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Al Waha Lebanese
restaurant, Westbourne Grove
The residents of Westbourne Grove have long been spoiled for choice
with regard to restaurants. The standard in this neighbourhood has
improved over these last years but it’s still Al Waha which boasts a
full dining room every night.
This was my first visit to this restaurant but I had
already heard great things from the worthy and the wise
in the food industry. The welcome was warm. The restaurant was warm and
the mint tea was hot. Sipping that tea gave me time to relax and enjoy
the ambiance. Al Waha means "oasis," and that’s exactly what it is. It
exudes an ethnic but not overly themed charm. The walls are decorated
in a simple but stunning fashion with the work of celebrated
calligrapher Mouneer al-Shaarani. (It is he, I believe, who is
responsible for Al Waha's logo.) Arabic poetry, sayings and the Holy
Koran are the subject matter but even those of us who can read not a
stroke of the messages will be struck by their skill and beauty.
The proprietor is Mohammad Bader-Alden Antabli. He is a chef and a man
who has dedicated himself to providing the best of Lebanese food. He
has a ready smile and infectious enthusiasm for his dishes. He uses
traditional and often lengthy cooking methods to provide his guests
with an authentic taste of Lebanon. His standard dishes are far from
standard and the memory of his Dishes of the Day will last all month.
The amazingly extensive menu offers many dishes found in any typical
Lebanese restaurant but there is a world of difference in quality.
Mohammad has a hummous (Kawarmah Hummous) but here it is topped with
flavourful and tender fried diced lamb and pine nuts. It’s the texture
that sets this particular version apart. It’s silky and refined and
remarkably different from the more common, almost grainy paste found in
Moutabel, also known as babaganoush, is an aubergine and
tahini dip. Yes, another Lebanese restaurant favourite but this one is
different, it actually tastes of something and that something is
roasted aubergines. The dip has a smoky flavour which comes from
charring the vegetables rather than baking them. It takes more effort
to make but the end result is a superior product and is good enough to
be a signature dish.
Kibbeh Maklieh is a bulgur wheat shell, stuffed with minced lamb,
onions, walnuts and pine nuts. These are formed into pointy-ended balls
and deep fried. They are a popular mezze item and should be crunchy on
the outside and meltingly moist and flavourful on the inside. These
were, and they were moreish.
Falafel is found on fast-food carts all over the world. If you love
those dubious nuggets then my advice is not to try the falafel at Al
Waha. It will spoil you for that inferior street-food. The mixture of
ground chickpeas, broad beans, garlic, onions and spices is worked to
an amazingly light consistency. Delicate is not a word often associated
with falafel but it does accurately describe Al Waha’s deep-fried
delights. A simple dish but remarkably well executed.
Sambousek are small pastries with various fillings. We enjoyed those
stuffed with minced lamb, onions and pine nuts, and the cheese tarts
were rich and buttery, tangy and flaky – a must for any vegetarian. And
there is a raft of other non-meat dishes: Fatayer, pastry stuffed with
spinach, onions, pomegranate, pine nuts and walnuts; Warak Inab, vine
leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, herbs and spices; Fattoush,
mixed salad with herbs, toasted Lebanese bread, vinegar and a touch of
garlic (this was noteworthy); Moussakaat Batinjan, fried aubergines
with chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, garlic and spices; Salatate Al Rahib,
smoked aubergines, green peppers, tomatoes, spring onions and garlic;
Batata Harra, potatoes cooked with olive oil, garlic, red peppers,
spices and green chilli, are also sought after by vegetarians who are
so often overlooked by other cuisines.
Soujuk Sadah are Armenian lamb sausages, which have a hot vibrant
flavour tempered by tomato and slices of garlic with which they are
slowly cooked. Another of our meat-based selection was Kharoof Mahshi,
tender lamb with rice, herbs, and nuts, served with fresh cucumber
yoghurt salad. This was the Thursday special and worth pencilling in
the diary – my companion proclaimed this to be one of the best lamb
dishes he had tried in a long time. I have no idea if the other daily
offerings are so tempting but I’ll make it my mission to try them on
Baklawa are the celebrated sweet pastries of Lebanon and we had a
selection of these sugary treats to munch along with our thick,
cardamom-perfumed coffee. But also try the Mouhallabieh, a Lebanese
milk pudding topped with rosewater syrup and ground pistachio nuts.
This is a light and refreshing dessert and made a delicious and
attractive end to our meal.
Al Waha is an award-winning restaurant and it’s easy to understand why.
Everything about it merits a compliment or an accolade. It oozes quiet
well-deserved confidence. Mohammad Bader-Alden Antabli provides guests
with what they expect... and then adds a bit more. My next visit, for
next there will surely be, will be on a Monday to sample Dajaj Mahshi
(succulent baked chicken on a bed of rice, herbs and nuts, served with
cucumber yoghurt salad), although Tuesday’s menu looks enticing...
Restaurant review: Al Waha Restaurant
Proprietor: M. Bader-Alden Antabli
75 Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UL
Telephone: 020 7229 0806
Visit Al Waha here