when i told my housemate that i was going to yalla yalla for lunch, she asked me if it was a singaporean restaurant. i said no and was slightly puzzled why she jumped to that conclusion, but it all made sense on my walk to the restaurant – she thought it was “ya lah, ya lah” (for the non-singaporean readers out there, this basically means “yes”, with some singlish (singaporean slang) thrown in in the form of the word “lah”.) … i was thoroughly amused hahaha!
contrary to what she thought though, yalla yalla is actually a lebanese restaurant that serves beirut street food. i love how flavourful middle eastern food is, so i went to yalla yalla with pretty high hopes, and am happy to say that i was not disappointed 🙂
they have several branches around london, but the winsley street one is where i visited for a late lunch on a thursday. it was nearly full when i arrived around 145pm, but we were nonetheless shown to a nice corner table very promptly. the restaurant is modern, tastefully decorated, open, bright and gives off a casual yet sophisticated vibe. service is friendly and prompt. its a great place for a casual lunch!
some complimentary olives and pickled things to keep us company while dealing with the challenge that picking what to order from an extensive menu always proves to be (happy problem, happy problem i know):we were pretty hungry (or maybe just greedy) so between the 2 of us, we ordered 2 starters plus a main each.
the first starter we ordered was the makalé samak, which we were eyeing once we saw it served to the table next to us. it was basically a plate of deep-fried seafood – so sinful but so good!
makalé samak: deep fried tiger prawns, calamari, and white bait with spring onions, crispy aubergine and chilli minted greek yoghurt – £6
don’t think there’s much scale for you to judge the size of the plate from the photo, but it was BIG. we basically had a mountain of lebanese-style tempura placed before us, and we were certainly not complaining 😉 the batter was very light, not too greasy and definitely not too thick. i could tell that they used fresh oil to fry it, and the prawns, calamari and fish were all nice and fresh! served with some spring onions, pomegranate seeds and topped with a generous squeezing of lime, we really enjoyed this dish. although it was a really generous serving, it was completely polished off and we could see the reflection of our (fatter) faces in the clean bottom of the plate by the end of our meal. it also came with a minted yoghurt dressing but it remained relatively untouched, not because it was bad, but because the seafood tasted good enough on its own.
the next starter we chose was named by time out as one of the 100 best dishes in london – my friend was not a fan of liver at all but we decided that we had to try it given its accolade!
sawda djej: sauteed chicken liver with garlic and pomegranate molases – £4
i LOVED this – in my opinion, its a must-try if you’re at yalla yalla! make sure you do like liver though, because my friend didn’t and so this plate ended up being all mine. definitely wasn’t a problem for me though; i gladly accepted the challenge of finishing it all wahahahah 😛 the sauce was amazingly tasty and the liver was cooked to perfection – not overcooked till it was hard, and retaining some crunchiness (nothing beats my mum’s homecooked liver dish still though ;)). something different, and definitely worth trying if you enjoy liver/feel like being adventurous and having some.
i didn’t have much of this, but i had enough to conclude that the fish was extremely fresh and well-grilled – crispy skin, while the meat was firm and naturally sweet. you can’t see the 2nd piece of fish very clearly in this picture, but the serving was extremely generous with 2 big pieces of fillet atop a bed of rice and some accompanying sauce, which was tasty and was a nice tangy lift to the fish and rice. i would say 2 people could share this if they don’t want to overdo the mains and want to save room in their stomach to enjoy a greater range of appetizers!
as for me, i was excited to try as much of what yalla yalla had to offer as possible, so i opted for a platter:
street platter: hommos, tabboule, warak enab, kibbe lahme, chicken rakakat and chicken wings – £7.75
the hommos (chickpea puree, tahini and fresh lemon juice) was delicious and i loved not just slathering it on nearly everything that entered my mouth but also just licking it off my cutlery and having it plain.
the tabboulé (salad-like thing in the front – chopped parsley, mint, spring onion, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice & cracked wheat salad) was very light and refreshing – the myriad of ingredients came together very well to provide a good palette cleanser in between having the different items on the platter!
the grilled chicken wing was good but nothing to shout about; in fact i don’t remember much about it at all…
to the right of the chicken wing is the kibbeé lahmé, a deep fried lamb and cracked wheat parcel filled with onions comfit, minced meat and roasted pine nuts. this was a bit like a lamb falafel and i really enjoyed it! for the worried, the taste of the lamb was not overpowering at all (which is what many fear when having lamb).
the next item to the right is the chicken rakakat – a deep fried pastry filled with marinated chicken, garlic, shallots and harissa. i really enjoyed this as well! the flavours were strong and the skin of the pastry that enclosed the yummy chicken filling was thin and crunchy. it was like a yummy chicken spring roll!
the insides of the rakakat and the kibeé
the last item on the platter was the warak enab which is traditionally lebanese – stuffed grape leaves! this was really interesting and unlike anything i’ve ever had before. the grape leaves were extremely moist as if they had been soaked in something for quite a while. the texture was almost like seaweed – wet but not soggy or mushy, almost kind of slimy? which sounds quite gross i know, but i didn’t find it so at all! it was actually very interesting!
the inside of the warak enab
if i’m not wrong, the stuffing was a vegetarian (i don’t remember tasting meat) mix of onions, tomatoes, parsley, mint and other yummy things, and the entire roll was probably soaked in something lemon-y. it was good but definitely something that i see people either loving or hating.
we were also given naan as an accompaniment to our mains. the naan was light, soft and fluffy. yummy, but i didn’t manage to have as much as i would have liked to because of all the other amazing food we had before us!
and finally, on to dessert! we were really stuffed by the time we had finished (yes, we finished it all!!!) our starters and mains, but thank goodness we decided to go ahead and share a dessert because what we had was really out of this world:
yalla jou jou: vanilla mousse speculoos, velvety dark chocolate coating and dark chocolate sauce with a very vanilla ice cream – £5.25
if you’re going to have dessert at yalla yalla, this is what you need to get. SERIOUSLY. my friend and i agreed that even though we were really very full, we would have ordered another if we didn’t have to rush off to our jurisprudence lecture… we also agreed that if there’s one thing we’d return to yalla yalla for, it’d be this amazing dessert. it’s not like anything i’ve had i think, and i normally dislike mousse but this wasn’t typically mousse-y at all (i actually think its misleading to call it a mousse!); it was much more firm than a regular mousse, almost like vanilla ice cream covered in this amazing speculoos crumb coating and topped with chocolate sauce. they were also right in describing the ice cream as “very vanilla” – it was extremely fragrant and the bits of vanilla bean spotted in the ice cream were testament to how good it tasted! oh my, i’m craving this just looking at the picture… it was a really really yummy and unique dessert (not something run-of-the-mill that you can get anywhere and everywhere) to end off a great meal.
12 Winsley Street
London W1W 8HQ