Drury House, Russell St, London WC2B 5HA thelebanesebakery.com
When the weather’s hot, there’s little to beat Lebanese food, or so thinks Nick
The food of the Middle East attracts me more and more these days. Not the great skewers of meat off the grill, but the small meze dishes; it’s the generous use of vegetables, yoghurts and grains and herbs that get me going.
Middle Eastern food just seems so much more lively and healthy, compared to so much European food these days. One day perhaps a Middle Eastern restaurant will top 50 Best?
New to me though are manousheh; flatbreads that can be compared to pizzas, as they can be sliced or folded, but actually have less calories. Over the top of the soft dough goes herbal zaatar (a wild thyme-sesame blend), cheese, chopped tomatoes, and meat in various combinations.
Often served at breakfast in its home of Lebanon - a manousheh simply begs to have an egg on top - it all goes into an Arabic basalt rock oven to be baked to order.
The Lebanese Bakery is the work of two Lebanese brothers who already have one bakery back home in Beirut and the new Covent Garden opening seems successful already.
I went round on a lunchtime and there was already a big queue for takeaways in the airy, modern room and I’m really wasn’t surprised, sandwiches can be so boring. And cold.
The menu that’s hung up over the counter is not very helpful - all the dishes use the Arabic names for ingredients, so you have to ask the man at the till what they all are one by one. This of course slows down service considerably, as he has to stoically repeat the same information to each and every customer.
The paper takeaway menus do a better job, as they are in English and so a lot more explanatory and include details about Gluten. MIlk, Nuts and Sesame, if such things are a problem for you.
I choose a Mshalaleh with rocca string cheese, wild rocket and Lebanese olive oil. This is a good choice, as the cheese is like halloumi, but even better, and I do so love halloumi. Salty, peppery and oily it goes down a treat, even if the cheese strings make the whole thing a bit of a messy eat.
Rather like eating a pizza with lots of mozzarella, you need one hand to lift the bread and the other to scissor away at the trailing strands of cheese. This one would have benefitted from my folding up the portions before popping them in.
Halloumi cheese, fresh basil and pine nuts are on the next one up: by the way I should mention that we are sharing these flatbreads between two of us, one manousheh I reckon would be just about be enough for the average person for lunch, although two is clearly better if you’re anything like me.
Again, really rather delicious, and I am washing them all down with the bakery’s homemade chilled yoghurt drink, which is tart and a bit sour and just the thing to partner the flatbreads. It probably delivers some good gut bacteria too. Final choice is Ras Asfour - Diced beef sirloin, pomegranate, wild rocket, toasted pine nuts
The meat is tender and cooked just right, not rare but not overcooked either. The actual pomegranate seeds get in my teeth though and on my nerves.
Of course, this is my own fault because I have 1960s teeth; we kids fought hard against going to the dentist back then because the process was medieval in both the equipment used and the wanton cruelty employed. So here we are in 2018 with large gaps in our hampsteads.
There’s plenty on the menu I’d come back to try, Muhammara & Labneh - Strained goat’s yogurt, spiced roasted red peppers, walnut, pomegranate molasses, cucumber for example, and the all - day breakfast of baked eggs and Sujuk -spicy beef sausage.
Fresh and lively and open all day, The Lebanese Bakery is very much the kind of place you can return to regularly if you’re based in the area. And even if you’re not, it’s worth seeking it out.