Last week I had a dinner date with my Dad - he met me after work in Soho and without the rest of my immediate family hankering after the favourite haunts in Gerard Street we decided to try something new.
We decided on a packed Kaslik - a Lebanese joint that we figured must be decent considering it's remained open in Soho for almost a deccade and was jam-packed.
The last time I reviewed a Lebanese restaurant it was way back in my first ever post in January 2010 on Kenza which had an opulence and glamour about it – in the heart of the financial quarter of the city and with scantily clad ladies dancing round as you eat. Whilst Kaslik certainly didn’t match the mystique and awe on arrival it did have a certain, warm charm that almost embraces you on your entrance. The ground level area is small and there are very small round tables dotted all over with stools to sit on and the odd cushion. Be warned if you’re the shy type then this intimate dining style with strangers a mere few inches away might not be for you!
My Dad and I were won over by the charm though – everyone in the restaurant was lively and there was a real buzz in the atmosphere – a great start. We immediately ordered a Lebanese beer: Almaza which was cold, light and refreshing and certainly quenched our thirst. We scoured the menu and chose for our ‘mezze’ the cold ‘Labneh’ with pitta bread, the Kalaj, and a special which was ‘Meatball Kafta’.
The labneh was a dip of yoghurt and mint, the Lebanese version of a Tzatsiki but without the pungent garlic – it was very refreshing, and complemented our other dishes well. The ‘Kalaj’ was haloumi and black olives, sliced and toasted in pitta bread – absolutely delicious. The haloumi had none of the rubberiness that you can sometimes be faced with, instead it had a slight melt-ability to it, and a glorious flavour.
My dad had chosen the Meatball Kafta which was, simply lamb meatballs in a spicy, herby tomato based sauce and it was the star showing by far. The meat was full of the flavours of the sauce and melt-in-the mouth tender – the meatballs tasted like they’d been lovingly prepared and cooked for hours absorbing all of the cumin, coriander and cinnamon herbs and spices. It really had such a gorgeous taste and I couldn’t pinpoint one particular flavour, but I’d go back there for this dish alone.
The pitta bread which were apparently ‘cooked on hot stone’ were a bit of a disappointment and my dad continued to send them back until they had some colour as they arrived anaemic and white looking and we strongly suspected they’d been prepared in the microwave (not good!). In the end my Dad asked them to burn them – at which they came back slightly browned.
Another down point was the service at the beginning of the meal – we soon realised that there was a Christmas party of some description going on downstairs and with two waiting staff – this was never going to work when upstairs was packed and almost every table seemed to be just receiving their mezze when we arrived – so we assumed the kitchen was similarly rushed.
This thought was confirmed when every half hour or so the sweaty, harassed looking chef would appear in his full whites, hurriedly running through to the front of the restaurant for a cigarette. We found this quite funny and it only added to the character of the place.
But waiter number one in his harassed state did come across as quite rude and we were left for about 25 minutes after receiving our first beer before we were able to order as well – not a problem but nobody arrived to assure us they’d be over soon or anything, which I thought lacked thought. The waitress who took over from him was charming and pleasant which did make up in part for cheerful Charlie at the beginning.
Between the starters and mains as well there was a good 45 minute to an hour wait which was a bit much too.
Back to the food though – when the main courses did arrive I was more than happy. I had the ‘Chicken Shawarma Grill’. My Dad opted for the Lamb Shish Kebab. The menu didn’t stipulate what came with these and when asked the waiter said ‘you must order side dishes’ so we ordered a tomato and onion salad and some rice. When the meals arrived we were a little put out that the meals both came with a really rather large salad, and felt the waiter had let us down a bit.
I really enjoyed my main, the chicken was really tasty and flavourful and I’ve since discovered that ‘Shawarma’ is actually the naughtiest of dishes and realised the reason I enjoyed it so much and thought it reminded me of my beloved Greek Gyros. It was delicious and once again the meat was perfectly flavoured and very, very moreish. It came with a tortilla wrap too – which I found a little strange, especially as it was also cold, so I dis-regarded this and ate a little more pitta.
My Dad’s Lamb Shish was good too and unlike my strips of almost shredded meat, as you would expect with this dish it was served in chunks – the meat was again very tender, and quite herby. The rice that accompanied our dish had mint running through it very subtly and an almost fragrant scent and taste too that I couldn’t put my finger on but it was lovely. The labneh which we kept throughout again complemented our dishes really well.
We didn’t make dessert but this may have been in part due to the fact we didn’t finish our main course till 1030pm after arriving at 8pm and still had to make our way back to Essex – but I’ll be sure to return as I saw some gorgeous looking Baklava going to the table beside us.
The meal came in around the £70 mark including a few beers and white wine so about average for Soho.
The food was not fine dining but in flavour it was exceptional, the service average and the atmosphere electric – I’ll definitely return but with a larger crowd next time so more can enjoy the buzz that gives Kaslik it’s own unique charm.