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Levant, Wigmore Street W1

Louise Elgin revelled in Lebanese cuisine

As I entered Levant, which is tucked discreetly down a passage, away from the crowed urban metropolis outside, I arrived in a different world; a world of hypnotic music, heady fragrances, belly dancers, tea lights, sisha pipes and all things exotic. Here a genuine atmosphere of a Middle Eastern Souk has been created, with an inviting and theatrical , almost mystical ambience. As we sat down at our table, attractive belly dancers were in mid-show; their beauty and effortless intricate body movements totally captivating us and the other diners as they cast their mesmerizing spell throughout the rooms.

Make no mistake, eating here is all about feasting, sharing dishes with your fingers, trying new concepts and indulging the senses and taste buds - really getting into the spirit of Lebanese cooking and all it has to offer. It is traditional to begin with mezze dishes of which there are numerous to try, both of the hot and cold variety. These are starter sized portions of mostly vegetarian based dishes and I suggest you try four or five between two people. We asked for help here, to try some things on the menu we might otherwise never have chosen. From the vast selection on offer we tried Muhammarah, a dip, brick red in colour with a nutty flavour and a good coriander kick; Koossa bill tahina, a subtly flavoured fried courgette purée with tahini, lemon juice, garlic and mint; some crunchy fried cauliflower with mint and garlic; wonderfully authentic tabbuleh salad and Fatoosh, a Moorish mix of toasted pita, lettuce, tomato, parsley and mint, served up as a salad, not forgetting my favourite, succulent pastry cases filled with feta cheese and mint. Quite delicious! These were served with a plentiful and varied selection of breads. To drink, we tried an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from the Lebanon, its flintiness cutting through the flavours on the plate.

To follow, we tried some really good, sweetly spiced cinnamon quail that came served with broad beans and onions and some melt in the mouth lamb in a tomato and coriander sauce; however, even  the latter was pipped at the post by the quail which was exceptional in its taste and flavours. We selected a bottle of French Chinon which, with just a shade of acidity, held its own, complementing the spicy flavours. To finish, we tried a beautiful and cleansing fresh fruit platter, which included fresh dates, apples, pears, strawberries, grapes…I could go on! This is the traditional way to finish a meal in Middle Eastern culture.  We also enjoyed some to die for pistachio ice cream, before strong coffee and refreshing but very sweet mint tea was expertly poured from a great height in the true tradition. This was accompanied by beautifully tiered plates replete with Turkish delight and sweet biscuits.

In the words of my guest, “One does not come here for a quiet dinner a deux, but rather to feast and be entertained, which takes a large stomach, energy and enthusiasm”. I think he sums up this place rather well! It is also possible to work up quite a substantial bill, but then there are set menus to choose between which will help keep the bill in check. If you’re up for a restaurant that is also theatre rather than just pure dining, then this is somewhere to come and experience a memorable evening’s entertainment.

Louise Elgin. October 2006. (See also Louise's review of sister restaurant Pasha)
A meal for two with wine and water is around £120.00

Jason Court 76 Wigmore Street
London W1U 2SJ
Tel: 020 7224 - 1111

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