The Essex suburb of South Woodford certainly has its fair share of God’s creatures. As I strolled towards Liban passing the Slug and Lettuce and the Lizard Lounge, I was half-expecting Liban to be a Lebanese word for reptile or mollusc. Fortunately, as it turned out, it was neither, just a rather wonderful example of fresh Lebanese food done wonderfully well.
The quality of the food should not have been in doubt as Liban’s sister is the legendary Lazeez Restaurant in Mayfair. However, in the more suburban environs of Essex, this brand new version is a much more spacious affair. A large main room screaming middle eastern chic with blue velvety banquette seating leads out to a roomy outdoor sheesha terrace, perfect for a cocktail and a flavoursome hookah session.
Taking brownie points from Lazeez, the menu is largely dominated by a generous spread of hot and cold Lebanese tapas dishes and salads. Everything from beetroot hummus (£7.50) to Beirut chicken wings marinated in coriander, garlic and lemon juice (£7.50).
We decided it was best to dive in and spread the tapas load evenly between us. Restaurant patron Pierre was quick to point out the chicken liver in pomegranate sauce (£8) as a chef’s favourite, so it would have been rude not to try it. Freshly made avocado hummus (£7.50), fresh falafel (£6.50), grilled halloumi cheese with tomato and cucumber (£8) Spicy Soujok sausages (£8) in butter and lemon, and motabaal (£6.50) roasted diced aubergine in olive oil with pomegranate.
We rounded off the starters with two salads; a classic tabbouleh (£7.50) made with chopped parsley, mint, onion, tomato and crushed wheat, and fattoush (£7.50) a bowl brimming with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley, mint, onion, radish sumac and fried Lebanese bread.
The liver turned out to be the star of the show particularly when we ate them with the motabaal. Pierre clearly knows a thing or two about Lebanese chicken livers. The soujok sausages proved to be a tasty accompaniment to the tabbouleh for me. And this is the thing; with tapas, you can have all kinds of fun mixing and matching the various flavours.
I adore hummus, but frankly, blending avocado to it took it to another level entirely. I could only imagine what the beetroot hummus was like and was very tempted to indulge in a hummus fest, but with our main courses on the way discretion won out.
Speaking of main courses, my sish taouk (£16) was perfect; large chunks of juicy charcoal grilled chicken marinaded in a divine Liban dressing that remains a secret to this day. My partner’s lamb meshawi (£18) was equally epic; cubes of marinated grilled lamb mixed with tomato and onion. There were other tempting suitors we could have picked; sea bass with quinoa (£21) or minced lamb kafta (£15) with yoghurt and rice, but I think we came out on top. Particularly as it was washed down with a glass or two of very likeable Lebanese red (£7.50).
Liban’s fresh authentic food and generous portion size certainly add more than a touch of delicious middle eastern flavour to South Woodford’s already eclectic mix of restaurants. Reptiles and molluscs aside that is.
Tell me more about Liban Tapas in South Woodford
Liban Tapas 190 George Lane, South Woodford, London E18 1AY T: 0207 935 2755
As well as the a la carte menu there are also three set menus on offer. Menus 1 and 2 are £29 and £32 respectively per person with Menu 3 at £50 per person but includes additional dishes and red or white wine. All the set menus also include tea, fresh mint or Moroccan tea and a selection of Lebanese sweets.