The Rise Of Middle Eastern Food In London | sheerluxe.com
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The Israeli and Middle Eastern dining scene has seriously taken off in the capital. From the burgeoning Ottolenghi empire, to Southwark's new buzzy Bala Baya café, there's a new wave of chefs and restaurateurs giving foodies a taste of vibrant Middle Eastern fare.

There’s something so unique about Israeli food in London – it comes with a story, with a heritage and with myriad influences from across the globe. Dubbed the “newish Jewish”, Israeli dishes are a bubbling hotpot of cultural influences, with many chefs adding modern European twists to traditional recipes that shaped their childhoods.

With more and more delicious Israeli-inspired eateries popping up all over the city – including TLV in LDN, an Israeli food and culture festival held at The Roundhouse last month – we caught up with some of the biggest names in the London restaurant game, to find out exactly what Israeli food means to them…

Eran Tibi, Israeli-born Head Chef and owner of Bala Baya

What do you love about Israeli food?

I love that Israeli food isn’t just about Israeli food. In Tel Aviv it's especially cosmopolitan – a hybrid of the new generation of flavours from all different cultures who have settled there. All the various nationalities bring their own touches and influences to traditional dishes. I love that it’s a fusion, and that chefs can create something new that didn’t exist before.

Why do you think it has become so popular in London?

Tel Aviv is the most liberal, modern and westernised part of the Middle East. Everything is possible there. I love the attitude they bring to food and how they use it as a form of expression. They’re very forward thinking with food: nose to tail eating, cooking offal and living with the mindset that all vegetables, herbs and botanicals are usable is how we always ate. This no-waste attitude has really been embraced on the London food scene.

How does Israeli cuisine in London differ to traditional Israeli food?

This may sound weird, but all food served in London has been ‘Londonised’. People know that Londoners have tasted everything; it’s the city of innovation so they constantly have to think of ways to out-surprise them and bring something new to the table. As Israeli cooking is already vibrant and colourful, it wasn’t hard to adapt it for the adventurous dining scene in London, as inspiration is literally everywhere. Funnily enough, you probably won’t see the type of Israeli food served in London back in Tel Aviv. It’s so interesting to see the evolution, even Israelis coming over to London have a different experience.

Where are your favourite places to eat Israeli food in London?

The Good Egg, Ottolenghi, Honey & Co, Berber & Q, I really think these guys have pushed or pioneered Israeli cuisine in London and I have so much respect for them. I try to visit as much as I can if I can get a table!

 

Josh Katz, Chef and owner of Berber & Q

What do you love about Israeli food?

I love all the ingredients, spices and flavours that the cuisine has to offer. It’s colourful, bold and there are no borders with what you can create.

Why do you think it has become so popular in London?

I think as there is such a diversity of cultures in London, people are curious and open to trying different things. Chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi really paved the way for this renaissance, pioneering in modern Israeli and Palestinian cookery. They helped to bring it not just to a wider audience, but inspired a whole new generation of chefs and cooks.

How does Israeli cuisine in London differ to traditional Israeli food?

There’s a real heritage to the food of Israel and all the Middle Eastern regions – it plays a huge role in the social fabric of local culture. Add to that modern cooking and you have a raft of influences and techniques to create something new and exciting, which I think is what is happening in London right now.

Where are your favourite places to eat Israeli food in London?

Ranoush Juice on Edgware Road makes great shawarmas and I still love grabbing one late at night on my way home!

 

Tomer Amedi, Head Chef at The Palomar 

What do you love about Israeli food?

It’s a melting pot of different cultures brought together, whether Yemeni, Polish, Iraqi… It’s like travelling around the world without actually going anywhere.

Why do you think it has become so popular in London?

It’s a combination of things. The way we handle vegetables, people are much more conscious of what they are eating here and we use a lot of fresh vegetables in our cooking, with olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs, plus, Israeli food has always been quite healthy. We also use bold, in your face flavours, every bite is a mouthful. It’s a winning combination.

