In London there is love for Lebanese – that much we know for sure. Lebanese people, Lebanese culture and, of course, Lebanese food have all etched a part of themselves into the capital’s cityscape and many of the most glaring results of this are London’s Lebanese restaurants that fly the Middle Eastern flag high and proud. Why such love? Well, some may remember a lengthy and rather brutal Lebanese Civil War that began in the early 70s and caused many Lebanese to set up shop in London. Since then, London’s Lebanese restaurant scene and indeed an entire Lebanese community has slowly thrived in neighbourhoods like Kilburn, Northolt and Ealing, and Londoner’s have welcomed this with open arms and empty stomachs.
Now, we’d be lying if we said that one massive factor in the blossoming of Lebanese London restaurants wasn’t shawarma. Good old shawarma, standard fare for the 3am crew and perhaps what comes to most minds first when you mention Lebanese restaurants in London, or indeed anywhere else. It’s true that many of London’s Lebanese restaurants could be more accurately described as kebab shops, but, and here’s the important part, it’s unfair to lump them in with all the kebab shop connotations. Shawarma is very often high quality meat (lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, or mixed) and it’s almost always served with classic Middle Eastern garnishings – fresh salad, tahini, hummus, pickled turnips, the list goes on. It may be the go-to for the 3am crew but in no way does this take away from shawarma being a gateway into the world of Lebanese food.
Looking past shawarma, Lebanese food is oh so varied and ridiculously fresh. If you’re out for a meal at one of London’s Lebanese restaurants we’re as sure as eggs are eggs that you won’t be leaving feeling all bloated and blurgh. The freshest Lebanese restaurants in London these days are dotted all around Edgware Road – here and the surrounding areas have long been known as Little Beirut – so we fancy there as your best bet to head first. You won’t go wrong with the likes of Orjowan or Yamal Alsham, but any London Lebanese restaurant will demonstrate terrific use of mint, parsley, garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon, all of which are vital in the Lebanese kitchen, as well as plenty of warm, fresh bread, aubergine, artichokes and pomegranates. As we said, freshness is key, and you’ll never catch a Lebanese restaurant in London swaying from this particular rule.
Just because Lebanese food is a freshness fest doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a quashed appetite. No, no. Meze (or mezze – it’s so good you can use double Z if you want) is basically the tapas of the Middle East, so the name of the game is lots of little plates smattered around the table, best devoured with family or friends. Lots of London’s Lebanese restaurants offer it and when done right – the idea traditionally is for meze to accompany a few rounds of drinks – you’ll be more than satisfied. In the interests of making you drool, we’ll go ahead and list our favourite meze dishes that we know the Lebanese restaurants in London are rather good at making: hummus (obviously), falafel or fava beans, souvlaki, Afelia (diced pork marinated with wine and coriander, then stewed), dolma, pastrami, shanklish (dreamy goats’ cheese), Stifado (a slow-cooked beef stew), calamari, plenty of flatbread. It’s all good, folks. Real good…
...and we’ll tell you what else is good: baklava. Although more commonly associated with Turkey, this moreish and sweet treat is certainly a favourite when it comes to the Lebanese dessert menu and if you’re sitting down to dine in a London Lebanese restaurant that has it, you’re in for a treat. Baklava is layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts of any variety, sweetened and then held together with a dousing of syrup or honey or, for people who don’t want their teeth, both. It’s baked in massive trays and then cut into bite size pieces, making it way too easy to lose track of how much of it you’ve eaten. That, friends, is exactly what we love about it and no meal at any Lebanese restaurant in London is complete without it.
When all's said and cooked, however, what lies at the core of Lebanese culinary culture is communion and hospitality, hence any Lebanese restaurant in London should hopefully make you feel right at home. London’s Lebanese restaurants and the Lebanese in general pride themselves on their hospitality and breaking bread and feeding guests is a key part of that. As we said before, meze is without doubt a style of eating that allows friends and family to come together more than any other, but even the gathering and the preparation of the ingredients is a time of bonding for the Lebanese. You won’t be expected to gather and prepare anything at any of London’s Lebanese restaurants (we hope), but the point is that all of us should see a meal at any one of them as a chance to escape the London bustle and enjoy some quality times.