By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Alike the rest of the City, London’s restaurant scene is a titanic melting pot of universal cultures. Throughout our fair city one can eat almost anything, from the most fetid of dishes through to some of the Earth’s finest, using the most luxurious and limited ingredients on offer. Unfortunately, however, there’s nowhere near enough Egyptian food. Well, there’s not enough authentic Egyptian food, at least. Fortunately, one new opening in Kensington is flying the blue and yellow flag of Alexandria – Egypt’s economic centre and second biggest city.
Opened during the summer by legendary Alexandrian restaurateur Aladin Barakat, having found huge success with his original restaurants Aladino’s in Alexandria, taking a beachside residence with 500 covers. Now Aladin calls England home and his new London outpost of Aladino’s offer’s delicious food, top class – honest – service and a sleek understated décor, reminding visitors that Egypt is not a place of excessive gold fittings and tasteless historic emblems, as a trip to Harrods would suggest. Instead, a modest upstairs dining room is well lit by impressive, modern chandeliers and there’s a subtle taupe colour scheme that runs throughout. The waiting staff members (including the aforementioned Aladin) do also go out of their way to make customers feel great comfort during the dining experience here.
To begin, a plate of crisp, charred bread is worth a mention – served with a duo of dips, Baba ghanoush and a lightly spiced hummus that tastes out of this world. As for the starters, my companion’s lightly battered king prawns (£10) are surprisingly less unctuous than the cooking method would suggest, while the “ethical foie parfait” (£12) is plenty enough for two. Served together upon two different plates, a dollop of Egyptian duck liver is joined by sweet sultana chutney and candied fig. On the other hand, the French liver is unsurprisingly rich, topped with melted butter, as is traditional. Both are impressive, but it’s the former that gives us both the most satisfaction, as is not the case with Aladin: the Egyptian recipe is his own, but he assures us that the Head Chef’s French dish is his favourite, by far. Our waiter suggests that I sample the lamb shank (£20) for my main, instead of the more traditional stuffed peppers – Alexandrian Poivrons Farcis – insisting that I will not be disappointed. Luckily his choice is wonderful. A braised shank is cooked perfectly, the sauce is overly rich but it’s still delectable, and the accompanying pomme puree is as silky smooth as it is indulgent. My friend’s main showcases Aladino’s love of Whiskey (we’ll come to that later). A reasonably sized slab of fillet steak (£25) offers all of the flavours of Whiskey, albeit without tasting overwhelmingly alcoholic, it’s really something special.
To finish, the mango parfait (£9) laced with tangerine coulis works perfectly at cutting through the richness of the mains, but it’s my traditional choice that’s the most impressive. A dish that’s also delivered with a story: it’s believed that Om Ali (£9) was the first wife of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybek, and while women were allowed to act as guardians to their sons until they became King, they were unable to rule. When the Sultan died, his second wife and Om Ali were faced with a disagreement as to who would become King, leading to the second wife being beaten to death while bathing, set up by Om Ali. The name supposedly comes from the dessert that was baked to celebrate the second wife’s gruesome death, or so it is said. Mercifully, the taste is far less violent than the origin. Sheets of filo pastry are baked in a rich cream with a touch of vanilla, delivering a texture that’s not dissimilar to macaroni and cheese, but the balance of tastes is sensational – not too sweet, but sweet enough to work well as a dessert, topped with flaked almonds to add a depth of crunch.
By now it’s getting on for 11pm and we’re ready to call it a night. However, Aladin appears once again, generously inviting us to join him in a round of Whiskey – “no mixer, just three ice cubes” – he insists. How could we refuse? Through this final treat we manage to learn so much more about the man behind one of London’s friendliest restaurants. By the time we’ve finished I have to rush to catch the last train, but I’ll most certainly be rushing back to Aladino’s in the very near future.
Aladino’s can be found at 38C Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BX.