[London, Belgravia] Noura

This was the meal Mrs H and I always refer to as the “Office Christmas Party”. We’d been to see a play in the afternoon and this rounded off a really nice day (apart from the nightmare drive to the station in the morning - we caught the train with only a couple of minutes to spare).

My notes tell me it was in 2010 that we last ate here. That’s a bit surprising as Lebanese is a favourite “foreign” cuisine and we know a number of very decent places near home. There’s something a bit different about Noura, making it something of special occasion sort of place – it was in 2010 and it was in 2017. The food may not be dramatically superior to other places we know. But it is superior. But what sets it apart is the contrast with those very casual places we go to regularly. Here, there’s a quite elegant space – roomy, tablecloths, flowers on the tables – that sort of thing. And a semi-formal style of service – blokes in suits taking orders, attentive young servers, etc. And food that arrives at just the right pace. Our overnight trips to London invariably involve a nice dinner and we’re always on the lookout for somewhere new. But that means you tend to forget places you’ve enjoyed in the past.

So, to the food. Along with their main “a la carte” menu, Noura offers several mezze menus and that’s always seemed a good way to go. Pick from six, eight or ten mezze, followed by main course kebabs. That’s a lot of food whichever way you look at it. We went with the six, priced at £28.50, including a kofte kebab and shish taouk each.

Before we’ve even ordered, a plate of “cut it yourself” salad arrives – cucumber, beefsteak tomato, lettuce, radish and carrot. Another plate of olives, pickled turnip and fiery pickled chillis.

And then the cold mezze arrive. A very lemony houmous. Well made baba ganoush – although not as smoky a flavour as some you’ll come across. Tabbouleh is mainly parsley, just as it should be, with a little bulgher, chopped tomato and, again, lots of lemon. Vine leaves were the only miss of the evening – just not very flavoursome. Of course, there’s lots of warm flatbreads (the basket being replenished once we’d scoffed the first lot.

We have to break off eating that, as the hot mezze arrives. There’s one meat based plate, the other vegetarian. On the latter, a spinach fatayer – OK, but Lebanese pastry never seems to be as crisp as British. And a lovely falafel – good flavour, crumbly texture – and went so well with the thinned down tahini sauce. On the other plate, a miniature lamb “pasty” (can’t recall the Lebanese name) – a hint of cinnamon in here, I think. The spice was also in the kibbeh (a really fine version) – crisp bulgher wheat coating encasing soft tasty lamb.

OK, you know that it’s not poor taste to leave some of your mezze. It’s a lot of food and portions are designed to show hospitality. But you try not to leave it. You’re foodies and greedy ones at that. So you do your best to finish (except the vine leaves, most of which were left). But you know you’ve kebabs to come.

There’s lamb kofte, moist and a decent flavour but nothing exceptional. And shish taouk, the chicken nicely charred but, perhaps, a little overcooked and dry for perfection. But there’s a big dollop of a poky garlicky toum to dunk it in. And we’ve still some of the tahini sauce left to drizzle over the lamb.

Perhaps needless to say, we were full by this time. Certainly too full for dessert but perhaps not to full for the plate of assorted baklava and the like that came “on the house”, before we ordered coffee. It’s the sort of nice little touch that demonstrates the sense of hospitality that you usually get at a Middle Eastern restaurant and the sort of touch that means I want to recommend this place unreservedly.