Arabica – An Epicurean Exploration of the Begulling Flavours and Worldy Hospitality of the Sun Drenched Lands of the Levant.
As their quote says, the food at Arabica is all about what the Lands of the Levant can offer. Roughly speaking, this cuisine is a mix of Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish, Moroccan and Armenian flavours – you really can’t go wrong when you put the best of these together. This restaurant is tucked away in the corner of Borough Market (apparently known as the foodie mecca) and is a relaxed and modern restaurant, perfect to try out these combinations of begulling flavours.
When we saw a whole section on the menu for dips, we knew we were in for a good meal. There are around nine different types to choose, from Whipped Feta (peas, zhug, sunflower seeds), Cacik (yoghurt, cucumber, mint, dill) and Taramasalata to Moutabel and Ezme Baharati (spicy Turkish tomato salsa). What was more impressive was the three types of houmous. THREE (the dream!) Make sure to order the Houmous with Spiced Lamb Fillet – it comes with this amazingly whipped, creamy and smooth houmous topped with juicy and tasty bits of lamb. This is perfect with the accompanying flat bread or for the health conscious diners, you can request for carrot and cucumber sticks – a refreshing alternative. The lamb and houmous combination is something that is truly hard to beat!
Hot Me(ze)ss of Squid:
Crispy Semolina Crumbed Baby Squid was the dish that stood out amongst the hot meze line up. Essentially a next level calamari – squid beautifully deep fried with semolina, to give this incredibly crispy coating. There must have been some spices being used for marinating as there is this really nice tang against this crispy squid, all mixed up with the sesame tarator. It has been a long while since I had that incredible Calamari and Jam at BalaBaya and this dish is up there with it!
This section of the menu is full of meaty and as the title says, charcoaled dishes. Vegetarians look away as it is filled with the 7 spice chicken wings, chicken and pistachio or lamb shish and kebabs. Shout outs must be given to the lamb dishes. The Lamb Meshwi with Walnut Harrisa was bold with the harissa paste and the lamb so juicy and delicious.
The lamb chops and zaatar are a perfect combination as the spice gives the meat an extra layer of flavour. The lamb was well cooked and when eaten with the salad, the flavours are even more intense. Just don’t have this dish straight after the lamb houmous, as that dish might just overpower the subtleties of the zaatar flavours. Do make sure you finish off the bone!
One dish that seemed quite unusual was the Duck and Date Shish, a skewer of duck cubes, dates and spring onions. At first, I thought the sweetness of the dates would be too overpowering for the duck, but it just seemed to work so well together. It was definitely on the sweet side, but the soft and succulent duck meat really cuts across well and is really brought together with the crunchy spring onions. It is a weird concept at first but a combination made perfectly for each other.
The rest of the menu included some really fresh salads such as the fattoush and a clay oven section with pide, man’oushesh and lahmacun. I would have to come back next time to see if the Octopus Pide can be compared to the one from Oklava or if their feta & spinach Boregi are as good as the ones in Sarajevo, Bosnia (post to come!)
One of the main reasons I came to Arabica was for their Knafeh, recommended by a friend. We both had experienced the incredible dish once in the Old Town of Jerusalem and just can’t seem to find anywhere in London that does anything similar. When she said Arabica’s version is as good as you will get in London, I just had to try it out!
The warm Levantine cheese was soaked in a lovely orange blossom honey and topped with bits of fine pistachios. Digging into the dish brought back memories of Isreal, as you see the melted cheese leave a long string when you pull it away. Perfectly full of cheese flavours and the sweet honey seeping across with that crunchy pistachio Not going to compare it to ones from the Holy City, but definitely the best Knafeh in London!
Another notable dessert is the Strawberries & Cream – a classic dish redefined with Labneh – a strained yoghurt mainly used in Levant dishes. It was a light mousse like texture, tossed with sweet rose scented strawberries and fine pistachios. A lovely light and a well-balanced way to end an evening filled with incredible Levant flavours!