The Middle Eastern food scene in the UK has really taken off in recent years. Long gone are the days when the only Lebanese restaurant we’d be familiar with would be the local Shwarma take-away.
It is of course a result of natural progression with communities becoming more and more integrated. That, and the profiling of chefs such as Yotam Ottelenghi, and the popularity of ingredients such as pomegranate molasses and couscous.
I love Lebanese food. I love the simplicity of it, and how sociable it is – I love sharing little mezze dishes.
Mes Amis is a tiny Lebanese café on the same street as the famous River Café in Hammersmith, Fulham. Although it is a restaurant that sits right on the end of a residential terrace, it does not look misplaced with its tiled exterior and bold signage, similar to that of the River Café and so many other South-West London restaurants, cafes and shops.
Mes Amis doesn’t have a website, so you’ll need to ring up to book your table. Also note they don’t have a card machine and only accept cash payments.
I imagine everyone’s expression is the same when they step inside Mes Amis for the first time – and that’s a jaw drop and a gleaming smile, in wonder of the room that is crammed full of absolute tat. There isn’t a black item in site, just multi-coloured everything – from umbrellas, ukuleles, and I estimate over 100 salt and pepper shakers lining the skirting boards.
The waitresses are extremely accommodating, greeting you with a huge, genuine smile.
The menu is small and simple. There is mezze to start, large or small. Each vegetarian or non-vegetarian. I made the mistake of forgetting to write down the prices of the dishes, and there isn’t a website to refer back to! But I’m fairly sure a large mezze (ideal for two people sharing) was around £14.00.
It included everything you’d want from a Lebanese mezze; delicious homemade garlicky hummus, Baba ganoush, flat breads, gorgeous cumin roasted cauliflower, falafels, a lamb mince samosa, and light cream-cheese like spring rolls. My favourite dish was a beautifully light and refreshing mint salad/salsa, that really complimented the heavy garlic taste from the hummus and Baba ganoush.
The entire restaurant only one gentleman who I can only assume cooks sits around 15 people, and dishes is the owner. It’s probably more intimate than most people’s home kitchens. After our starters we were asked by the chef/owner (who incidentally was wearing about 5 wooly jumpers and a baseball cap), asked if we would mind moving tables to make room for a large party coming in later. Of course we didn’t. It meant that for the second part of our meal we were sat by the roaring gas fire and could nosey on the chef while he cooked all meals from one gas hob. Oh and it meant we could play with the resident cat as it seemed to prefer that corner of the restaurant.
For mains, again the options are all traditional Lebanese-style grilled meats, served with couscous or rice and vegetables. All around £11.
I chose the minced lamb, which I felt was THE best decision. It was served with a lovely mound of couscous which I’m fairly sure had the addition of bulgur wheat, which made it super filling. The meat was cooked beautifully and was tender, not chewy in any way. Served simply with a few bits of med-veg and a citrus sauce, it really was delicious.
We ended the evening with a pot of mint tea, that we didn’t touch once to refill our cups – the waitresses always got there first.
To come across a truly traditional Lebanese restaurant in London at these prices I imagine can be difficult. To come across one with a wondering cat, potentially London’s largest collection of novelty salt and pepper shakers, and a carpet that probably hasn’t been changed for at least 20 years I also imagine is difficult, but that’s what I loved about Mes Amis.
Mes Amis is on 1 Rainville Road, London, W6 9HA. Phone: 020 7385 5155