During my last week working for Oxford University Press, I booked a table at Al-Shami, just round the corner from our Great Clarendon Street office, to share a lunch with some friends who sadly I’d be seeing a little less regularly after leaving. On offer at the Lebanese restaurant is a plethora of traditional hot and cold mezze as well as larger dishes, and vegans are spoilt for choice with a large number of these being clearly labelled as vegan on the printed version of the menu. As it turned out, I needn’t have booked – we were the only party in the small restaurant for the whole of the lunchtime sitting. The sight of an empty restaurant can be a bit off-putting, but you’ll see from my review that we needn’t have had any worries.
With the excuse of it being my farewell lunch, I decided to go all out, ordering three mezze along with bread and houmous. I find with this style of eating out that you’re never quite sure how large the mezze will be, and sometimes two dishes might not be enough. Even if this had been the case, my order would have been plenty big enough, but when the first dishes were brought out, it became clear that the portion sizes were very generous, and I ended up with mounds of food. Before our order arrived though, we were brought out a couple of traditional Lebanese salad platters, consisting of a whole bell pepper and beef tomato, half an iceberg lettuce, olives, and an assortment of other raw and pickled vegetables. It was something none of us had ever been served in this way before, without a sharp knife to chop up the veg. We were a bit apprehensive but between us all we gave the pickles a go, and it was a nice fresh accompaniment to the slightly heavier rest of the meal once that arrived.
The hommos was smooth and creamy, a little bitter, and the perfect dip to accompany our Lebanese bread, of which there was ample. The presentation was lovely (which may or may not be of interest to you, but it was hommos, there’s not too much to say)!
The Moussaa’at Badhinja was an aubergine dish with tomatoes and spices, served cold, which was very sweet and it just melted in your mouth, the fried aubergine was so soft. The flavour was a nice contrast to the bitterness of the hommos too, and the sauce (though pretty oily and definitely not the healthiest lunch option) was delicious with the bread dipped into it.
The first of the hot mezze I ordered, the Zahra Maqlia, came served quite differently to how I imagined from the dish, but it tasted fantastic. The cauliflower was shredded into tiny florets, and fried until it was crispy very crispy. It looked like charcoal and you might expect it would taste burnt but it didn’t at all. Packed with seasoning, I’ve never eaten cauliflower like this and I’d love to again – they managed to make a vegetable seem pretty indulgent!
The falafel were also served warm, with the pile of four large chickpea and broad bean balls fried so they were nice and crispy on the outside and crumbly in the middle. You could tell they were the real deal. In fact, I ordered a meal which came with falafel somewhere else later that week and was embarrassed for the restaurant at what they presented me in comparison. Served along with a little tahini-dressed salad which was a nice accompaniment, but I must admit I didn’t eat all of it because I wanted to save room for all that fried goodness.
My friends had ordered a few of the other vegan options as part of their meals, and there were clean plates all round. Lillie went for the Ardi-Shoki, an artichoke dish with mixed vegetables in a tomato sauce, which looked and apparently tasted delicious, while Katy went for the Fattoush. A number of the grains served as sides were also of course vegan, were cooked well, and made for a really filling meal.
If you are looking for an authentic experience, I’d really recommend Al-Shami. The food was delicious, and the service was great (our waiter even entertained our slightly cringey request to take a group photo of us). This restaurant is fantastic for vegans; there were lots of other dishes I could have ordered and would like to try next time. The nice thing about this restaurant is that the veggie dishes aren’t sidelined, and my meat-eating friends were counting them among their potential meal choices equally. Despite the mountains of food I ordered, my bill was quite low, and the amount of food you get for your money here is great. Thanks Al-Shami for a delicious, and memorable, last meal in Jericho for a while!