Food & Drink Editor, Paloma, reveals where to go for the best Lebanese food in Wimbledon; from light lunchtime snacks to no holds barred dinner time feasts…
The last meal on earth question is a tricky one for many, particularly for those for whom food is a religion and not a necessity. For my sins, I follow this first tribe wholeheartedly but the answer to this most important question is simple: it would have to be Lebanese.
“Why?” I hear you ask. Firstly, it’s a cuisine that will amply satisfy any foodie whim. Whether it’s a light lunchtime snack or no holds barred dinner time feast, all life is here. Luckily for me, my mission was to fulfil the latter so my husband and I headed off to a fairly new opening – last autumn – Kababji, smack bang in the centre of Wimbledon.
An enviable location, in terms of its proximity to the railway station, means out-of-towners and locals alike can enjoy its delights. Of course, competition is huge in this part of town and it’s a good job that Mo and his team are serving food so good that it’s quickly converting first time customers into regular visitors.
Kababji’s casual dining offering means its attracting a cross section of diners, including families who won’t be made to feel that noisy children are an inconvenience, workers searching for a hearty lunch, and groups of friends catching up, maybe even over a glass of wine. The relaxed ambience of the place is endearing, creating a feel-good experience from the off, but of course, there’s always the takeaway option, in case you’d rather dine in the comfort of your own home.
The simplicity of Lebanese food never fails to surprise and for me, that’s what makes it so appealing – chargrilled meat, fragranced rice and a few side dishes to create a more than sufficient spread. The deal at Kababji is very much diner lead, pop in for a quick bite or take your time and work your way through the menu at your leisure.
We had tickets to the theatre – New Wimbledon Theatre is right across the road – so we had about an hour to play with, before curtain up. Mo guided us through the menu and suggested we go for the Mixed Grill, as a way of sampling a smorgasbord of dishes and ultimately transporting us to Beirut.
A feast by name and certainly one by nature, though my husband’s face looked a little disappointed when we’d finished all the meat. This has no bearing on portion size, it’s hefty, but more an illustration of a carnivore giving a huge thumbs up to the sheer quality of it. We didn’t need any more but when does a full stomach ever stand in the way of fleeting greedy thoughts?
The thing about Lebanese cuisine is that it’s really rather healthy, making this guilt free dining at its best. The Mixed Grill encompassed two skewers of chicken shish, one lamb kafta and one spicy kafta, all served on a bed of turmeric rice. The meat tasted as if it had been through a long marination process and the end result was delicately spiced, succulent meat. The only improvement to be made was a splash of homemade chilli sauce, which is a must for me.
Side dishes of quinoa tabouleh, homemade hummus, moutabal, fattouch salad and warm khobez bread arrived alongside, leaving us agog at the amount of food for the princely sum of £22.
My personal favourites among the sides were as ever, moutabal – I just love pulped aubergine and not least because it’s very much hit and miss when I make it in my own kitchen – and fattouch salad. The latter is a wonder of its own – taking fresh khobez bread, crisply cooked and thrown into a salad.
Mo was at pains to point out falafel is made in house daily but he needn’t have bothered because high quality always shines through and this was a very fine example of a Middle Eastern staple. Crispy outer shell and soft, almost pillowy centre, made this perfection on a plate.
Kababji, 80 The Broadway, London SW19 1RH
2. Maison St Cassien
But Kababji isn’t the only game in town. Wimbledon is awash with good Lebanese restaurants. Here’s the best of the rest…
Up in Wimbledon Village, Maison St Cassien is rumoured to be a firm favourite with the celebrity tennis set. This independent café and restaurant serves a wonderful, varied Mediterranean and Lebanese menu. Their friendly, relaxed atmosphere makes it popular with locals. Top picks include meze, wraps and chicken shawarma.
Maison St Cassien, 71 High St, Wimbledon, London SW19 5EE
Wimbledon institution Aya has kept the Lebanese flag flying for a good many years with recent expansion to other South London boroughs. With both a takeaway offering and casual dining with restaurant seating, Aya has it covered. At the South Wimbledon site, there’s a courtyard garden, where you can dine surrounded by authentic décor from the motherland. This family-run business also provides outside catering, handy to know if you’re throwing a celebration of any kind.
Aya, 195-197 Merton Rd, South Wimbledon, London SW19 1EE and 72 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1RQ
New kid on the block, Grilandia, is already making waves with its magic garden or should that be secret garden? It looks pretty magical, an urban haven with décor inspired by a wild garden, so we’ll let them have that one. Mezze seems the only way to go here, and a leisurely lunch with friends is the only way to do it justice. I particularly like the look of pumpkin kibbe, a lovely vegetarian alternative to the classic, usually made with lamb, and batata harra – fried spicy potato cubes, cooked with sundried tomatoes, garlic and coriander. Both dishes scotch the myth that Lebanese cuisine is neglectful of veggies.
Grilandia, 108 The Broadway, London SW19 1RH
Written By: Paloma Lacy
Food lover, turned food writer, Paloma has spent the past 10 years in search of the Capital’s finest eateries, reviewing restaurants for a range of publications, including South London Press and London Weekly News. A South London girl at heart, she believes its boroughs boast some memorable dining experiences set to satisfy even the most discerning palate. London is alive with brunch, lunch and dinner choices to suit every pocket, from the humble neighbourhood spot, right through to the starrier end of the market.
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