[Belgravia, London] Noura
Lebanese is a favourite cuisine but in my part of the UK, eating it is very much a casual affair. It’s a pleasure, therefore, to enjoy an upscale experience when visiting London – tablecloths, suited staff, consideration given to how a plate looks as well as how it tastes. The capital is well provided in this field – some of the Maroush venues, Ishbilia in Knightsbridge (where I felt so badly treated that I will not willingly cross their doorstep again), but Noura is the place I enjoy most.
There is a carte but, also, a range of fixed price menus which allow you to enjoy a good selection of mezze before moving on to a main course, before dessert and coffee. We went with one at £38 as follows.
Firstly, a bowl of salad is brought. Not a prepared salad – this is a whole lettuce, cucumber, spring onions, carrot strips, radish and the like, from which you cut off what you want. I think it’s intended to fit with the spirit of generous hospitality for which the eastern Mediterranean is known. There was also a bowl of olives, chilli peppers and pickled turnip.
Of the cold mezze, moutabel was a real stand-out. Creamy, very smoky aubergine with a good whack of tahini. Perfect for dipping with the warm pitta that was replenished throughout the meal. Also there for dipping was a bowl of tahini, slightly thinned down with olive oil and another of hummus, decorated with a drizzle of oil and scattering of chickpeas. Stuffed vine leaves were pretty much you’d expect, although there was a good whack of parsley which lifted them. Unlike the way it’s often made by Brits, tabbouleh was almost completely parsley with only a hint of bulgar wheat. It was very lemony, perhaps too much so, masking the fresh taste of the herb.
There were four hot mezze. Firstly, well made kibbeh – subtly spiced lamb, encased in a crisp coat of bulgar. Falafel can often be gloopy but here the coating was again very crisp, the inside soft yet not mushy. There were two pastries – one with spinach and pine nuts (fatayer?) and another lamb and pine nuts. These were both good, the pastry itself fully cooked through but with an interesting crisp, yet still slightly chewy texture.
On this menu, the main courses were kebab skewers – one each of lamb, kofta and shish taouk. The latter was the best of the three – large chunks of chicken, char-grilled on the outside, moist and tender inside. The plate came with a little more mixed salad and a dollop of toum, the Lebanese version of aioli often, as I think here, slightly slackened with yoghurt.
Dessert brought a plate of mixed baklava type pastries. Crisp, tasting of the various ingredients rather than the overwhelmingly sweet taste that you often come across. There were also three icecreams – pistachio, another nut and an absolutely delicious one which included rosewater.
Service is good although I did have a minor criticism – our table was nearish to one of the staff stations which meant the waiters did tend to hang about there and I felt under scrutiny to some extent. There is a tendency for Noura and the other upscale Lebanese restaurants to have a somewhat rushed feel to the service, that probably reflects how it’s done in Lebanon. Here, as elsewhere, all the mezze items come pretty much at once, which means that the hot ones are likely to be getting cold unless you get stuck into them straight away. Which isn’t really the “pick & mix” style of eating that you want. And, then, your main course is going to arrive whenever it’s been cooked, not necessarily when you’re ready for it. Of course, it isn’t really rushed – there’s absolutely no pressure on the customer to “eat up and get out”, but I think I’d prefer things if there was more of a nod to a European style of starters, then main. But this is no more than a niggle