Yalla Yalla Pop-Up, Shoreditch

Yalla Yalla promises delicious and authentic Beirut street food. Their two restaurants in central London are comfortable, warm and always have a great vibe. However I can’t help but believe that serving street food in an established sit down restaurant off Oxford Street rather defeats the point. So, when I was notified about the Yalla Yalla pop-up branch in Shoreditch I was keen to try out this real street eatery.

The informal 40 seat space is under a canopy, shielded from the elements with heaters effectively warming diners. It is a mix of tables with stools and low-level cushioned seating. At the weekends belly dancers and live DJs entertain the crowds. The place is decorated with brightly coloured materials and manages to generate a Middle Eastern feel.

Lebanese food is quick to prepare and easy to eat so works well as an outdoor option. The Yalla Yalla menu is varied and comprises of a range of mezze to share, with Baba Ghanouj, Samboussek Jibne (pastry filed with feta, halloumi and mint), falafel, hummus, tahini and Kibbe Lahme (deep fried lamb parcels). Favourites like lamb and chicken shawarma are available, as well as a selection of wraps with speciality ingredients like Soujoc sausages. All the usual dipping sauces and salads accompany the main dishes. For dessert, a selection of Lebanese pastries are on offer to eat onsite or for takeaway.

The food is just as good as in the indoor restaurants, but somehow tastes fresher and more vibrant. Mezzes are ideal for groups to share but wraps are better for quick takeaway lunches on the go. I loved the completely addictive chicken sharwarma and was particularly impressed with the extra creamy and smooth homemade hummus and the deliciously crunchy falafel. The real beauty of Beirut food is the combination of all the flavours and textures, which you can mix and match in any way you desire. A short but enticing list of cocktails will quench your thirst and prepare you for a night out in Shoreditch. We particularly liked the refreshing Pineapple Mojito and the fruity Berry Dance Martini.

Good news if you work in the area… a lunch-time bicycle delivery service is available to local businesses and residents Monday-Friday from noon-3pm. Orders can be made on 07725 841372.

This cuisine suits the Shoreditch site and the carefree clientele well and I wouldn’t be surprised if Yalla Yalla becomes a ‘permanent pop-up’.

more information: www.yalla-yalla.co.uk

BRGR.CO, Soho

BRGR combines two of my favourite things: Beirut and burgers. This Lebanese brand is the newest addition to London’s thriving burger scene, competing with Honest and Lucky Chip on the busy streets of foodie heaven, Soho.  Lebanon’s popular burger joint, BRGR has two branches now operating in Beirut, one in Achrafieh and another in Beirut Souks. Perhaps this brave leap to England suggests that soon we’ll see outlets in other key cities around the world.

The restaurant, on Wardour Street, seats 55. Inside the atmosphere is chilled and carefree with floor to ceiling windows, dark oak tables and chairs and a lively open kitchen.

BRGR use 28-day-aged beef from the Duke of Buccleuch Estate in south-west Scotland. Focusing on simplicity, the restaurant serves a menu of three classic burgers: the 4oz, 6oz or 8oz with optional toppings of cheese or chilli-con-carne. A selection of traditional American-inspired sides, milkshakes and desserts complete the American vibe.

The burgers are presented in a DIY layout… meat and cheese in bun and salad condiments on the side for optional use, perfect for fussy boys who wish to avoid greenery. The meat is finely ground and grilled; it is a rustic thin burger, good quality meat but very little seasoning. The bun is soft and sweet and I loved the thick vinegary gherkins. Chips are best left plain, the truffle oil and cheese variety were far too rich and greasy for me.

We just had time to polish off a sundae to conclude: very simple vanilla ice-cream, with disappointing chocolate sauce and crumbled Oreo cookies. It satisfied my sweet tooth but wasn’t anything special. Milkshakes however, are worth a try, the vanilla was thick and creamy flavoured with real black vanilla.

I can imagine BRGR produce one of the best butties in Beirut but here in London we have way more competition, and though BRGR has potential, other burger joints in Soho are far from being budged from the top spot.

