Knightsbridge is awash with Middle Eastern restaurants so when a new kid (or restaurant) comes on the block there’s always the question of whether it can provide anything new to an already saturated market.
Yamal Alsham opened in December and is certainly smarter than many of the other cafe-type shisha places you can find around Harrods and Harvey Nichols – it’s more of a restaurant than a cafe, decorated with carpets, sumptuous dull gold decorations and a rather kitsch expansive fish tank.
We were intrigued by the Syrian and Lebanese cuisine because, despite being a fan of Lebanese food, we hadn’t had much experience of its larger neighbour’s food.
We went for a variety of hot and cold mezzes to get a real feel for the food. Every table was given a bowl of a variety of lettuces, juicy baby tomatoes, a mini cucumber and carrot crudites. We weren’t sure what they went with, but we used the carrots and cucumber to dip into the hoummos (£6.70).
I’m quite fussy about hoummos and don’t like the shop-bought tubs, but this one had a perfect consistency with a nice slosh of olive oil on the top and was enthusiastically mopped up with carrots and flat breads, with a sesame sprinkling, baked in their own special oven.
We tried the house red wine, which was Lebanese, and having only had a few tastes of wines from the east Mediterranean country before, we were pleasantly surprised.
The 2011 Ksara Sunset (£21), a Cabernet-Syrah blend, was effortlessly drinkable and had notes of red berries but steered away from being too sweet. I would definitely have it again.
A plate of mixed pastries offered up a host of flavours. Our favourite was the arayes (£8.50), which was flat bread with seasoned minced lamb, pine nuts and tahini. It was an interesting balance of sweet and tangy.
Another flat bread, mana’eesh zaatar (£5.50) was topped with thyme, sumac and sesame seeds and was just a bit dry for me. The fatayer (£6.50), a baked pastry filled with baby spinach, spring onions and sumac, was tasty but the Arayes won out of the three.
Accompanying all the dishes was a delicious Lebanese salad, salatet almawsam (£5.50), with tomatoes, baby cucumber, leaves and a tasty dressing, while a bowl of olives really gave a fresh taste of the Mediterranean.
We had to try the ever-popular falafels (£6.70) and they did not disappoint – I’ll go as far as to say they were the best I’ve ever tried. Many fall into the trap of being too dry, but not these ones, and the delicious tahini sauce gave them a great added flavour.
The makanek (£7.50), Lebanese lamb and cumin sausages, had a warm spicy taste and the cheese sambousek (£6.50) had a slightly sweet pastry parcel which offset the salty cheese nicely.
The spicy potatoes with garlic, coriander and chillies (£6.70) were a little soggy and lacked heat from the chillies so we could have given those a miss, however the dessert was a real winner.
A beautifully presented plate of fruit (£4.95 per person), including pineapple and melon, was a good end to a carb heavy meal and paired perfectly with a selection of pastries, katayef (£4.95). The mini baklawa was not too sweet and absolutely delicious.
The majority of the dishes were tantalising and exciting.
The prices seemed quite steep but they do set menus, which seemed a bit better value, with the cheapest at £35 per person for a six platter mezze, including a mixed grill with rice, dessert and coffee.
Yamal Alsham is a good addition to the Middle Eastern Knightsbridge scene and with offerings of live music and belly dancing every Friday and Saturday, it adds a bit of pizzazz to the lethargy of shisha and coffee.