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Aziz and Del'aziz - the real Med

For too long, "Mediterranean", in the context of restaurant menus, has meant a Modern British take on Italian cooking, with a nod or two in the direction of Provence, and even Andalucia if the chef is running out of inspiration.  No wonder the more exotic cooking of the North African seaboard of the Med has caught  on so strongly. A generation or two of Britons have grown up used to the concept of the Mezze, a succession of small dips and tapas type dishes, thanks to our Cypriot population and our penchant for holidays in Spain. Then we discovered a greater variety and a higher quality in such establishments as The Real Greek, Pasha, and Moro and Momo. Indeed it is the ex-head chef of Momo, French born Michel Giraud, (who has Algerian connections) who has fired up the wood ovens at Aziz, a stylish new restaurant and deli at Fulham Broadway.

The owners are experienced restaurateurs, he is a Parsee Iranian, whose gentle and charming manner ensures that the front of house is welcoming and free of "attitude". She is a Turkish chef whose pet project is the marvellous deli next door. This is an Aladdin's cave of delights, with decorated ceramics and cookware, bowls of glistening olives and preserved vegetables, great jars of real Turkish delight, cakes, pastries and breads. Oh the breads - don't eat too much of them before your meal, but you'll have trouble resisting. I dipped the wonderful crusty tomato bread into some fine olive oil and then into sea-salt, and later wished I had been more careful! But at the time, it was sheer gastronomic bliss.

The cold mezze features excellent versions of the old favourites, falafel, hummus and tabouleh as well as the best Baba Ganoush I've had. Very slow cooking with plenty of parsley had rendered the eggplant to a natural green puree with no help from the blitzer. I particularly liked the date orange and carrot salad which acted as a zingy palate cleanser between samples of the other dishes. The warm mezze dishes are really good - many of them, like the various meat kebabs - are cooked on a proper charcoal grill.   If you like goat's cheese don't miss the crispy borek with a mint and yoghurt dip - but if it's a little comfort you're after, then the spicy chickpea and aubergine stew has that tender soft texture and well rounded spice that's sure to console your palate.

Those were some of the mezzes we tried, the starters are more substantial! Now I look at the menu I want to rush back to try the chilled almond soup, or the crab borek, or the marinated grilled gambas, or, or... But given that Zehra Parvin is Turkish, we had to try the Imam Bayildi, that legendary dish which caused the even more legendary priest to faint with delight when he caught the aroma as it came from the oven. The Aziz version is a post-modern deconstructed geometrically arranged stuffed eggplant dish made with halved baby eggplants. We critics are so miserably hard to please. Only a few years ago we were moaning about the total lack of any presentation in most ethnic restaurants, then when they revamp a dish as prettily as this one, we carp about it being twee and lacking rustic charm. It tasted fine, all we wanted was a priest's nose to waft it past.  The home-salted cod fritters were terrific, not too salty and coated with ground sesame and poppy seed which I am dying to try out asap. What finally made that dish was a spoonful of beetroot "hummus" - a great and refreshing combination

If you haven't pigged out impossibly on a mass of mezzes and starters, you can tuck into main courses from a choice of ten. There's plenty of fish: mullet, squid, tuna and monkfish. We chose the mullet which had been cooked wrapped in vine leaves which had become amalgamated with fish in a particularly yummy fashion. My friend and I argued a bit over the harissa: he thought it masked the flavour of the fish, I thought it perked up my jaded critic's palate nicely!
I couldn't resist the "Seven hours braised lamb shank" which was very good indeed. Later I thought I should have tried the tagine of corn fed chicken with preserved lemons - very Claudia Roden - because everyone seems to do lamb shanks well.

 The puddings are good - usually I don't much care greatly for ethnic desserts. But with a French chef of M. Giraud's standing , there are bound to be fireworks! The milk pudding was wobbly and delicate and came with delicious saffron infused crispy rice pudding. It sounds a heavy combination but miraculously it was nothing of the sort. The roasted fig basket tasted good, but might have been better as a trio of smaller filo parcels which might not have gone soggy on the bottom. The accompanying almond and honey ice cream was very nice indeed.

The wine list is a little treasure. We drank all three whites offered by the glass, all were fresh, aromatic and served in generous glasses. The star of the evening was a glass of the Hochar Pere et Fils, the second wine of the Lebanese legend Chateau Musar, and in my opinion every bit as good as its parent - full of smoky, spicy richness.

Fulhamites have a very attractive and interesting restaurant in Aziz that will repay many a return visit as there is so much variety to return to. Watch out for the late operating parking ticket machines, we bought our ticket to run until after 8pm and still got a penalty notice from a Hammersmith & Fulham meter maid.

Aziz, 24 Vanston Place, off Fulham Broadway, London SW6 1AX
Tel:  020 7386 0086
Open all week, reservations essential at the weekend

Clifford Mould July 2003

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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