Embarrassingly, I can’t cycle, so excursions to Cowley require a 40 minute walk. There are few things able to entice me enough to endure this, but the promise of good Lebanese and Moroccan food is one of them. The restaurant was strikingly pretty upon arrival, with art-covered walls, tastefully dim, coloured lamps, and snug cushioned booths. However, the choice of white upholstery made me immediately nervous. The fear of spilling food or, god forbid, red wine, haunted me throughout the meal, even inspiring me to order the house white instead. This was fine, if quite dry and bland, but anything else alcoholic was unreasonably priced, perhaps to deter rowdy students.
A significant part of the appeal of Lebanese food for me is that it is usually veggie-friendly, so I was gutted to see only one option on the Mains list with a bracketed V next to it – bamieh bziet, an okra and tomato stew with rice. I optimistically ordered it anyway, with a selection of starters to be shared among my group.
The wait for these to appear was unreasonably long, and somewhat torturous after our appetite-building walk. The complimentary tap water provided in chic but impracticably small glass bottles did not make it any easier and the quasi-ethnic instrumental music playing in the background was just a touch too unpleasantly loud for the otherwise quite chilled out atmosphere, yet due to the acoustics of the almost corridor-shaped room, did not drown out our conversation about penis folding and our younger siblings’ drinking habits for the other diners.
The glares we were starting to get, the waiting staff’s deft avoidance of eye contact, and my rumbling stomach encouraged me to go take advantage of the admittedly lovely paved smoking area hidden at the back (though not the various shisha pipes it boasted). When I got back, the starters had arrived – though the wait was extended for the guy to my left, who had to ask for cutlery three times before he could dig in. The halloumi was particularly exquisite, and their moutbal and tabouleh tasted homemade and better than anything I could manage myself, though they were very stingy with providing flat bread.
After another significant wait, the mains were brought out. Personally, I am not a fan of plating unless it’s well done, and the lazy trail of cinnamon decorating my dish was pretentious and contributed nothing to the actual meal. I was shocked to discover that it tasted worse than it looked – embarrassingly watery, and my tongue burned from the salt. I was unable to taste either the okra or tomato past the salt and cinnamon, and the pathetically small portion of rice that accompanied it only worsened this problem when I tipped it in. My friends reported that the roasted lamb and chicken they were served were reasonable, but it did not remotely resemble the tagine that the menu had promised and they, too, were short-changed on rice.
Despite all this, the bill came with a steep accompanying service charge. I’d recommend you avoid this by not going at all.