Al Waha is a west London institution. In 2008, Colin Firth called it his favourite table in London (cue photo of Colin Firth looking impassive, clever and hot as ever). Reportedly, it’s the only Lebanese restaurant listed in Charles Campion’s 2006 London restaurant guide. All this, and more, I learned from Al Waha’s website. When restaurants post accolades like this on their websites, I get a little nervous. I worry that it’s an emperor’s new clothes phenomenon, that the restaurant has lost its lustre and is relying upon the tatters of its former reputation to lure customers.
But not Al Waha, thankfully. Al Waha’s a delightful place. Rather old-fashioned now, perhaps, a bit early-oughties, a little stiff and starched like a formal elderly gentleman. But they prepare lamb like few other restaurants, and I do not say that lightly. Perhaps it’s time for a photo.
That’s Al Waha’s kibbeh nayeh, a delectable tartare of raw lamb, spices, and bulgur wheat. The rich succulent lamb mince is beautifully spiced and made silky with a generous drizzle of fine olive oil. Eaten with Al Waha’s excellent homemade bread, this is a dish worth returning for. Which, in fact, I have done: I have now eaten this dish three times, and each time it’s a marvel.
The soujoc (homemade lamb sausage, pictured above) is surprisingly spicy, but the spice is balanced with tang and garlic. I love their vegetarian mezze too. Smoked aubergine with chickpeas is a confident, boldly flavoured dish, fresh and again well balanced. In fact, one can make an excellent and affordable meal of mezze alone, which I advise – the menu has three full three pages of hot and cold mezze to choose from, all priced between £3.50 and £7.00, all generously-portioned, and featuring some hard-to-find classic Lebanese dishes like chicken livers.
The main courses are (in my opinion) less interesting – lots of grilled meats, and not much else. I do recommend the lamb mince kebab served with a spicy sauce, and topped with warm flatbreads dusted with sumac, priced at around £11. (My apologies for the lack of precision in these descriptions; I misplaced my menu notes.)
The service is excellent – at times, in fact, almost overwhelmingly attentive. The house wine is drinkable and affordable. And it’s easy to walk in and immediately find a table. Yes, Al Waha is a tad spendier than some other Lebanese restaurants, but for food of this quality, it’s worthwhile. You will come home heady with lamb, but you will come home happy.
Al Waha, London
75 Westbourne Grove, W2 4UL
Phone: 020 7229 0806
Price per person: £20-30 including wine