London is blessed with practically every cuisine on the planet but in the last few years there has been a resurgence in seriously good Middle Eastern eats. The best thing about it? It quite literally appeals to everyone, whether you’re vegan and looking for bold, layered dishes where veggies steal the show or are after succulent, slow cooked meats cooked as intended, over an open flame.
From pomegranate-dusted salads to tender shawarmas and zesty seafood, these 11 restaurants prove that Middle Eastern cuisine goes far beyond a bowl of hummus.
Bala Baya brings the bustle of Tel Aviv to London’s Bankside courtesy of ex-Ottolenghi chef and Israeli-born Eran Tibi. One thing you should know, if you don’t like sharing, this is not the restaurant for you. Sharing is at the heart of Bala Baya’s menu, and much of the Middle East’s cuisine in general, thanks to its colourful, flavour-packed small plates.
Menu heroes include the prawn baklava with Persian lime, nor dust and pistachios, the aubergine mess with tahini and lychee and the parsnip & honey semifreddo for pudding.
The interiors reflect the kaleidoscope shades of the food itself thanks to award-winning designer Afroditi Krassa, who refurbished the old railway arch building, paying homage to the Bauhaus architecture that Tel Aviv is known for.
Chef Eran calls Bala Baya his “poem to Tel Aviv” and we couldn’t agree more.
Bala Baya, Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR
Taking inspiration from the Barbary Coast, known for its infamous pirates and the now extinct Barbary lion, The Barbary in iconic Neal’s Yard serves up small plates as rich in culinary traditions and history as they are in flavour.
The Barbary Coast ran right from the Atlantic Coast through to the Mediterranean Sea and leading on to the Middle East. The restaurant’s menu reflects this with inspiration drawn from the likes of Morocco, Tunisia and Syria.
Much of the food is cooked in a stripped back way – grilling over coals or baked in ancient clay ovens – and the menu is split into different elements; Sea Land, Earth and Heaven. Expect the likes of black salmon dukkah, Jaff-style cauliflower and spicy squash chicken.
The Barbary, 16 Neal’s Yard, West End, London WC2H 9DP
Husband and wife duo Limor and Amir Chen started the Delamina journey with a residency in Shoreditch House, proving their cool credentials on the London food scene. That led to opening their first standalone bricks and mortar, also in Shoreditch as well as one in Marylebone, and they’re pretty gorgeous – think pretty pink rattan chairs, bleached-out wood and suspended lighting.
The food is a combination of Lima’s childhood growing up in Tel Aviv to both Middle Eastern and European parents and her interest in healthy ways to cook, from grilling and roasting with herbs and spices to celebrate the beauty of each raw ingredient.
Despite the healthy conscience, the dishes are hearty and full of love, from a whole poussin glazed and chargrilled with ras-el-hanout and honey to the lamb tagliata marinated in kabsa and plums.
56-58 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone, London W1U 2NX
Poor kebabs, they get a bad rep, but forget what you know about 3am poor choices of what resembles an elephant’s foot, shaved over anaemic chips and loaded with garlic sauce and visit Le Bab instead.
The contemporary kebab makers serve a refined take on the fast food favorite, making everything in-house (from the bread to the toum and even the pickles) and lead by chef Federico Preto, formerly of three-Michelin starred Enoteca, Pinchiorri and Le Gavroche.
Choose from the falafel with Jerusalem artichoke chutney and crispy pickled candy beetroot, the 15-hour port shawarma or the chicken shish with kale pesto, sesame mayo, fried artichoke and pickled kale, to name just a few.
Berber & Q might be best-known for their meat-heavy dishes but it’s actually their whole roasted cauliflower that we can’t get enough of.
The restaurant itself used to be an old taxi repair shop in one of Dalston’s old railway arches – making the stripped back interiors the perfect backdrop for the open fire, rustic cooking.
The menu is not exclusively Middle Eastern – the team say they seek inspiration from everywhere – but it’s clear that they have a soft spot for big, bold North African and Middle Eastern flavours – think meat and veg brought to life with dukkah, rose, tahini and more.
