Overly sweet and sour pork with boil in the bag rice; microwaved salmon and tomato pasta; a leg of lamb, still in a roaring oven, whose last traces of blushing pink was lost some 20 minutes ago. Childhood memories, hardly Larousse Gastronomique. It may surprise you however to hear that these are some of my fondest meals. Why? Because they were cooked by my mother. It doesn’t matter if your mother was Delia or a Ramsay kitchen nightmare; her food will always have a special place. Part of the reason for this is the strong emotional bonds between the cook and the customer.
Restaurateurs either ignore this fact, or grossly misjudge it and try to be cringingly 'matey' (read: Jamie's Italian). It is a rare treat in a gastro-joint, or Michelin-starred tasting menu food-palace, that you forge even an inkling of a bond with the chef or his food. You are there to be wowed and to stand in awe at the expensive ingredients and fancy techniques. Too often customers are served the chef’s vision. Emotional attachment is rarely forged through perfection and more from endearing flaws and genuine warmth in the way it is served.
Middle-eastern culture is similar to the Caribbean in that they take welcoming people as a happy occasion not an inconvenience. They also have a strong instinct to feed any and everyone around them until they burst. Now, full disclosure is that my better half is Syrian and I am unashamedly biased towards her mother's cooking. Her generosity is endless and her food is so good it rips open your chest and steals your heart. It has real soul.
What does this have to do with a Lebanese restaurant in London named after a famous Arabic singer? Well, it too has soul. Fairuz shares the road with restaurants of notable pedigree (Roganic and Pied a Terre), however it makes no attempt to blend in with its surroundings. Yet as appealing as the finesse and creativity that those two places exude, I feel far more at home here. The walls are covered with faintly tacky murals of the Lebanese countryside and pictures of famous Arab singers and actors. Our first memories of food are intrinsically linked to family and coming here in a big group felt just like that again, just in someone else’s house. The menu is split into the usual cold and hot mezze and larger dishes. We ordered a large selection of mezze and although food is very good, I have had each dish slightly better in other places. As an average between the dishes, it is one of the better in London. The smoky moutabal is one of the best I can remember, as is the rarer kibbeh nayyeh (essentially Arabic lamb tartar). The ful medammas was a big disappointment, overly mushy and lacked a lemoney kick (ful does differ depending on the region and Egyptian ful can also be like this).
|Half-eaten lemon farrouj|
Tube: Bond Street