West London has no shortage of Lebanese restaurants, but few are quite like Abd el Wahab.
First opened in Beirut at the end of the 1990s, the Abd el Wahab restaurant group (named after the address of its original location – ‘Abd el Wahab El Inglizi’) now oversees popular restaurants across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Qatar, Cairo, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The first restaurant outside the Arab region has recently opened, taking over a premises on Pont Street in Belgravia, next to the Hari Hotel.
Deceptive from outside, the large space has space for 120-covers and has elegant décor – from the gold leaf on the ceiling to the living wall of plants and plush dining chairs – but isn’t ostentatious. Instead, the dining room is comfortable, and even though the food is generally refined, the ambience is quite informal. As for the food, the menu is overseen by group executive chef Kamil Bouloot, ensuring dishes are accurately replicated to the standard of Abd el Wahab’s Middle Eastern restaurants. Here, the menu begins with an eclectic selection of mezze dishes (both classic and modern), while mains have prominent focus on grilled meats and fish.
To accompany the Lebanese food, the restaurant also boasts an impressive selection of Lebanese wines. After all, Lebanon is a largely under appreciated country, in terms of wine production, although deeply rooted in tradition. Wine has been made in Lebanon for at least 5,000 years, and much of is excellent. The restaurant’s house wine, Kefreya Les Breteches, from the Bekka Valley is comprised of seven grape varieties synonymous with red wine: delicate, mature and rife with red cherry notes.
“The food will come out when it’s ready. Is that okay?” one waiter asks. I nod approvingly, not expecting the instant arrival of mezze dishes. Within five minutes, the mains also arrive before the starters have finished – leaving the table completely overwhelmed. Although the meal feels immediately rushed, service is otherwise charming (and, needless to say, efficient).
A signature dish of the restaurant, silky hummus is loose and slick with olive oil, crowned with toasted pine nuts and strips of mystery meat which turns out to be lamb (£9.50). Although a relatively simple dish, this hummus’ unrivalled smoothness is remarkable, even better when spread across aforementioned flat breads. A skillet of chicken livers, on the other hand, are marinated with pomegranate and garlic, spiked with lemon juice (£8.50). The livers are technically well-cooked, yet the sharp flavour of pomegranate is discordant with the iron-rich taste of liver. Four pastry tunnels (£6.75) evoke Chinese spring rolls, but are filled with mozzarella, cottage cheese and feta then deep fried: insalubriously delightful.
Mains at Abd el Wahab are generous in terms of both price and size. The signature mixed grill (£22), for instance, is a carnivorous carnival of grilled meats. Cubes of grilled lamb are heady with charcoal, as are the grilled prawn and chicken taouk with convoying garlic sauce. Lamb cutlets are marginally overcooked, but demand to be taken in hand in order for each morsel of meat to be gnawed, like scavenging vultures. Ouzzi, on the other hand, is a lamb shank that’s cooked at a low temperature for 10 hours. Naturally, the lamb is unequivocally tender, matched with a rich cooking liquor comprised of its melted collagen, some parsley and sweet spices. On the side, rice is fluffy and flecked with toasted pistachio nuts and almonds, providing additional depth of texture.
We finish with the Abd el Wahab special baklawa, stuffed with ashta – a Lebanese clotted cream with rose water. Though the pastry is denser than typical, the saccharine honey sweetness and pistachio crunch lends plenty of familiarity. A fair conclusion to a rare taste of refined Lebanese food in one of London’s swankiest post codes.
Abd el Wahab London can be found at 1-3 Pont Street, London, SW1X 9EJ.