As the music played softly in the background, a veritable potential soundtrack to the Prince of Persia series (the Sand of Times one comes to mind), I could have easily been transposed back to that restaurant in a back alley of Hurghada, should I have closed my eyes. I’ve never fully understood why my wanderlust has such a peculiar effect on me whenever I go to a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Head chef: Chef Zinou
Camera: Nikon D80, Nikkor 50mm lens
First things first – I was invited to review the restaurant, but as you all know, my Eastern European misery is never stopped by that so if I don’t like something I still speak out. We’ve also had (A rather lovely otherwise) bottle of wine but this was savoured more towards the end of the meal so little chances of my taste buds to be impaired during the meal.
Yasmeen is less than a year old, and yet it’s already managed to bag the Time Out Love London Awards for best restaurant in St Johns Wood in 2015. It’s young age reflects in the sharp, modern interior that combines elements of a greenhouse with classic middle eastern architecture. As I was sat there, I couldn’t stop but wonder how beautiful the terrace must look during the summer days.
Our hostess, Marina, was incredibly lovely and hospitable throughout the night – and indeed hospitality is a classic trait of middle eastern cultures. From a service perspective, I saw many elements that I see at high end restaurant – deep knowledge about the dishes, good people skills and beyond that a sheer pride for the food that was presented.
The best way to describe our dinner is that it was a feast. Hummus (pureed chickpeas with tahini), moutabel (baba ganoush or eggplant salad) and tabouleh salad for starters – the salad is an especial favorite of mine, fresh and rich with flavour. The pita breads are all made in-house, they came warm and ended up becoming utensils more than the actual forks for a little while.
The vine leaves we’re also quite delicious – and perhaps more typical of Mediterranean cusine, these particular ones with rice and tomato inside. It soon becomes apparent that Lebanese is the kind of food best enjoyed through sharing dishes, through hand shuffling all around the table snatching pieces of food from here and there.
The diversity and number of both cold and warm starters is astonishing. From the warm platter there was: kibbeh (mince meat, onions, pine nuts), fatayer (pastry with spinach inside), sambousek (pastry with either meat or cheese inside), and what I must agree with our hostess, the best falafel I have tried in London. The pastries were very good – the crumbly slightly crumbly but strong enough to keep together, and the cheese sambousek was a favorite. The soujouk (Armenian sausages) came in a cooked pepper “sauce” (more similar to zacusca if you know what that is) that was spicy with a good balance between the meat and the soft taste of the peppers.
The typical mains for Lebanese cuisine tends to be an assortment of grills – the lamb cubes should be highlighted as they were incredibly tender and could have literally melted in your mouth. There are a few sauces, one spicy and one made with garlic, to help with the grills.
You must be thinking by now – how many rugby players were there eating all this food?! Unfortunately for us, none. And there were still desserts coming up: a petite selection of baklava, with various tastes, which would be great for a tea or coffee, and mouhalabia (a lebanese sort of pudding made with milk and rose water). Yasmeen proved to be a great restaurant where you could enjoy a delicious Lebanese feast.