Alexandria cuisine arrives in West London
When I first met my wife way back in the nineties, one of the first places we wanted to vist was Egypt. Not Sharm el Sheikh and its resort version of holiday hell, but the capital Cairo and its Mediterranean sibling Alexandria. We were drawn by the allure of the country’s culture and history. But not it should be noted by the food. This wasn’t because of low culinary expectations rather that there were no expectations. Egyptian cuisine was (and to a degree still is) a mystery to most people. And I include the resort holidaymakers and their roast beef dinners and pints of ale.
But I digress. Aladin Barat ran a 500-cover restaurant, located on a beach in the Egyptian port of Alexandria. But after 18 successfully years he left the beach behind to take his vision to the competitive hot spot that is London. Aladinos in Kensington Church street specialises in Alexandrian cuisine in which classic Egyptian dishes pay homage to their Mediterranean influence. So diners can expect to eat such delights as slow-roasted lamb shank infused with mild Egyptian spices; ox cheeks with Puy lentils, carrot & orange carpaccio & gremolata and, with a nod to Southern European recipes, Moules à L'Égyptienne, as created by Head Chef Ed Sargent, formerly of J Sheekey and Moro.
Aladino’s is located in what appears to be a former high street shop, however the interior is all white cotton and lace, with soft lighting set against off white (or are they lilac?) walls. It’s beautiful, glamorous and very romantic. The staff are formally attired in the type of freshly starched black and whites that you might find in a French brasserie; but the smiles and warm welcome are very North African.
We started with the King Prawns fried In Bois Boudran sauce, gem lettuce, and fennel which were perfectly cooked and well balanced – I was a bit worried that the fennel might overpower them, but I was wrong. We also had the ethical Foie Parfait cooked French and Egyptian style and served side-by-side; it was rich, warming and made me feel better about eating it. For mains we tried one of my favourites – as recommended of course – the slow-roasted lamb shank with mild Egyptian spices. This was an interesting dish; it was perfectly cooked but the spices are indeed mild and for me lacked a bit of seasoning. It was a good dish, but not a ‘Big’ dish. For dessert we tried the traditional Mehalabeya, which is a Mastic-based (tree resin?) milk pudding, with candied pistachios. This had some nice flavours but in texture and appearance felt more like a breakfast cereal. Perhaps it works better on the beach.
As it happens my wife and I never got to Egypt, nevertheless I’m sure we will. But it won’t be a Sharm el Sheikh type of holiday that we will go for. Aladino’s is closer to the mark for us.
On a rating from * to *****
Wining and dining *** ½
Serving and pouring ****
Romance without the dance ****
Aladino’s, 38c Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BX