrously so, just in comparison to the punching power elsewhere. We regretted ordering none of it.
Shanklish is another flavour bomb – a salty, pungent aged goats’ cheese salad bound with onions, parsley and tomatoes in oil. Dishes like this can be a strange, sad mess of ingredients if any element is anything less than perfect – and prepared to order – but we had nothing to worry about here, and it disappeared in record time.
And of course we could hardly fail to try the AEW chicken livers: huge, bouncy fresh slabs of poultry in a fabulous pomegranate molasses sauce – another cracking example of a classic. Were we just a teensy bit disappointed not to see any more slightly offbeat Lebanese dishes on offer – Kibbeh Nayeh perhaps, where raw lamb is mixed with crushed wheat and spices, or Haliwat (fried sweetbreads)? Well yes, these things would have been nice. But then we at Just Opened Towers are hopeless food novelty chasers and offal spods; I imagine your average Belgravia customer wouldn’t consider this an issue.
And anyway, the fact remains that what Abd el Wahab do, they generally do incredibly well. The centrepiece of our meal was kofte, a finer example we can hardly remember being served anywhere, with a good dark crust containing soft, robustly seasoned meat gently soaking into soft bread, topped with onion and parsley. The table was overhung with the smell of charcoal smoke and grilled lamb long after we’d declared defeat (and various take-home boxes had been filled). It was all enormous fun.
So however easy Abd el Wahab make it look, let’s not for a moment pretend its success is a given. There’s just as much passion and energy and care put into the menu here as any other leader in its field, and the results are just as easy to enjoy. So all we can suggest is that you do just that. If you want to see Lebanese food done right, there are few better options in London.
JOL was invited to review Abd El Wahab on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.