Gourmet kebabs: Better bring a bib to Le Bab
The kebab is a source of pride for your average Arab foody. Not the standard stodge for drunks, carved off the turning stick at 2am – a proper kebab recipe is something that families can feud over.
A tough arena for a couple of English entrepreneurs to enter into then, perhaps.
Le Bab is a Middle-Eastern inspired "gourmet kebab house" in Soho, London – founded by Stephen Tozer and Ed Brunet. Their aim is to "reinvigorate" the humble kebab and "explore new approaches" to the world's most mouth-watering cuisine.
I visited Le Bab with a date I wanted to impress of a Tuesday evening. Walking through the door, we were immediately struck by the smell of charcoal, the chatter of happy people and the sound of good music.
Coupled with the beautiful ornate ceramics on the wall, I felt as though I could have been in any restaurant in Beirut's Gemmayzeh or Hamra districts. Le Bab is not elite, but it has character and it doesn't come at an inflated cost.
|Le Bab's kebabs are tasty, succulent and tender|
Our waiter talked us through the menu – he was welcoming, informative and charming at all the right points. I wanted him to leave before he walked away with my date.
We started with the beetroot hummus and stopped before I was forced to throw it at the wall.
There are things that I will always forgive. Creativity and a willingness to try things out are important – but there are things that you can and can't do with hummus. These are things that matter for the sake of society.
Don't do it, Le Bab. Drop the pickled candied beetroot from your hummus and come back to us. We love you and you've gone off course.
|There are also a number of delicious vegetarian options available|
The lady and I washed away the sheer thought of it with a bottle of Malbec. It was personally recommended and presented at a perfect room temperature. Our waiter knew his plonk and he served it with aplomb. It is these little differences that shine out like beacons from truly excellent restaurants like Le Bab.
For our kebab course, I had the Paneer and the lady chose the Herdwick Lamb Adana. Both came with the curry mayo.
Our waiter showed us how to wrap up our dinner into a pitta wrap and stuff it into our mouths without cutlery. Within three minutes, we'd both dropped curry sauce on ourselves and reached for the cutlery.
I tried hard at this point to use our mutual embarrassment as a shared bonding experience, but it was not to be. My guest was not best pleased when she spilt curry sauce on her dress.
"That's not how you eat this kind of food," she said. I finished my glass of wine.
"But the meat is so good". The lamb at Le Bab is fantastically tender, well presented and - an essential quality for a kebab joint – expertly juicy.
My paneer wrap was also exceptionally tasty, especially once I reached for my knife and fork. The curry mayo was balanced, the whole dish was rewarding – yet one point stayed firmly clear in my mind: I didn't want to eat a sandwich over a bottle of Malbec.
The cauliflower and brocolli chili gratin was yet another delight, the pieces were easily picked off with the assistance of cutlery, proving – as always – that restaurants should give a fork.
At the end of the meal, our waiter took two half-finished plates that looked like a pair of puppies' food bowls. I am still ashamed of this and I confess we both took refuge inside the wine bottle.
|The paneer kebab is served with a wonderful curry sauce|
The shame is all mine and I own it – no blame lies at the door of Le Bab (forgive the Arabic pun). No-one forced me to handle my kebab and there was no expectation placed upon us by the staff. I am the clumsy glutton and no-one else.
What can be said about our evening at Le Bab is that it was a great experience. It was certainly memorable, the food was tasty and the ambience was fantastic.Bring your friends, bring your family and bring your hopeful lovers. With a bib.
Alcohol served: Yes
Follow Le Bab on Twitter: @eatlebab