One of the defining factors of Oxford’s food scene is just how many different cuisines there are on offer. It never ceases to amaze me how, in such a small city, there are so many opportunities to experience authentic food and cultures. From Persian food on Cowley road to Greek dishes at Georgina’s in the Covered Market, and Roman pinsa at Bbuona, there really is no shortage of diversity. LB’s in Summertown is yet another example of that with a remarkable selection of homemade dishes giving a taste of one of the world’s most fascinating cuisines.
Founded in November 1995 by Fawzi Harb, this is very much a family affair. He is still more than central to operations with his daughter on hand to passionately chat through all manner of Lebanese delights. A large deli counter greets you as you enter the shop filled to the rim with everything from green hummos (more on that later) to kibbe and moussaka. All of this is of course available to eat in and order by weight but also to box up and take away for home. In addition to that, the deli offers daily lunch boxes which provide a selection of the most popular cold deli items, a daily hot special that comes with rice and costs around £7, and a selection of wraps.
From those wraps, we tried the most popular, the chicken shawarma. This is of course a classic and it’s easy to see why it is such a popular order here too. It costs £5.50, notably at the high end of lunch wrap options, but offers a much more complex flavour profile than something you’d get from somewhere like Najar’s. The garlic sauce stands out more than anything else and is of course made in house.
We also tried a variety of deli items, starting with the new beetroot kibbe and the aforementioned green hommos pairing. The hommos is conventional but with kale blended in to add a fresh lightness that you wouldn’t normally get. It goes particularly well with the kibbe. Traditionally filled with lamb and onion, this vegan twist contains vegetables instead and is all the better for it. This adds a variety and allows the beetroot shell to shine in its own right.
Batata Harra are cubed potatoes that are fried alongside garlic and coriander. They are a great addition to the lunch box but do need to be paired with something else. The only other note here was that they could have been crispier — admittedly that softening of the shell is almost impossible to avoid when fried potatoes are served cold.
Falafel are, of course, a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine and the homemade ones here are fairly classic. Slightly lighter than some, they are marked by the presence of more sesame flavours than you’d often get, helped by the use of seeds as well as sesame oil. More impressive though was the way that thet maintained its crispy exterior despite coming cold, unlike the earlier mentioned potatoes.
Moujadara was a completely new dish to me and is essentially a really simple mix of rice, lentils, fried onions, and a combination of other herbs and spices from the house mix. I’m a mild fried-onion obsessive but often think that rice and lentil dishes can ere on the side of blandness. In line with everything else at LB’s though, there was no danger of that and the herbs balanced the flavours of onion perfectly for a dish far far better than plain rice and a perfect counter to the spicy Mauhamara nut and chilli paste.
Better than all of that though was, quite remarkably, the spinach. Regular readers of mine know that salad and salad leaves are always a focus of mine (to say the least!) and it is the simplicity of this dish that makes it great. Broiled with onions and another mix of Lebanese spices, it both has a flavour all of its own but also works well as a base for other items. It certainly elevated the Mousaka, which is served here with chickpeas. It’s an intriguing and traditional Lebanese version known as ‘Bizeit’ but for me, would be really taken to a better level if it were served warm. Clearly that isn’t the possible instore but taken home and heated could be a winner.
Sweets are, of course, here too. Baklawa are available with almonds, pistachios, or cashews, and this variety is certainly welcome. Usually, Baklawa is far too sweet for me, with the over-drenching of honey ruining the nutty flavour within. That is not a mistake made by LB’s with a much larger proportion of pastry. Unfortunately, this time it is that that dominates the cashew beneath but if you are willing remove a layer or two or are a big fan of filo then this is one for you. We also tried cashew fingers — it was nice to get something different from baklawa and these are much nuttier with a pleasing crunch.
All in all, LB’s kind of does everything and does it all well. Any criticism is nit-picking and in terms of a value-focussed chance to check yet another world cuisine off your list of Oxford experiences, you can’t go far wrong. My tip? Go in and let yourself be guided! Order as many items as possible, find some favourites, and come back for quick lunch breaks or to stock up for a home feast. Summertown’s options are ever growing, from classic French, to tapas, and American BBQ,but through all of that, it is clear why LB’s has remained a staple.