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middle eastern

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Bala Baya, Southwark

April 28, 2017
Bala Baya, Southwark

Well, Israeli food is having a bit of a moment in London.  Ottolenghi probably put it on the food map in London, but restaurants like Palomar, the Barbary and Honey & Co have also really helped, and are some of my favourite restaurants in the city.

And now Bala Baya opens it doors (OK, well three months ago), under the arches in Southwark.  It’s main focus is food from Tel Aviv, so traditional Israeli food but with a modern twist.  I took Rob there for his birthday in March, and then returned for a press night of the Israeli Tourist Board last week.  Both times the food blew me away.   From more traditional dishes like the home made, just baked pitta bread and amazing roasted cauliflower with yoghurt to the fish tartar with sumac, it was all completely delicious.  Apparently the aubergine with milk is well worth trying too, so don’t be put off by the name.

Bala Baya, Southwark

On the press night our favourite dish was the salmon with peppers, as were their seared tuna bites.  But their puddings were incredible too: they served a cheesecake and a panna cotta-esque pudding with Malibu.  Perhaps because Tel Aviv is on the coast they serve more fish here than they might at a more mainstream Israeli restaurant.

Bala Baya, Southwark

Ask for a table upstairs, unless you want to sit by the bar downstairs (which is perhaps a bit more upbeat).  The setting itself is very cool, reminding me a little of Bethnal Green’s Mission E2.  A mixture of its exposed red brick arch, with modern furniture and greenery, means it’s en trend.

Bala Baya, SouthwarkBala Baya, Southwark

And while it’s location is a little off the beaten path, the Old Union Yard Arches are cool, with wine bar and Italian restaurant Macellaio next door worth a visit too.  Or, if you fancy something different, Polish/Russian/Hungarian restaurant and bar Baltic is around the corner, with stunning minimalist interiors and good food & drinks.

Bala Baya

Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches

220 Union Street


Photo credit: Bala Baya (apart from the salmon, which is one of my instagram photos)

Blog, Eat, Healthy, London

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

September 26, 2016
Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

Word of advice.  When a restaurant says it’s fully booked when trying to book a table online, don’t let this put you off going.  I’ve been wanting to go to the much praised Fitzrovian restaurant Honey & Co for ages now, but every time I try and book, it says ‘nothing available’ or offers me the 9:30pm slot.  So last week, having read that they do allow some walk ins, I decided I was just going to risk it.

I arrived at 6:30pm and it was full.  This was to be expected, and I was not put off.  Things looked positive when I spoke to a very friendly waitress, who said she’d take my name and number, and call me when a table was available.  Seemed reasonable.  My friend Emily and I grabbed a glass of wine at the pub next door and eyed up Honey & Co’s small outside terrace.  It was a beautiful, warm September evening, but we could sense that people were leaning towards eating inside.  After about 30 minutes I got a call, ‘We’ve got a table free, but it’s outside I’m afraid.  When can you be here?’   Bingo.  We were there in seconds.

There is one disappointing thing to mention first, then we’ll focus on the positives.  Emily is a vegetarian and, despite the Middle East being so good at vegetarian food, she was disappointed to have only one choice of main course.  Which was, incidentally, a very delicious baked aubergine dish.  But still, I had five other options to choose from.  Funny also that all the starters were vegetarian.  It just doesn’t quite make sense.  Perhaps they should offer the starters also in larger portions as mains?

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

However, moving on swiftly.  The starters were delicious – we shared a basket of fresh bread (how do they make pitta quite so good?) and a labaneh and a spicy pumpkin and pepper dish.  The ideal first course, filling but not overly so.  I could have licked the plate.  As Emily devoured her aubergine, I opted for the roasted lamb salad with plums, tarragon, greengages and fennel seeds as my main course.  While lamb is my big go to, the rest of the accompaniments were not very ‘me’ (I don’t really like fruit in my food, unless it’s pudding).  But the combination worked beautifully and it felt both healthy and delicious.

Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

The place has a very local, neighbourhood feel to it.  Everyone is friendly, the staff lovely, and there is a pleasant buzz about the place.  It’s one of those places which makes you want to return.  It’s as far from a chain restaurant as you can get.

Too full for pudding, I decided I would return here for brunch, as this seems to be most legendary here.  Since drinking wine at the pub at 11am at the pub next door may not be quite so appropriate, I might have to surrender and actually book that (well) in advance.

Honey & Co

25 Warren St

London W1T 5LZ

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

The Barbary, Soho

June 20, 2016
The Barbary, Soho

I haven’t had been out for dinner in London for a while, and so perhaps that’s why I may have appreciated the Barbary even more than usual.

The place is tiny but so atmospheric. There are no tables, just one large kitchen bar, with 24 seats around it. The focal point is clearly the kitchen, where chefs cheerfully work away at creating beautiful, mostly grilled, dishes from Jerusalem and the Barbary Coast. I’d never heard of the Barbary coast (also known as the Berber coast), but it’s the coast off Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya. So expect a mixture of flavours from the Middle East and North Africa.

I was expecting a long wait, as this is no normal restaurant opening. The Barbary is the little brother of one of my all time favourite London restaurants: The Palomar.  But we only waited about 15 minutes, with a glass of rouge from the Languedoc (they have a range of European wines on offer) and a delicious lamb/pork mince in a grilled pitta with humous.

The Barbary, Soho

After 10 minutes the waitress suddenly bounded up to us with a bottle and three shot glasses.  ‘Sorry for the wait, guys’, she said, ‘this should ease the pain’.  And poured us all, her included, a shot of limoncello-esque liqueur.  Later we observed the whole restaurant, chefs included, do another shot.  It clearly contributed to the lively vibe.

Like The Palomar, the menu offers a range of small sharing plates.  We opted for the Naan e Barbari (mouth wateringly delicious),  a wonderful smokey Baba Ganoush, the Pata Negra Neck (such succulent meat), the grilled prawns (huge and juicy, but sadly just two of them), the Cauliflower Jaffa style (possibly my favourite dish) and the Kholrabi, Rocket and Peas, with feta sumac vinaigrette (super fresh and light).  Last we ordered the Jerusalem Bagel which was also excellent, and good to soak up all the juices and sauces (though only order if you love sesame seeds).

The Barbary, SohoThe Barbary, Soho
The price easily adds up, and it’s hard not to be greedy.  But the food is very filling, so be warned – there is no need to order more than 8 dishes.

This truly is the perfect Thursday night place, it gets you in the mood for the weekend, makes you forget work stress and more than satisfies your hunger (and tastebuds).  Go now before the word properly spreads.

The Barbary

16 Neal’s Yard

London WC2H 9DP

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