Located on the East coast of the Mediterranean, Lebanon is at the meeting point of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Its cuisine is refined and Laya’Lina is a marvellous showcase for its delicate but flavourful dishes.
Knightsbridge has a reputation for smart restaurants and many do warrant their fine reputations but some do rather disappoint. Laya’Lina is a tastefully understated but upmarket restaurant that is deserving of praise. It successfully balances classic dining with contemporary decor. The ground floor is small enough to be cosy and appealing to couples and small groups, whilst the basement area can accommodate larger groups and hosts music events as well as exotic belly-dancing soirées. Head there on Saturday evenings for those.
My guest and I were at Laya’Lina for the food rather than the entertainment, and that food is justly recognised as some of the best Lebanese around. It has everything you would expect of a traditional menu but it’s the quality that has allowed Laya’Lina to build such a loyal following. The presentation is attractive but a reviewer cannot live by garnishes alone. The food needs to be something special.
We started with a selection of mezze. The vine leaves filled with rice, herbs and spices were moist and light but the tabouleh (Lebanese parsley and tomato salad) was the most authentic I have tasted in ages. This was almost entirely delicious fresh herbs rather than the too-often presented salad of cracked wheat with a sprinkle of parsley. Muhamara is a crunchy-textured dip of subtly-spiced pureed nuts and it is outstanding. I confess that it’s the first time I have found this on a Lebanese menu so I can make no comparison but I can’t see how it can be improved upon. This should probably be one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, and there are few restaurants that can boast a starter with that accolade.
We continued our first course with hummus. Some food historians suggest that hummus was first prepared in the 12th century by Saladin (or more likely by his chef) who was the chap who gave the crusaders such a headache. Cheese Sambusak are small, delicate parcels. Falafel are chick-pea croquettes with a history dating back to the days of the pharaohs. Meat Sambusak are pastry parcels filled with seasoned minced lamb and pine nuts. This selection of small dishes gave a good introduction to some of the most popular nibbles, and to the quality of this restaurant’s food.
My guest ordered Laya’Lina Lamb Shank which was a baby lamb shank braised to melt-in-the-mouth perfection. The meat fell away from the bone indicating that this truly had been cooked slowly. It was served with rice, glazed with a cinnamon sauce, and garnished with nuts. A substantial meal with warming aromatic spices.
Chicken Taouk is a shish kebab of marinated chicken pieces. The chargrilled meat had a real flavour of open-fire cooking and was tender and juicy. The sweet roasted vegetables were a colourful and delicious accompaniment and the garlic sauce was stunning. That little bowl of white purée rested innocently at the edge of my plate but there is nothing shy about it. Anyone who loves garlic will want the recipe for this. It works marvellously with grilled chicken but would be a tasty addition to any roast vegetable platter. Perhaps I’ll persuade Laya’lina to go into full-scale production of garlic sauce, bottle it and sell it to Harrods around the corner.
From the desserts on offer I chose Baklawa, typical Lebanese layered pastries with almonds, pistachios or pine kernels. These are sweet sticky confections that go so well with thick Lebanese coffee. My guest enjoyed a raspberry crème brulée although fresh strawberries with chocolate dip were rather tempting. My advice to a dessert lover would be to order sweets first: there is every chance that you will not find room for cakes and sorbets at the end of an evening being regaled with such delicious savouries. Laya’lina warrants a couple of visits before you are really sure which dishes are your favourites. I don’t much frequent Harrods, but Laya’Lina will find me a regular visitor. This is Lebanese dining at its finest.
Restaurant review: Laya’Lina
2 / 3 Beauchamp Place,
Knightsbridge, London, SW3 1NG
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018