December is a time for traditions and one of the best traditions in the Robsribs household is the Annual Christmas Weekend away. Two days filled with London, musical theatre and a whole lot of food. This year, whilst Mrs P, The Child and I were enjoying our most festive of yearly treats, Mrs P turned to me and said ‘So where have you booked for dinner?’ I replied nonchalantly and with total confidence; ‘Booked? I don’t need to book, there will be loads of places open on a Saturday night. Besides, restaurants in Soho don’t accept bookings anyway. Everyone knows that.’
Fast forward 6 hours and there we stood in the dark, rainy, miserable London streets, 16 failed restaurants later having walked half a mile and yet still only ending up 20 yards from where we had first started hurling silent curses at each other. The more discerning of our readers will know from their own personal relationship experiences that this type of ‘adventure’ (let’s call it that for The Child’s sake if nothing else) very rarely ends with anything other than an inappropriately priced, overcooked steak or burger from a money swallowing, faceless chain of corporate construction. And it was with this inevitable conclusion looming large in our minds that we found Le Bab.
I say found, but really it remains a total mystery to me as to how anyone finds themselves in Le Bab at all. Situated at the very top of Kingly Court, Soho, it’s a street away from Regent Street, past multiple other restaurants, up three flights of stairs and then past another couple of restaurants all of which are fighting tooth and nail for your money.
Having been turned away at all the previous establishments I just mentioned, James, of Le Bab, looked at us with pity in his eyes when we asked for a table. He could see we were at breaking point. Sorry, he said, he was fully booked. Of course he was. But just as we turned to the door with thoughts of murder and life insurance payouts flickering across Mrs P’s soul, ‘Maybe,’ he said ‘maybe, I can find a space but we might have to move you later.’ I had sat down with my coat off before he finished the sentence.
Le Bab, I then discovered as I looked through the menu, was all about making the most of that most maligned Middle Eastern staple: the humble kebab. I ordered drinks and starters quickly to try and rediscover Mrs P’s happy place and in my rush, didn’t take many pictures. So I hope you enjoy the one’s that I did get and go over here for some more.
The Dark and Stormy is a cocktail that SuburbanGent got me into (damn him and his London cosmopolitan lifestyle) and this one was, if not particularly dark, ferociously stormy with enough rum in it to frighten a pirate. It was exactly what I needed. The calming look on Mrs P’s face also reassured me that her Passionfruit Caiprinha was equally suitable.
Starters started with some hummous and I have to say that I’ve been on a self confessed hummous binge of late with the Antep Kitchen serving only to fuel the desire for creamed chickpeas that I picked up in Turkey this summer. Le Bab’s version was a little loose but clearly homemade and the pickled beetroot quarters were sharp, tingly and an amazing counterpoint. And as I scooped as much as I could into my flaky, soft, pillowy flatbread, I dared to allow myself to wonder if I had (inadvertently) snatched victory from the jaws of what had seemed to be an inescapable cock-up. We also gave the Lokma a go because they sounded interesting, soft doughnuts slightly smaller than a golf ball are filled with a very punchy iron rich chicken liver pate. The Child got through half of one before deciding it was too strong so Mrs P and I easily finished off the rest of the portion.
The mains then are a short menu, but we had no problems with that. Currently Le Bab are running falafel, paneer, pork, chicken and lamb options. The Child immediately called dibs on the 15 hour roast pork with crackling shawarma, Mrs P had the chicken which, as I didn’t wish to venture vegetarian for the evening, left me with the lamb.
Good Lordy, those things are something else.
The bread, the salads, the crispy bits, the meat, the lot! Look at how it sits on the tray, teasing you with everything you always hoped a kebab could be. I marvelled at how it contained the hopes and dreams of all those 2am chilli sauce and garlic mayonnaise misjudgments. The lamb was juicy and strong, the curry mayonnaise was warming and oozed through every bite with creamy Eastern promise, the parsnip crisps topped the whole thing off with a touch of sweet crunchy genius. The others were equally good and the 15 hour pork came in for as much, if not more, praise.
We finished off our respective kebabs and it was at this point that James, of Le Bab, came to the table and asked us to move as he had to seat people who were sensible enough to actually book before arriving. To apologise, he offered to give us some free desert. Let me run that through for you again just in case you missed it – he offered us free puddings to say sorry for asking us to move from the table that we shouldn’t have had in the first place. Now that, my friends is customer service*.
It may have been because it was late and we were so tired and hungry, it may even have been the fact that we were so grateful to eat at all, but neither Mrs P nor I are willing to find any fault with Le Bab. What it offered, it delivered in spades and at under 80 quid for the three of us it has rocketed to the top ten list of ‘Places Rob tells people to eat at in Soho’, and that is currently quite a list I can assure you.
As we left and perhaps as a last act of kindness to help me avoid looking too closely at Mrs P’s ‘You’ve had a very lucky escape here’ facial expressions, James pressed a card into my palm and said with an entirely justified sarcastic grin; ‘Next time you come in, let us know first and we’ll make sure we’ve got a space for you’.
Point taken James, point taken.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that we actually turned down James, of Le Bab’s, offer because The Child was starting to wane and we needed to get back to the flat but the genuine concern on his face when we did so simply pushed home even further the emphasis that the team has on building a strong customer relationship. Bravo.