More information here.

http://www.brgrco.co.uk/

The Best of Beirut in Summer

The Beiruti bohemians know how to have a good time any time of year, but in the hot summer months the Lebanese capital sizzles with excitement as the rooftops are revealed and the city is set alight.

Much of my last visit was spent exploring the beaches and clubs that make Beirut’s summer so fabulous and fun. Especially as violence and trouble nearby threatens to dampen spirits, it seems important to stress the vivacity and joie de vivre of the passionate people in this city. Personally I found it especially refreshing to experience a place where negativity just doesn’t exist.

Soak up the sun…

The city gets hot and humid especially in July and August, the beaches (usually just pool resorts on the seaside edge) become very popular and are a lovely way to enjoy the sunshine and top up your tan.
La Plage served us well. Located opposite Vendome hotel (with free access for hotel guests) this pool and bar/restaurant is extremely convenient. A hip gang hang out round the pool and order pina coladas in the water bar while looking out at the rippling Mediterranean. Entrance fee for non-hotel guests is approx $25 a day, food is reasonable and decent.
Edde Sands is located a bit further out of town and is the biggest Beirut beach. Geared more towards families, this huge resort aims to provide every amenity you could wish to find, a great day out.
Orchid – the 45 minute drive is worth it for this stunning beach, a sophisticated, elite crowd lie languidly by the sparkling pool. Blend in by wearing a bright bikini and big sunglasses. Be warned you may feel like you are in an episode of Made in Chelsea.
Amethysthe, located within the Phoenicia Hotel is a gem of a pool, themed with purple and always playing popular tunes, it is a lovely place to spend the day and a real asset to the Phoenicia empire.

Feast on…

As the light lasts longer, meals become later… many eateries stay open 24 hours a day, ideal for an extra 4am bite on the way home.
Leil Nhar – quick service Lebanese fast food eatery-pizzeria and coffee shop serving a variety of dishes, coffees and smoothies around the clock… cheap, cheerful, the ideal early morning hangover cure!
Al Balad – offers tasty and authentic Lebanese dining. A relaxed and friendly restaurant, the prices are very reasonable.
Barbar in Hamra serves up insanely good grub, ask for the chicken Shawarma and you will be instantly addicted. Open late.

Cocktail hour at…

Iris – this chic lounge bar serves food and drink on its attractive rooftop floor. The food is modern and striking and the cocktails are innovative and creative… equally impressive in taste and visuals.
Le Capitole – chilled out and relaxed this is the perfect place to enjoy a few dishes off the contemporary menu and order a drink or too from the barman who is happy to make any cocktail of your choice.
Cherry on the Rooftop is the seasonal bar in the luxurious Le Gray Hotel. The bar offers enviable views of the city and a great menu of snacks and cherry inspired concoctions.

Dance the night away…

Skybar – the hottest rooftop club in Beirut. The place to be and be seen.
Pier 7 – An epic sized fashionable club with bright lights and trendy design. Drink, dance and delegate someone else to drive home.
White – super slick and shiny bar and club, find some friends to get you in then fight the regulars for a seat at the bar. Excellent DJ sets and dance routines on the bar make for an exciting and exhilarating night… Fridays and Saturdays are the best nights.

Shop till you drop at…

Mishmaoul – this pop-up shop no longer has a home at the Souks but the designer’s work is still very much alive and in demand in Beirut. The Middle Eastern bright and pop-arty cushions, prints and accessories will animate up any wardrobe.
Patches and Cream Boutique – a small independent shop in downtown Beirut selling quirky and wearable clothes from a variety of unique designers. I was pleased to notice an abundance of neon in the collection!

Doze off…

Vendome – a beautiful boutique hotel, with homely rooms and friendly staff. You will never want to leave.
Le Gray – a divine, luxurious hotel in the heart of the city, Gordon Campbell Gray’s fabulous world of intriguing artworks and distinctive style is inimitable and very special.

Beirut is blissfully beautiful in summer and hopefully my recommendations will help you experience the best of the thrilling city during this hot and fabulous season.