Another cuisine ticked off my bucket list thanks to Aladino’s of South Kensington, London’s first and only Alexandrian restaurant. It is also – along with Bandol – one of the best looking. The decor is almost homely – like someone took the TV out of their very posh, very beautiful living room and added some more tables – but also dreamy and romantic. Warm, flattering light emanates from flying spaghetti monster ceiling lamps , the kind I find myself mooning over in Heal’s before realising I will never, ever be in a position to spend £3,000 on a thing that holds lightbulbs.Personally, if my name was within a letter of one of my favourite Disney movies I’d have my restaurant decked out in gold-sprayed monkey statues, technicolour cubic zirconas, etc., but then clearly Aladin Barakat, the restaurant’s owner, is much more restrained than I. And tasteful.
Either way, it’s a gorgeous little restaurant; small and intimate, with plenty of space between tables and that kind of attentive but not overbearing service that’s so hard to get perfectly right. I was there for a catch-up with Carla, who was also intrigued to see exactly what Alexandrian cuisine entailed.
We were disappointed not to see hummus and baba ganoush on the menu, conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps Egypt was in the bathroom when the gods of dip were doing the rounds in that part of the world? Fortunately, our dismay was short-lived; Aladin clearly considers dip so fundamental to a good meal that everyone gets a whopping portion of it, gratis, before they even start. Good man.
It was the good stuff too; the baba ganoush the perfect consistency, the hummus thick and slightly smokier than usual. There was so much we didn’t really need our actual starters – Seasonal Vegetables in a Light Crispy Coating (£7.00 – served with more hummus) and King Prawns (£10.00), also in batter, both infused with the light, aromatic spices that so characterises North African cuisine.
My prawns, which arrived with fennel, radish and muhammara (that’s another kind of dip, this time with red peppers), were succulent and fresh, but I’d probably have left them off if I’d known about the surprise starter, and saved room for pudding.
One of life’s little certainties, I find, is that anywhere with a strong hummus game is also going to serve up some great lamb, so I chose the Slow-Roasted Tender Shank (£20). It was, hands down, the best lamb dish I’ve had this year. Possibly ever. It was big and meaty but tender, and flavoured all the way through with subtle Egyptian spices. It also came with a side of mashed potatoes, whipped to a little peak and smooth as glass, more silky puree than fluffy mash. They had that wonderful texture that only comes about when someone who really knows what they’re doing combines significant quantities of butter and cream with relatively modest quantities of potato, and I am sure it has taken at least half an hour off my life. (I am just as sure that mashed potatoes do not feature heavily in Egyptian cuisine but that is the beauty of fusion cooking. You can do things more or less accurately but still have the freedom to say, “Fuck it. I like mashed potatoes, so mashed potatoes are going on the menu.”)
We also ordered the Pickled Aubergine And Poivron Salad (£5.00). It was vinegary to the point of eye-watering piquancy, which I rather enjoyed. It didn’t really go with my lamb, but it had a unique, powerful flavour, the kind that sucker-punches you in the back of the throat and makes your eyes water.
Alas, Carla’s Red Mullet with Hand Dived Scallop, Prawn Bisque, Fennel and Shallot, Saffron Aioli, Sumac and Cumin (£20.00) couldn’t compete with The Greatest Lamb Of All Time. The fish was well-cooked, but all the subtle flavours were overpowered by a peculiar, sweet sauce that contained – we think? – honey.
With the dip at the beginning, we’d effectively had a pretty heavy three-course meal, and there wasn’t room for even a pudding between two. (The dessert list contains everything from Mehalabeya to apple crumble – there’s that fusion cooking again.)
According to the website, Aladino’s began as an actual Alexandrian restaurant, frequented by “a long list of Egyptian dignitaries, VIPs and celebrities…up to 500 covers at a time”. Its London counterpart, by contrast, is smart and relatively quiet – a hidden diamond in
the rough South Ken. If it keeps serving up lamb like that, though, I doubt it’ll remain secret for long.
Aladino’s, 38C Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BX
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.