The rather grown-up new branch of Borough Market’s Levant restaurant Arabica is housed within a ground floor corner of the newish Aga Khan Centre building.
Our tip is to sit at the counter by the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at the pide oven, or chopping, sizzling and remaining impressively calm throughout.
Or there’s a large communal table and cosy leather banquettes, as well as a terrace, should the weather still be clement.
This branch offers a new small-plates menu, with inspo drawn everywhere from Jordan and the mountainous villages of Lebanon to cities like Istanbul, Beirut, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There are the usual sections familiar to those who eat out regularly, including hot and cold mezze, clay oven, charcoal grill and veg.
But be warned: while the charming staff may suggest three-four dishes per person, our order of eight between two proved a couple too many – although they were more than happy to box up the leftovers for us to take home. And it made a delicious lunch the next day.
To drink? Go for the well-priced Lebanese wine: our versatile Domaine Des Tourelles red matched the dishes admirably.
This is the perfect dip to get the tastebuds going, its creamy texture cut with diced sweet peppers, red chilli, garlic, parsley and roasted spicy chickpeas. Carnivores might wish to up the sinful factor with additional spicy beef.
Two slim lollipops of melt-in-the-mouth molluscs in a light herb tempura? Hell yeah, on a rather generous whorl of walnut tarator too (see below), similar to a Spanish romesco sauce except made with walnuts, day-old bread and garlic.
Don’t be put off by the rather basic name. This proved a real highlight: raw vegetables – mange tout, green beans, cucumber and parsley – with orange blossom vinaigrette, roasted pistachios and – here’s the flavourbomb – crumbled Cretan barley rusks and a rich, tangy barrel-aged feta. You’ll be as hooked as we were.
The cheese bears the hot char marks of the griddle, while tangy poached quince and orange blossom honey add acidity and sweetness in almost scientific measures.
It’s imperative to try at least one pide-style dish from the clay oven. Ours was wafer thin, with a nice crust and light topping of sumac onions, parsley and spiced lamb. Gone in seconds.
Seemingly not in any way bearing the marks of the grill, this was another high point, its melting tenderness lent a smokey finish by the red pepper chermoula.
Sure, you’ve eaten a million of these, if you’re not vegan, but this is next level: juicy thigh is encrusted with crushed pistachios and orange zest with a crunchy, refreshing combo of bitter chicory leaves, fennel and mint.
Berbere Spiced Cauliflower
Well, you can’t eat at a Middle Eastern joint without ordering this. Just as good as Berber & Q’s masterful example, the blackened florets come crowned in tahini yoghurt, toasted seeds, pistachios, zingy pomegranates and rose petals. A tongue-tingling climax, indeed.
Main image: PR
Gasholder ate as guests of Arabica. For more on our food reviews policy see here