My love and appetite for Lebanese food was fuelled this year during my two trips to the Middle Eastern city, Beirut. Lean, fresh and full of flavour, it is a cuisine that never fails to satisfy and delight me. Near my work in South Kensington, I have scouted two suitable Lebanese outlets… Comptoir Libanais for meze platters and juice (and my favourite Lebanese chewing gum!) and Beirut Express for dangerously addictive Chicken Sharwarma on hungrier (less healthy) days.
Yalla Yalla has been on my ‘to try’ list for a while, and with the opening of the temporary branch on Southbank it was prompted in my memory. The Beirut style restaurant chain has grown already with three branches around the Oxford Street/Soho area in addition to the Southbank summer pop-up. I love the punchy and fun name, and the ambience and food we discovered inside lived up to expectations.
The Winsley Street branch is moments away from Oxford Street tube station and when we arrived early on an August Friday evening the place was packed. The restaurant is large and eccentric with large wooden benches to sit on communally. We were shown to a light airy space by the window, perfect for street observing and slightly quieter, away from the main buzz of the venue. The menu was overwhelming, all my favourites stared up at me expectantly: grilled halloumi, hummous, tabbouleh… to avoid disappointment we ordered it all as well as chargrilled chicken wings, Barara Harra, Chicken Sharwarma and Kafta Minced Lamb Skewers. Luckily I had only eaten one little chocolate bar all day, so was famished and ready to feast.
The food arrives at Yalla Yalla as it is ready, rather than a strict starter/main routine. Our smaller dishes all arrived first… melt in the mouth chicken wings with the most delicious marinade, crispy skin on the outside and tender chicken meat inside. Tabbouleh salad was a super fresh and vibrant mix of ingredients and the halloumi was delicious though could have been grilled a little more. The obvious favourite though was the homemade hummous (chickpea puree) topped with marinated slices of lamb fillet. We hoovered it up, it was the perfect combination of salty meat and soft creamy hummous… I wondered why on earth I had never tried this speciality before?!
The main dishes were huge and mounted high on plates. My initial thought was “wow this smells good” followed closely by “how on earth are we going to finish all that food?” Chicken Sharwarma was as delicious as always but in Yalla Yalla it’s not as greasy or unhealthy feeling as I have previously experienced. Piled onto an open pitta bread with rice and salad the only thing it lacked was a big dollop of garlic sauce. The Minced Lamb was richer in flavour, grilled lightly with sweet onion and fragrant parsley and served with rice and Sumac onion salad. Both utterly yummy, so good we agreed to take the remains away with us in a doggy bag… something I never normally feel like burdening myself with!
Full of delicious savoury food, we declined dessert, though the options were varied and attractive sounding. Instead we had a final sweet kick from our sugary drinks. Yalla Yalla offers an extensive list of tempting cocktails, classics that have been adapted using Middle Eastern ingredients. I would recommend ordering the Beiruti, a lovely refreshing gin-based cocktail with fresh strawberry, lime, cane sugar, pomegranate juice and topped with Prosecco, it is not too overpowering and will complement your meal.
Yalla Yalla is perfect for take-away treats or a casual sit down meal… the restaurant has a joyful atmosphere and the best Lebanese food in town.
Visit the Yalla Yalla website here for more information.