Kenza is the Arabic word for treasure and this truly is a subterranean gem. It’s a cool and calm oasis on these sizzling summer days in the city. One can feel the weight of hot and oppressive air lift as one descends the spiral stairs to the exotic idyll below.
This Lebanese restaurant is actually better known by night-owls as a late venue for entertainment. There are belly dancers on lots of nights and a DJ on Friday and Saturday; live music, as well as henna parties, fire eaters, and even snake charmers for special occasions. That’s attractive for groups who want food and drink in a vibrant atmosphere and with no concerns about the noise keeping the neighbours up. Kenza is a cocoon.
But it has a totally different atmosphere during the day. It’s calm, much less crowded, and cool. With 150 seats in the main restaurant, a private dining room seating up to 60 people and a cocktail lounge for 60, this is a large restaurant, but it is configured in such a way that one can find quiet corners or more private booths and cosy banquettes.
Brass candlesticks and carved wooden screens
There is plenty of soft furnishing here. Cushions are propped on colourful sofas. There are bead-fringed lamps and impressive chandeliers, along with brass candlesticks and carved wooden screens. In fact, one is wafted back to some unnamed country somewhere between Lebanon and Morocco – and there are evidently some rather good meals to be had there.
Start with some alcohol-free cocktails. Aziza – mango, passion fruit, pineapple and orange juice with grenadine syrup and all topped off with crushed ice bejewelled with pomegranate. Salma – coconut cream, cherry purée, mango juice. These are perfect to quench the thirst after pavement-pounding in the summer.
The menu is full of Lebanese favourites. The meze selection here is vibrant and delicious. One could make a main meal of just a few of these, along with some puffy bread made in-house. Muhammarah – spicy red pepper, onion, garlic and roasted mixed nut dip – is a must-try, so save some bread for that, too. Great flavour with just the right balance of spicy heat.
Batata Harra are spicy sautéed potatoes with red pepper, fresh coriander, garlic and chilli – a dish that I will certainly order again. The cubed potatoes are scattered with a flavourful topping which makes them rather addictive.
A lot of gastronomic colour
Makale Calamar – cumin and sumac-crusted baby squid, served with a coconut and chilli sauce – should be another signature dish here. It’s a sizable portion of perfect seafood with a dip which adds a lot of gastronomic colour. Great texture with these rings which were thankfully missing a slick of oil. This seems like such a simple dish, but it is so often ruined by a soggy batter. Kenza does squid very well.
The main courses of Tajines and grilled meats are delightful. My guest enjoyed his tagine bil lahmé of tender lamb with prunes, baby pumpkin, green peas and roasted almonds, and served with organic couscous. This was just like your favourite lamb stew back from its trip to the Levant.
Shish Taouk with chicken cubes marinated in garlic, lemon juice and spices, grilled on a skewer, was first class and an attractive presentation with rice and salad as side dishes.
A lovely meal should finish with something sweet. Order the special house mint and rosewater tea along with a selection of dessert nibbles. Halawiyat is a collection of Arabic sweets such as Baklawa and Turkish Delight, and these constitute a small but perfect finale.
Kenza ticks so many boxes. It is the haunt of those looking for fun after dark, but also for the rest of us who want a great lunch at a reasonable price and convenient London location. Yes, OK, the chairs might be getting a bit worn but that just indicates a restaurant well-loved and popular. It’s friendly with a warm welcome and cool comfort.
10 Devonshire Square
Phone: 020 7929 5533