Dispatch from London: The Turquoise Chanteuse Sings a Song of Lamb andEggplant

When I am in London for work, I have the good fortune of knowing good friend and colleague Ancia, who not only shares my love of shopping, but also of good food. Lucky me, the way my trip in September worked out, I was staying in the city over a weekend, and Ancia was kind enough to devote most of it to acquainting me with both the resplendent shopping Mecca of Selfridges and the post-card-esque Marylebone High Street. For lunch, she wanted to take me someplace special and unique, and as I’ve never had Lebanese cuisine before, special it was!

Fairuz Restaurant is tucked into a narrow, old city street, and is named after a very famous Beruit singer from the 1930s. It is comfortable, Bohemian, and staffed entirely by Lebanese dudes, which I like. Always a good sign for an ethnic restaurant – along with the fact that Middle Eastern people were eating there. Ancia and I commenced to two lovely glasses of white wine, and some stunningly delicious appetizers. The first, grilled halloumi cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers, was fabulous. Topped with nutty, slightly crunchy black sesame seeds, the briny, just-warm cheese and ripe tomatoes turned a would-be caprese salad into something much more. Halloumi cheese is pricey at Wegmans, but if you don’t have a Middle Eastern or Greek restaurant in your path serving it, find some and pan grill it up yourself. It’s stringy like mozzarella and salty like feta, the best of both worlds and yet not quite like either.

Next up, tiny lamb sausages, mild and savory,  spiced with warming spices and served with flatbread and lemon. They were terrific, if not as exciting as the halloumi or our next dish, but as I’ve said before, if bar food in America were this good, I might go ahead and live above that bar. In fact, I have some ground lamb in the freezer right now – maybe I’ll make these for dinner!

Next up, our favorite dish of the meal, even though my entrĂ©e was fantastic in its own right. This was bantinjan kawerma, fried eggplant with yogurt and mint, topped with chopped up, cooked lamb filet and toasted pine nuts. I cannot find a recipe for this iteration of this dish online, and I’m really upset about it, because this was an addictively lovely dish. The eggplant was cooked down so much, it had disappeared into the yogurt with an utterly sweet, creamy consistency, and the salty lamb and pine nuts on top contrasted flawlessly into a sweet, savory, rich and light dip for the flatbread provided. Ancia loved it so much, she ate the dip with a spoon, and I was just mesmerized by how damn sweet the eggplant was. This is the kind of food I now crave with increasing frequency, and I wish it was more readily available here. I’m hopeful that Middle Eastern cuisine, with it’s comforting, warming spices and tender meats, will be the next big thing in America. Lebanese-Americans, open some more restaurants! Your food is the jam!

The menu sported a lamb knuckle dish served with coriander sauce, so there was no way anything else was being put down in front of me. Holy cow (holy lamb?), this was a gorgeous plate of food. The lamb was cooked down like pot roast, not gamey or funky in the slightest, but just tender, juicy, and ultimately savory. There's that word again, and I know I keep using it, but how else to describe the effect coriander, cumin, cinnamon and salt have on meat? If you can name the flavor with a better word, I'll give you a dollar. The coriander yogurt sauce and onions on top were cooling, tangy, and refreshing, and the basmati rice underneath was perfectly cooked and a suitable bed for the lush meat and sauce. I can hear you thinking, “Gross, knuckle!” already, but I’m telling you, there was no scary texture or flavor here. In fact, it reminded me of the beef Morgan’s dad Mike made for my parents and me a couple years ago – let’s just face it, friends, animals have delicious legs, and we should eat them.

Over each dish, you can see the little pools of olive oil. I’ve found this at Zahav, in Philly, as well – they finish plates with oil, but the quality is so high, nothing is ever greasy or outright oily. The practice imparts a peppery, true olive taste that sort of blesses everything with a hallmark that unites each dish. I love it. Ancia and I lingered at Fairuz for a couple hours, enjoying a gorgeous service of mint tea in tiny glasses that I wish I had photographed, and relaxing into the comfortable, antique chairs and banquets. I would give Fairuz an 8 on the BHS scale, with minor points off only because the restroom facilities were down the scariest, narrowest staircase ever, and the service, while attentive, was not particularly friendly. Then again, I’m pretty sure our waiter didn’t speak English – but it is what it is. My hunger is big, my personality is bigger!

Fairuz on Urbanspoon

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