Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Dalila, Battersea

EDIT 29/03/16: I don't know what in holy hell has happened since this review, but a recent delivery from Dalila was so catastrophically inedible I felt the need to put a disclaimer in here in case anyone else is tempted to try it. Avoid like the plague.

After Arabica reminded me just how good food from the Levant could be, even if it was at the expense of that month's salary, I was in the mood for a nice big Lebanese lunch where portions weren't measured by the teaspoon and where I might feel I'd got my money's worth.

Most Lebanese (I realise there's a bit of crossover with various different countries' cuisines - Syrian, Israeli, Palestinian, but I'm going to stick with calling it Lebanese because I don't know any better) food I've tried has all been of a solid minimum standard; maybe Middle Eastern chefs are all trained very well, or maybe it's just difficult to mess up hummus and tabouleh. Either way, while the service in a number of flashy Edgware Road Maroush joints has been less than brilliant (I've walked out before eating anything more than once), what's on the plate, when it finally arrives, is generally hard to fault.

So what happens when decent, fresh Lebanese food is served with a smile, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Well, you have a bloody good time, that's what happens. And so it is at Dalila, latest occupant of one of those Sites of Death that appear to host a different restaurant every year (even I've reviewed the building twice before; once as the Food Room and once as Tom Ilic) but who deserve to stick around because everything they do is well worth the money they're asking.

"Hummus Beiruty" contained chili and garlic and was impossible not to like, especially scooped up in the fresh house flatbreads. Even the nibbles had a bit of extra something to them, powerfully-flavoured olives spiked with pickles and fresh parsley.

Foul Moudamas is not a name that crosses the language barrier very successfully, but was the very opposite of foul, being piping hot beans served in a salty, citrusy olive oil mixture.

Lamb kebbeh (four for £5.50, now that's value) were also fresh out of the fryer and packed full of dense, almost offaly mince.

Tabouleh works and fails on the strength of the freshness of its ingredients, and again here we were in safe hands - crunchy, bright-green, freshly-shredded parsley studded with onions and cracked wheat.

You'll notice my descriptions of the dishes we had at Dalila are rather sparse; the fact is, much like the best Italian restaurants, the serving of lovely fresh ingredients as simply as possible leaves you with a fantastic meal but very little detail to obsess over. Which can only be a good thing. Here are slices of kellaj cheese, flatbreads stuffed with halloumi, red chilli and thyme.

The marinade on these grilled chicken wings was quite something - complex and herby, held together by a healthy glaze of lemon juice. There was a bright-white garlic dip to accompany them, all of it just threatening to tip over into overseasoning but not quite.

Samke harra was charcoal-grilled white fish in a tomato/pepper sauce, and I'm afraid as I didn't get to try any of it I'm not going to be of much use to you describing what it was like. There was none of it left by the end of the meal though so it was probably as good as everything else.

In all frank, objective honesty Dalila isn't the very best Middle Eastern restaurant I've ever been to; that is still the brilliant Al Waha, whose menu of sweetbreads, raw lamb and batrakh (fish roe) is just that more exciting and exotic. But one man's "safe" is another man's "reliable" and by not reinventing the wheel and serving familiar Lebanese favourites with such easy charm (our waiter didn't exactly have a difficult job serving us, the only customers midday on Sunday, but he was still exceptional) they will, I hope, make a success of this tricky location and become a new local favourite. And I say that with only the most selfish of intentions - it's ten minutes' walk from my house. My, my, my, Dalila.


Dalila on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Mine Mine's a cider. So before you go to walk out the door, buy me a cider 'cos I haven't got any more.
Nice review. I had some falafel on Saturday, from an Indian Street food stall at Plymouth Food Fest, amazingly different and nice, not like the usual supermarket style stodge. Very crunchy and light. Also found some Pakistan Mangoes. Perhaps someone has a conspiracy theory on the banning of Indian Mangoes from the UK?Plymouth food fest was not so amazing.
Your meal looks like a better deal. Tabouleh looks superb , other dishes look good. Photos are good.
Great review.
I am off to Morocco in November, this is getting me in the mood.

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