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Le Menar, Fitzrovia

le Menar Head Chef Vernon Samuels has high-end international credentials covering a good number of ethnic cuisines in some celebrated restaurants around the world. At Le Menar he paints with a North African culinary palate. He adapts and teases but never offends.

The restaurant is everything I would want from a North African or Middle Eastern venue. It’s a comforting melange of earth-tones, traditional cushions, iconic brass-topped tables, banquettes and low lights. There are areas appropriate for quick bites, others for social lingering and private dining. The location is convenient, being just a short stroll from Goodge Street Underground Station. It’s a restaurant that seems to be hidden in plain view. It’s just around the corner from a throng of potential diners who might never know that Le Menar is warm, welcoming and open for business.

Le Menar is cosy when one snuggles in the Moorish rear part of the restaurant. It sets the scene for the arrival of beautifully presented dishes. These all have the authentic flavours of the Middle East but often with a twist incorporated. My starter was Arayes which are Lebanese pastries with marinated minced lamb, onion and tahini. The salad garnish was drizzled with a remarkable pomegranate dressing. Portions here are impressive and one could easily construct a feast from just a few starters.

Tagines are ubiquitous in Morocco but here Chef Vernon offers Beef Tagine, along with the more usual lamb. The word tagine in fact refers to the distinctive casserole in which the food is cooked. It has a unique conical lid which allows moisture to return tole Menar the dish rather than evaporating. This particular tagine was made with braised beef cheek that was falling-apart tender. It was cooked with Chantenay carrots (short and sweet), chick peas and prunes, and served with couscous. Fruit is a common addition to tagines in North Africa: they lend a sweetness to sauces. A substantial dish at a very reasonable price.

Mini Bingne was our dessert. These were choux pastry buns filled with mascarpone cream flavoured with rosewater, an ingredient used so much for sweet confections across the Middle East. The puffs were garnished with pistachio dust, those nuts being popular throughout the region. Have this with a pot of mint tea and you will be wafted to warmer climes.

Le Menar is a new restaurant. The menu is evolving and doubtless Head Chef Vernon Samuels will have more surprises for diners in future. This would seem at first glance to be a traditional eatery, but consider this as more an evolving canvas, one which fits well in the contemporary firmament of eclectic London restaurants. I will view with interest the culinary developments to come.

Opening times:
Monday to Fridayle Menar
11:30 to 15:00 for lunch
18:00 to 23:30 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)

18:00 to 23:30 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)

18:00 to 23:00 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)

Le Menar
55 Cleveland Street

Phone: 020 7436 8916

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