One freezing Saturday evening, when the sleet was falling in gusty flurries that stung our faces on contact as we battled our way along Piccadilly, Fakhreldine – an upmarket Lebanese restaurant in a prime location – provided me and my dining partner with a welcome refuge from the weather and gave me a good opportunity to pen another restaurant review. With sleek looking décor and full length windows overlooking Piccadilly, a well-stocked bar and a large team of slick, smartly dressed waiting staff, Fakhreldine certainly looks the part. When we arrived around 7pm, it was still relatively empty, with low lighting and soft music giving it quite a romantic atmosphere.
The wine list is long and offers a fair selection of old and new world reds and whites. Although the “by the glass” selection is limited, Fakhreldine’s list offers something rather more interesting – an expansive collection of Lebanese wines. On our waiter’s advice, we opted for a bottle of the Heritage Plaisir du Vin 2006. A smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cinsault, it was pleasantly fruity, but with distinct tobacco overtones that added a degree of complexity and worked well with the charcoal grilled meat of our mains.
The food menu offers a wide variety of classic mezze dishes, of which we sampled three as starters. Kalaj (halloumi cheese in grilled pitta bread) was deliciously light – the cheese delicately salty and the pitta thin and crisp. Fatayer (baked pastry triangles filled with baby spinach, onion and sumac) had an unexpected flavour, the filling tasting slightly vinegary, though not unpleasant. Mousakaa (cooked aubergine, chickpeas, sweet peppers, onions and tomato sauce) was served cold but had a wonderfully rich, almost sweet flavour and an interesting combination of textures, the bite of the chickpeas contrasting well with the disintegrating softness of the aubergine. A nice little addition to our starter selection was the complimentary dish of crudités, which featured raw carrot sticks, juicy cherry tomatoes, peppery radishes and a ramekin of beautifully zesty, lemon-infused green olives.
We shared two main dishes between us, both from the grills section of the menu. The 3 generous skewers of chicken breast pieces (“Taouk”) were delightfully succulent and well-seasoned with a spice blend that included a healthy dose of paprika. They were served with boiled potatoes and an enormous scoop of a home-made garlic mayonnaise that packed a real garlic flavour punch. The 3 equally generous skewers of cubed lamb (“Lahim Meshoue”) were simply divine, so tender that each cube was melt in the mouth and with a delicious hint of smoke from the char-grill. They were served with a simple but effective salad of red peppers, parsley, coriander, and red onion, a large grilled tomato and 3 plump grilled shallots, which were prettily presented with their skins still on. Both mains were topped with a thin flatbread, which wasn’t really necessary given the amount of food we had but was great for mopping up the tasty juices from our meals.
As the evening went on, the restaurant began to fill up and as we were finishing our mains the music got turned up a few notches. Just as my dining partner and I were beginning to grumble about the apparently inexplicable trend for overly loud music in London restaurants, a buxom and bejewelled belly-dancer emerged from behind the scenes and began to work her way around from table to table, shaking and shimmying to the beat. Whereas some belly dancing performances can seem slightly sleazy, this was a fun and light-hearted show, and not too intrusive – the dancer encouraged audience participation where diners were willing, but didn’t bother those tables who clearly preferred to keep themselves to themselves.
We were pretty full by the time it came to dessert, so we chose to share a seasonal fruit and sorbet platter. This was an impressively large plate of fresh fruits – crunchy apple, ripe banana, sweet melon, giant juicy red grapes, and a beautifully carved but slightly sour quarter pineapple – with a small but delicious scoop of tangerine sorbet. The only difficulty with this was the cutlery – I’ve never before had to eat sorbet with a fork!
Although the meal was very satisfying and the atmosphere a lot of fun, in terms of value Fakhreldine doesn’t quite hit the spot. Our bill came in at around £55 per head, which may not be surprising given Fakhreldine’s prime location, but since similar food of equivalent quality with accompanying live music is available not too far away at Tas (review coming soon) for considerably less cash, the overall score for Fakhreldine just comes in at a fair three Forks-Up.
Fakhreldine 85 Piccadilly Mayfair London W1J 7NB 020 7493 3424