Restaurant Review: Yasmeen

Authentic Lebanese food – and plenty of it – in the shadow of a musical mecca

This local Lebanese restaurant is in a quiet, leafy part of St John’s Wood, a (rolling) stone’s throw from the legendary recording studio, Abbey Road (and the equally famous zebra crossing). If you like a more personal service and know your kibbeh from your sambousik, this is an ideal place to take someone special.

We were greeted warmly by our waiter, Fadel, as he led us to our table. The restaurant is bright and very spacious, with wide open windows to the front to allow in lots of natural sunlight. The general style of the place is simple, with wooden floors, lots of white, cream and wood finishing, an interesting Islamic floral pattern (which can be seen in the logo) wallpaper, and some framed images of Lebanese street scenes dotted around the walls.

As we decided what to order, we were presented with a plate of pickles, olives and chillies – very Lebanese, and a little too authentic for me (though my date lapped up the olives). The service is very attentive, and the waiters enthusiastic about the food. The somewhat elaborate menu features lots of starters, a hefty grill section and various side dishes and main courses. Fadel recommended us several mezze starters, and I opted for the mixed grill for mains, while my date decided on moussaka and rice.

When our starters arrived, the size of each mezze dish had our jaws on the floor – we had over-ordered due to the large portions. We were not disappointed with the food, however: it was completely fresh, none of it over-fried and all of it very tasty. The simple mixed salad tasted great, with just the right amount of lemon and olive oil. The kibbeh was amazing, the best we have ever tried – so succulent, and the quality of the ingredients put the others I’ve tried in various other restaurants to shame. The same can be said for the falafel, which was freshly fried and featured the unusual addition of sesame seeds. Both dishes are staples with this kind of cuisine, but this seemed like how they were meant to taste. We also got two dips: hummus (of course) and moutabel, which is very similar but made from aubergine. Both were creamy and delicious, served with premium-grade pitta bread that wouldn’t be seen dead in a kebab shop.

Once the mains arrived, we were already full. This is definitely the kind of restaurant that you should go to if you prefer to graze on mezze (the tapas of the Middle East) rather than tucking in to a large main. Both mains were served with excellent rice; soft and fluffy, but firm. My mixed grill was a succulent collection of lamb kofte and lamb and chicken cubes; the meat was cooked to perfection. Moussaka is usually fairly bland, tasting like a tomato and vegetable stew, but my date’s was very different – it was rich and thick, its flavour was just right and though it was spicy, the heat did not overpower the dish.

Entirely full up, we opted to retire to the front, where there is a romantic outside terrace with high enough landscaping to hide you from the street right next to you. This is a completely different experience to the restaurant’s interior, feeling more like a Beirut cafe with its brass tables and leather-cushioned seating. The waiting staff brought out an electric heater and hot towels for us to freshen up with as the golden hour of early evening turned to night. It’s quite admirable that the owners resisted the urge to turn this terrace into a gimmicky shisha lair, like many restaurants of this kind would with an outside section.

Bashir, the restaurant manager, is a handsome and boisterous host who joined us to personally serve mint tea and tell us a little about his own personal story and the history of the restaurant. An entertaining storyteller, he made us laugh and was very charming throughout. He also judged perfectly when to leave us to enjoy our desserts, which we consumed rather slowly after the preceding blow-out. We received a plate of fresh cherries and watermelon as well as a delicious home-made pistachio tart, served warm with a rich vanilla ice cream.

Yasmeen is a great restaurant and well worth an exploratory trip into deepest St John’s Wood to try. The food is plentiful and fresh, and sits perfectly on the line between plain and spicy. The service is excellent and personal, and the decor is modern while still feeling homely and local.

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