How does Israeli cuisine in London differ to traditional Israeli food?

The variety of ingredients here, mostly proteins, give you the opportunity to experiment. For example, dishes we used to make with fish we can now use scallops. Using British sourced ingredients gives a cool twist.

Where are your favourite places to eat Israeli food in London?

I don’t go out to eat Israeli food much in London, I mostly cook it at home (and work), but I like Honey & Co and there is a great Israeli soup place in Soho, Shop – Soup Shop

Tempted much? Here’s our pick of the best Israeli-inspired restaurants in London for an instant flavour fix…

Bala Baya

This buzzing Southwark joint pays homage to the café culture of Tel Aviv, serving up sumptuous Israeli fare – think colourful salads, mezze sharing plates and tasty chargrilled meats.

Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, Southwark, SE1 0LR

Visit BalaBaya.co.uk

 

Berber & Q

East London’s coolest grillhouse, specialising in smoky shawarma meats and a fusion of Middle Eastern-Mediterranean cuisine. Dalston dwellers come here almost every night of the week, and although it’s always busy, its strict no-booking policy means you won’t have to wait weeks for a table – perhaps just half an hour, but you can hole up at the cocktail bar while you wait. Believe us, it’s worth it.

Arch 338, Acton Mews, Haggerston, E8 4EA

Visit BerberAndQ.com

 

Ottolenghi

Ottolenghi’s deli restaurants are a delight to walk into – you’ll see stacks of vibrant, zingy salads, spiced bakes and floral displays set out on the counter. It’s café-style, so you help yourself, but for a more sit-down affair, head to his Soho restaurant NOPI for mouthwatering Middle Eastern sharing plates and delicious breakfast dishes.

Locations in Belgravia, Spitalfields, Soho, Notting Hill and Islington

Visit Ottolenghi.co.uk

 

The Palomar

A celebration of contemporary Jerusalem cuisine, The Palomar serves up inventive fusion food, with Jewish, Mediterranean and Arabic influences. There are tables for a more intimate setting, but the counter spot is where it’s at – you’ll get front row seats watching the talented chefs work their magic in the kitchen.

34 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 6DN

Visit ThePalomar.co.uk

 

Shook

Nestled inside the Union Street arches, this ‘souk’ style market comes from the team at Bala Baya, where you can indulge your Israeli food fix with an array of fresh bakes, pastries and breads, together with street-style lunches of stuffed pittas – think slow-braised beef with pumpkin curls and lime yoghurt – and plates of roasted aubergine with miso and medjool dates.

Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, Southwark, SE1 0LR

Visit BalaBaya.co.uk

 

Strut & Cluck

Starting out as a pop-up at Shoreditch House, Strut & Cluck has now become a firm fixture on Commercial Street, serving up wholesome, nourishing Middle Eastern fare. Each dish comes packed with flavour and goodness, and with an eastern Mediterranean twist.

151-153 Commercial Street, Shoreditch, E1 6BJ

Visit StrutAndCluck.com

 

The Barbary

There’s always a queue spilling out onto street at The Barbary, but once you’ve sunk your teeth into their selection of moreish deep-fried snacks, it will more than make up for the wait. The food is ‘modern Israeli’, taking inspiration from ancient recipes across North Africa and the Middle East.

16 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, WC2H 9DP

Visit TheBarbary.co.uk

 

Yalla Yalla

Middle Eastern mezze at its finest. Yalla Yalla’s Lebanese street food may come with a small price tag – you can grab a wrap and mezze lunch for £7.50 – but they certainly don’t compromise on flavour. Exotic delights include everything from spicy sujuk sausage, creamy houmous and smoky baba ganoush to crispy falafel wraps, hearty moussaka and charcoal grilled lamb skewers with tomato, pepper and sumac salad.

Locations in Shoredtich, Soho and Fitzrovia

Visit Yalla-Yalla.co.uk

 

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