Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Yalla Yalla, Soho
Being British, and brought up in Liverpool, my cultural reference points for what people have recently taken to calling "Street Food" consisted of the burger van outside the local multiplex and the guy selling roast chestnuts on Church Street. And in case you were wondering, neither of these things are exactly the kind of "concept" you could "roll out" to the discerning patrons of Soho - not before pub chucking out time anyway. But Yalla Yalla purports to be an altogether better class of Street Food - namely Lebanese Street Food, specifically from Beirut - and has gathered a healthy armful of positive reviews since it opened earlier in the year.
On paper, there's everything to like about Yalla Yalla. Independently run by a man and wife team (him from the Lebanon, her from Poland I believe), they serve freshly made authentic Lebanese dishes to a tiny room of barely twenty odd spaces and a queue of hungry local office workers for takeout. The menu is modest but reads well, with staples like Falafel and Baba Gannoush amongst more unusual items such as Lokoz Meshoué (grilled sea bass) and Makalé Samak (deep-fried tiger prawns). They also have, although being lunchtime I didn't sample any, an interesting selection of Lebanese wines and beers. What they don't have, however, based on my lunch here a couple of weeks back, is anything particularly exciting or different enough to make a return journey worthwhile.
Events started well enough, with a couple of pots of very nice pickles and marinated olives. The pickles, in fact, were pretty much the best thing about the whole meal, and this isn't that much of a criticism - I really, really like pickles. But the house hummus, though presented prettily in a swirl of whole chickpeas and coriander, was only good and the pita, though warm and fresh, was under seasoned and fairly dull.
A dish of halloumi was perfectly fine, but I would have preferred more of a crust (in fact, any crust at all) on the cheese. Fresh basil, chopped tomato and cheese is hardly an earth-shattering revolution but, you know, I ate it.
Next, the first real disappointment. These falafel, though freshly made and served with a tangy garlic, yogurt and onion dressing, were woefully under seasoned. It's all very well getting your frying perfectly timed and your ingredients authentically sourced but if you don't put enough salt in they're going to taste like mud. Not very nice at all unfortunately.
A final main course of grilled marinated lamb was also a bit of a letdown. The lamb itself was missing something in terms of spicing and flavour, had no crispy char, and was overcooked to a uniform grey inside and out (though still commendably moist). The lamb pieces were on a bed of vermicelli rice and flatbread, and served with a pleasant enough onion salad, but none of these bits and pieces really sat together very well, particularly not a bowl of incredibly potent garlic "mayonnaise" which had been so over-whisked it had turned into a thick white jelly. It may seem like I'm nitpicking but when you are serving simple dishes you can't afford too many mistakes before the whole house of cards comes falling down. I had a tiny taste of the garlic mayonnaise/jelly and left the rest.
All this, a small handful of not particularly huge, not particularly interesting dishes, came to around £20 a head. A depressingly average price for lunch these days I suppose, but I couldn't help feeling rather hard done by. None of it sparkled, much of it was pretty mediocre and it wasn't even that cheap - we were only drinking tap water after all. There you have it then, hot on the heels of a Venetian bacaro and any number of identikit burrito joints, yet another trendy overpriced ethnic food fad to swallow your money in central London. Aren't we lucky?