New to the scene on Little Clarendon Street, Elham’s Lebanese Deli is cashing in on recent trends in the North Oxford-Jericho food craze of Mediterranean tapas-mezze-small plate food, joining the likes of Manos, Al-Andalus and Al-Shami. Owing more to the lunch café (Manos) style, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon snack after moving back in for my penultimate term.
On entering Elham’s, I was a bit confused by the layout; chairs cross in a diagonal line across the, admittedly tiny, sit-in area, broken up by fridges and the service area, replete with regional delicacies. Upon first glance, however, I knew this place was more than just hummus and soggy chips, the usual fare of pseudo-Lebanese restaurants (even the great Al-Shami serves them up dripping in oil). The chilled food counter was serving foods I hadn’t seen since I lived in Jordan – and some of them I had never seen. I decided to go for the take-away veggie-box (amazingly cheap at under £4 for an Alpha Bar size and style box with much better food) and joined the enormous queue snaking its way through the diners.
Indeed, my main quibble with Elham’s is that the diners are actually not served particularly well by this queue which splits the room in half. I haven’t had such good mujadara since I visited Beirut last. The lentils and onions were perfectly cooked and the rice deliciously crispy. As for their dips, they were bliss. Not content with simply serving up grainy hummus and a bit of yoghurt-and-mint, they had bowls of mutabal (aubergine and tahini dip) covered in pomegranate seeds (a lovely touch), muhammara (walnut and red pepper dip traditionally from Aleppo) and ful (Egyptian beans).
Their salads were also beautifully presented, with colours not seen since Ottolenghi dropped Jerusalem, whilst their hot dishes looked really appetising as well. Eating in will cost you and my advice is definitely to take away and not buy a drink (since they always cost!) However, Elham’s has another major fault: closing hours. I appreciate that this is a predominantly lunch time café trade, but closing so early in the afternoon (at a similar time to Will’s Deli which also suff ers because of this) is unacceptable.
It is time that cafés remained open longer allowing for dinner-time sandwich and snack trade, as found all over the continent which could provide students with a cheaper option of eating out than a full sit-down meal. Essentially, Elham, you’re doing a great job: how about a bit more?