Brick Lane is the ultimate curryholic’s destination with vindaloos, baltis and tikka masalas galore. It can be a confusing experience trying to discriminate between the good, the bad and the downright ghastly as wily waiters call out to unsuspecting passersby with promises of the best Indian in town, neon lights dazzle and glare, the identikit menus in the windows look like they’ve come from the same ‘set up your own Indian’ starter pack, and the aroma of spices entice at every corner. Which is bewildering enough if you want a curry, but can feel like looking for a vegetarian restaurant in France if you’re in the mood for something else.
Well, should this be the situation you find yourself in, Lebanese Lounge could be just the oasis you’re after. Tucked away in a tiny courtyard down a little passageway on Hanbury Street, it is two minutes from the main Brick Lane drag but seems a world away. Exuding calm and rather more sophistication than the average Brick Lane establishment, this is a great alternative while still offering tasty food at affordable prices.
The menu features a plethora of dishes, divided into cold mezze, hot mezze, grilled main courses, fish and seafood and side dishes. I recommend eating here with a group of friends and ordering a selection of mezze to share, a great way to sample the varied and uniformly excellent starters. We tried the hommos, moutabal baba ghanouj (puree of grilled aubergine),bammieh b’zeit (okra cooked with tomato, onion and coriander), grilled halloumi cheese,sambousek cheese (Lebanese pastries filled with feta cheese), sambousek lahem (pastries filled with minced lamb and pine nuts), batata hara (sautéed potato topped with fried vegetables) and wark inab b’zeit (vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomato, parsley and onion). In fact, with the trend towards ‘tasting dishes’ (think Gordon Ramsay’s Maze), you could easily make a meal of eating your way through the mezze, which range in price from £3.50 to £5.50.
However, if you prefer the starter/main/dessert structure to your meal, there is a good range of grills for a more substantial main course. We sampled the lahem meshwi (charcoal grilled lamb cubes), shish taouk (skewers of marinated chicken with a robust garlic sauce) and kafta halb (grilled minced lamb with herbs), all of which were succulent and tender. Priced between £9 and £11 for grills, or £15 for fish and seafood dishes, the food is good value for the authentically prepared dishes and quality ingredients.
Desserts (all £4) include traditional baklawa, Lebanese rice pudding flavoured with rosewater and mouhallabieh, a milk pudding topped with rosewater syrup and pistachios. We finished with a refreshing fresh mint tea, and would have decamped to the Shisha Lounge to linger for a postprandial drink and experiment with the different fruity flavoured tobaccos of the traditional water pipes were it not for the fact it was already full of contented regulars who looked as if they were close to becoming part of the furniture.
Lebanese Lounge is the sort of place you might discover inadvertently – after all, the address reminds me of platform 9¾ in Harry Potter (yes, it really is 50.5-52.5 Hanbury St – the half numbers kind of make sense when you find the place) – but now I’ve told you all about it, there’s no need to leave that discovery to chance.