More restaurateurs should treat their business like their own personal disco.
The owner of this place, as well as Edinburgh’s Hanam’s, Souq, Pomegranate and Laila’s Bistro, Jamal Ahmed, busted some Travolta-esque moves with my nieces at his newest Middle Eastern venue.
(I looked on, appreciative, clapping occasionally, but staying firmly glued to my seat).
According to him, he recently threw some shapes alongside Souq’s resident belly dancer, but his mortified wife told him to stop immediately.
Still, the fact that this place’s back wall features a big telly, tuned, on our visit, to an Arabic pop channel, makes it pretty conducive to dancing. You could almost get away with it too, since this is the most casual of all Ahmed’s venues, with a low-key, street food vibe.
It’s also handy for the pre-theatre crowd, since it’s directly opposite the Festival Theatre. Cheap, too, with nothing over a tenner and you can BYOB. Studentbait.
We ordered a few mezze to start, including a pair of fat and golden hunger-pang-quashing blimps that were kubba halab (£5) – a sort of arancini stuffed with cumin-y spiced lamb mince served with a yogurt dip. Great, as was the set of six finger length halloumi fries (£5), all doused in a dark red pomegranate sauce.
Our pile of chicken wings (£5) were weedy biceps of the poultry world, but they were edible enough.
We all enjoyed our cold mezze option of whipped feta (£4) – a smooth white and tangy lotion, served with Lebanese bread.
Should you want something healthy-ish, they’ve embraced the Buddha bowl trend. Their selection consists of four vegetarian varieties, including chickpea heaven (£5), quarnabit (aka cauliflower fritters, £5) and feta (£6), all featuring an assemblage of colourful ingredients.
I went for the “cheese please” (£6) version, which seemed like a steal, thanks to a bank of sandy coloured couscous, cubes of (more) halloumi, a pile of paprika dusted and smoky baba ganoush and some chopped iceberg.
If I had plans to attend a theatrical event, this would be the sort of dinner I’d want – squeezing into my usual cheap seats in the back row of the upper circle (view partially restricted) wouldn’t feel like folding a sausage in half.
However, since I didn’t have any plans post lunch, I upgraded my Buddha (although he looks chilled, he won’t be happy) bowl with a portion of French fries (£2.50), which turned out to be a huge nest of chippy style chips, in a Seventies style basket.
As far as bigger main courses go, we very much enjoyed the platter with Lebanese bread (£9), which featured flattened tiles of chargrilled lemony chicken on top of an oven-glove-sized soft khobez flatbread.
This also came with ramekins of dark and feisty chilli sauce, the prerequisite portions of baba ganoush and hummus, discs of pickled gherkin, a shredded salad, olives and a lemon wedge.
In comparison, the fox-coloured meat in the lamb shawarma (£8) was a bit dry, feathery and frazzled, though still fragrant enough and there was loads of it, with trimmings of chilli sauce, hummus and salad.
Since the rest of my spoiled group decided they don’t like saffron, and the fact that it’s the world’s most expensive spice didn’t change their feelings on the matter, my solo mission was to finish the lokum khasi (£5) – sponge balls soaked in syrup, a bit like gulab jamun, and served with two large scoops of pale yellow cardamom and saffron ice-cream.
The baklava (£3.50), served cold, is also very good and we were presented with four dense rectangles, like tightly thatched roofs, all cinnamony sweet, chewy and syrup infused.
I have always rated the original Pomegranate, and now I’m a fan of its new, more casual sister. After all, the grub is decent and when the bill comes you might just feel like dancing (though nodding along while Jamal struts his funky stuff is enthusiasm enough).