Moroccan Fusion at Le Menar:
Not long ago I went along to a tasting event at Le Menar. I can remember dish after dish appearing from the kitchen, each one disappearing as quickly as it was brought out. I was struggling to keep up both with tasting and keeping track of what was being served. I do remember mouthfuls of smoked lamb, silky smooth moutabal and some fabulous tasters of Lebanese spiced chicken. I was both excited and relieved to learn that this was just a preview; we were invited back to review a full meal and experience some more of Chef Vernon Samuels’ take on Moroccan and Middle Eastern dining.
Le Menar is something of an Aladdin’s cave. Seating is low cushioned benches and stools with copper topped dining tables and pretty Arabic artifacts adding to the atmosphere. A secret haunt tucked away in a back street just off Fitzrovia. It’s a cosy place to spend an evening.
Unable to pick from the starters, we took the easy route of a tasting mezze for two. Four cold and four warm mezze make up the platter with dishes including most popular favourites: Hummus, tabbouleh, okra salad, moutabal, falafel, moussaka, waraq enab and kebbeh.
Moutabal is a personal favourite of mine, made properly as here it is a delightful, smooth, smokey aubergine and tahini dip that is a little lighter and creamier than hummus. The home made waraq enab should be a must for anyone visiting too, they are delicious with tender vine leaves wrapped around a moist lightly spiced filling of rice, tomato, parsley, mint and onion. I particularly enjoyed the tabbouleh too, maybe just my optimism that the parsley, mint and lemon mixture was healthy.
Chef Vernon Samuels took a few minutes to come and talk to us a bit about his concept. The menu is an attempt to update some of the Moroccan classics and introduce some new dishes. So, the lamb tajine is deconstructed (we’d ordered that already) and the monkfish comes served with samphire and tomatoes to complement the batata harra (spiced potatoes).
He recommended we tried the Za Atar Burrata which is served with heirloom tomato salad, sumac and baby basil and sent out a portion as an extra. I have to confess that I’d rather enjoy a good burrata with nothing more than a few figs or some ripe datterini tomatoes and a little fresh basil. But that is about personal taste.
My companion’s lamb tajine looked fabulous and I was allowed a mouthful (no more) of melting, tender meat. Slow cooked with cinnamon, paprika, coriander, aubergine and served with batata harra and truffle oil the overall result was excellent.
My green harissa monkfish looked fabulous but seemed a less successful combination of flavours. That may have been partly due to my side order, a mixed leaf and herb salad which came with a balsamic and pomegranate molasses dressing. The salad left me with an overwhelming taste of sweet pomegranate molasses which really didn’t work with the delicate fish and, since I’d been hoping for a light, palate cleansing side order, I was just a little disappointed.
Then of course, we needed to try desserts.
We picked the recommendation of the chef – for me a Creme Brulee with Saffron and Pistachio. It turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening, though I don’t normally rave about desserts I loved the touch of saffron and pistachio and the deep caramel crust.
I have a strawberry allergy so couldn’t even taste the beautiful plate of strawberries with rosewater, lime, mascarpone cream and pistachio dust. Unsuprisingly, everything disappeared very quickly.
We enjoyed our dinner at Le Menar. While there were dishes that didn’t work for me, the presentation and cooking skills were obvious and flavour combinations are to some extent personal. And my love of unadulterated burrata might just have something to do with my own perception of a dish which others have raved about. I’d recommend trying for yourself.
Prices are reasonable, with mains mostly around £15 and the tasting mezze at £20 for two and there’s a good wine list and a well stocked bar. An excellent place to take a group of friends for an informal evening there are a good range of vegetarian and pescatarian options.
55 Cleveland Street