|Dishes That Dreams Are Made Of|
Al Basha comes close to evoking happy Middle Eastern memories
My love affair with the Lebanese, their food in particular, began back in the 1990s when I lived in the Middle East.
My husband and I had many Lebanese friends for whom preparing food and sharing it with family and friends was a way of life.
On weekends and holidays we would begin our feasts at sunset and still be around the table at midnight sipping our gently heated rose water (known as white coffee) to aid digestion.
Simple dishes were favoured made with fresh, good quality ingredients. Sweet roasted peppers, smoky babaghanoush, freshly baked bread, the most tender lamb, the heady aroma of spices and, of course, a little too much garlic to be socially acceptable. I could go on reminiscing for ever!
We missed the food almost as much as we did our friends when we first came home to Chiswick and visited numerous restaurants in an attempt to evoke happy memories.
Although the Lebanese Food Market on Uxbridge Road went some way to compensate, as did the arrival of Elias on Turnham Green Terrace, it was never quite the same. Therefore we decided not to get our hopes up too much when Al Basha arrived on Devonshire Road to replace Zagora.
The interior décor hasn’t been altered too much, the iron work chairs and banquette seating clothed in brightly coloured fabrics remain but somehow the small space seems brighter. It could be down to the lighting, which is a little harsh, but I would prefer to believe it was the warmth of the greeting.
The simplicity of the red and white paper table cloths and paper napkins was echoed in the straightforwardness of the menu. There was no fish available on Saturday evening, nor was there any lamb kofta but it didn’t seem to matter for there was fresh vine leaves stuffed with minted rice, hummus, warm pitta, soujouk (small spicy Lebanese sausages), batata hara (delicious aromatic cubes of potato sauteed with coriander, garlic and spices), falafel and kibbeh shameyeh (fried minced lamb with onions and crushed wheat).
We opted for a banquet of hot and cold starters including all of the aforementioned which were priced at or very close to £4.00 accompanied by a decent bottle of house red from Lebanon well worth £13.50. We shared a mixed grill main course of kebabs made from cubes of marinated chicken and tender lamb served with a mound of rice and onion salad liberally doused in sumac (£10) but regrettably we were too full to do it justice.
We finished our meal with Lebanese coffee and baklava compliments of Al Basha’s amiable Lebanese manager and settled the bill of £46.50 plus a well deserved tip. (NB. Payments in cash only at the moment until their card machine is up and running.)
Aromas such as toasted cinnamon and charcoaled lamb never fail to transport me back to happy evenings spent in the desert around a camp fire or helping friends celebrate Eid. I can’t claim to have been moved in this way by Al Basha but equally wouldn’t pick fault with our meal even though I would have quite liked to have tried their red mullet. Still it gives me an excuse to return.
Opening issues aside, Al Basha could hold its own in Chiswick alongside Elias and, although not Lebanese, Lara Restaurant. Given a settling in period, they should do ok. However, in the present climate whether ok is enough I'm sorry to say remains to be seen.
January 19, 2009