ARCH 338 Acton Mews, London E8 4EA
There’s no denying that Middle Eastern-inspired restaurants bring people together thanks to the sharing ethos the dishes allow. And no one is better at bringing people together than grandma.
The Lebanese-influenced restaurant is inspired by the generosity of the founders’ grandmas and the memories of hospitality in their homes and recipes passed down through generations, with both the menu and the interiors feeling cosy with a ‘home from home’ vibe.
Prominently cooked over coals, the menu is made up of flavour packed, pretty dishes such as grilled halloumi with figs; za’atar and sumac fish makalee; and fattoush salad; as well as succulent shawarmas and open-frame grilled meats.
1 Green’s Court, Soho, London W1F 0HA and 12 Winsley Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 8HQ
Since bursting onto the British food scene over a decade ago, the UK has taken Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi under its wing. Not only has he added to his string of restaurants and cookbooks, but he’s become a household name a frequent face on TV screens.
Out of the Ottolenghi empire, it’s Nopi that we love best, from the clean white marble and opulent gold touches of the interiors to the dishes almost too pretty to eat – think seed-crusted burrata with slices of blood orange to the breakfast we return to time and time again, the Shakshuka.
21-22 Warwick Street London W1B 5NE
Right in the heart of Theatreland is Israeli-inspired restaurant, The Palomar. Thanks to its open kitchen and restaurant-cum-bar aesthetic, there’s a buzzy vibe and it certainly errs on modern middle eastern.
The menu is split into ‘Rip & Dip’ – a selection of tasty mezzes; ‘Oceans & Rivers’ – think glazed octopus kohlrab with date molasses and harissa oil or wild seabass tartare. Then there is ‘Pasture & Courtyard’ a selection of tender meat such as Jerusalem chicken and kofta kebabs; before the best bit, ‘Feld & Garden’ – veggie dishes that really come into their own and prove that veg needn’t just be an accompaniment.
Our top tip: pull up a pew at the countertop bar – the best seats in the house – if they’re not already taken.
34 Rupert Street, London, W1D 6DN.
At the Kings Cross location of Arabica, we’re kind of obsessed with the retro interiors that look like somewhere the Mad Men might go for lobster and Old Fashioneds – think walnut wood banquet tables and teal-hued leather seating. The menu is anything but Don Drapper fodder however, it’s all about food from the sun-drenched lands of the levant, from the valleys of Jordan to the mountainous villages of Lebanon.
Start with their signature house pickled nibbles of cauliflower, carrot, cucumber and turnip, before moving on to classic mezze and mains such as steak and bone marrow pita or Lebanese flatbreads stuffed with smoked aubergine, tahini, herbs, walnuts and pomegranate.
The drinks menu is solid too, with a range of middle eastern flavours, from fig and hazelnut liquors to saffron gin and rosewater, used in the cocktails.
Arabica Kings Cross, 7 Lewis Cubitt Walk, London N1C 4DT and Arabica Boroguh Market, 4 Rochester Walk, London SE1 9AF
In true Middle Eastern-style this place eats with the seasons so expect to tuck into comforting lentil stews and roasted aubergines now, and come spring, the menu will change entirely – all the more reason to revisit
The ‘Big Breakfast’ menu is also worth a look, with everything from green Shakshuka – eggs baked in spinach and herbs, served with goats’ yogurt and a sesame bagel – to Boureka – spinach and feta in shortcrust pastry served with goats’ yogurt and an egg.
Honey & Co. 25A Warren St, London W1T 5LZ
Bringing together two of our favourite cuisines, Mezimiso fuses Japanese with Lebanese cooking – hence the name.
Expect a menu of varied dishes from Shish Barak – little doughy parcels filled with kebbe balls, yoghurt, coriander and pine nuts – to tempura and a seriously good sashimi collection.
And if you’re after something a little different to London’s hugely saturated high tea market, try the Mezimiso afternoon tea inspired by the ancient cultures of Japan and Lebanon, set against a backdrop of London’s iconic skyline.