33 High St, Wimbledon Village. SW19 5BY
0208 944. 7696/www.laylarestaurant.co.uk
Lebanese food is firmly rooted in the geography of the Levant, that area of the Middle East that also encompasses Egypt, Palestine and Syria. But because of the country’s location there is also a strong Mediterranean influence as well as elements from the cuisines of erstwhile invaders, the Turkish and the French.
Wimbledon Village is one of London’s wealthiest and more conservative suburbs and certainly a far cry from the urban bustle of the Edgware Rd, the hub for Lebanese food in this country. So it was going to be interesting to see how Layla could engage with a suburban clientele.
The interior is spacious and comfortable blending Middle Eastern style with western comfort. The waitress suggested that we had three starters and a couple of main courses between the two of us so we chose two from the cold and one from the hot mezze menus.
Raheb is a smoked aubergine salad with tomato, peppers and onion (£5.45). The gently smoked aubergine had a soft melting mouth feel and a lovely taste. For me there was slightly too much of the tomato and peppers in the dish. I would have been quite happy with the aubergine on its own!
Vine leaves (£5.50) were clearly home-made and came stuffed with rice, herbs and spice. They were very fresh and tasty with a good crunch to the rice and a citrus tang.
Falafel (£6.45) were authentically made with chick peas and broad beans and were served with the classic tahini based tarator sauce and pickles. The falafel were hot and crisp and couldn’t have been any better if they had been flown in directly from a sidewalk cafe in Beirut.
To accompany the food I was drinking a Blanc de l’Observatoire from Château Ksara (£22.50/£6.50). They have been making wine in Lebanon for 5000 years but Château Ksara has only been around for about the last 150 and is at the heart of the country’s wine industry in the Bekaa Valley. The wine is light with a floral nose and a soft white fruit palate. Perfect with the mezze.
My dining companion had gone for an altogether sweeter proposition. The Raspberry Collins (£8) was a raspberry take on the classic long drink the Tom Collins replacing the lemon juice with fresh raspberries and raspberry liqueur. She sank a couple so I think she enjoyed it!
Sayadieh (£15.95) is listed in the menu as being an authentic Lebanese fisherman’s dish and my guess is that the version served at Layla is precisely that. I found several recipes online; some dressed the fish with pine nuts and camarelised onions, some fried and some baked the fish and a variety of spices were used. The Layla version (I think) had the fish and rice baked together and for my palate the fish was a bit overdone but that is probably how the fishermen would do it rather than a trendier deconstructed version!
Prawn Machbous (£20.95) was a fairly straightforward prawn and rice dish. The prawns were of good quality, firm and plump and served in a piquant tomato sauce with peppers and onions and served with a spicy rice.
With some complementary sticky pastries for dessert we left Layla feeling very well fed. Lebanese food offers an interesting alternative to the French, Italian and Indian restaurants that dominate our high streets. I particularly enjoyed the mezze at Layla and would happily come back and work my way through all of them!