After a bout of opulence that would make even Marie Antoinette blush, it was time to reign in the excess. So with heavy heart and empty stomach, I set off to Yalla Yalla with some sense of trepidation. Middle Eastern street food doesn’t fill me with the same pangs that, say, a steak sandwich might. It’s done the rounds already and, as usual, I’m behind: this Lebanese group are now onto their third branch and there seems to be no stopping them. But I’m here to be good. No flesh; no hooch. To prove that non-drinking vegetarians can have fun. Poor sods.
This is grazing, fork-fight food. A place to go on a budget. Dishes come thick and fast. A beautifully creamy, nutty hummus (chickpea puree, tahini, lemon juice) (£4.00) to be dunked into with warm pitta kicks things off well. Brushing aside thoughts that a chilled pinot gris would go nicely thank-you-very-much, we focus instead on a zippy dish of tabbouleh (parsley, mint, onion, olive oil, bulgar wheat) (£4.00) – a whole gamut of freshness and health freakery. The best I’ve had in Christendom. Veggies: 1 – Meat-Eating Bastards: 0. Bugger.
Spurned-on by the promise of the leafy dishes, we foray towards the sinful end of the menu. Wildly overpriced king prawns (£13.75) are denied all royalty in a limp coriander and tomato concoction that could have only been rustled up by a three-year old at the stove. Rice is cooked without love. Or skill. And we struggle to pick up any salty tang of molten halloumi on the Manaee’sh (£3.25), a flat pastry, cheese and sesame combo.
But then restraint went belly up: coffee, baklava (£2.75) – heavenly pistachio pastries – and a few stray glasses of wine (Chateau Ksara Prieure – £19.75) find their way onto our table. It gets worse. Later in the week, I go back for lunch and do it all again. But I also order the pan-fried, garlic-kissed chicken livers (£4.25) everyone’s been talking about (it’s one of TimeOut‘s Top 100 dishes). The toddler’s been sacked. Faith is restored. Vegetarians have never had it so good. Nor have the rest of us.
£50 for two (with service)
Food; 7, Service; 6, Ambience; 7
Yalla Yalla, 1 Green’s Court, Soho