Thursday, 31 March 2016

A Tale of two kebabs

If we had been playing the 'things that you haven't done that everyone else has' game then The Ewing's drunken confession, as we queued outside Weymouth's Surfside Diner in the early hours of the morning last September, that she had never eaten a kebab might have won her the prize.

While she might have nabbed a few congealed strands of doner meat covered in burger sauce from my mixed special I still considered her kebab maidenhood firmly intact, and where better to pop her pickled chilli than L'As du Fallafel in the Marais, centre of Paris' buzzing Jewish Quarter.

Excitingly they offered Israeli beer, although sadly Maccabee All Malt turned out to be rather like the naughties band bearing part of its name - rather flat and too sweet. I kept my jaded palate entertained before lunch arrived by eating their salty, smoky homemade harissa paste by the teaspoon.

On the face of it, falafel have an unfortunate worthiness about them. They’re made from chickpeas for a start, surely the least inspiring of peas; they contain vaguely healthy looking green bits; and, to top it all, are naturally gluten free and suitable for vegans. Superfood or just super boring?

Thankfully, here they are just super delicious; served crisp and greaseless from the fryer, the steaming morsels gently perfume the air with the sweet garlic and cumin as you break each fluffy ball open. While it’s debatable how healthy anything deep fried in oil can really be, the finished nuggets still have enough worthiness about them to make them feel like they are doing you some good. Doused in harissa and washed down with beer perhaps less so.

My exotic sounding 'cocktail of mixed meats', a combination of grilled chicken, turkey, chicken liver and lamb, was certainly a majestic mix. Particularly interesting was the chicken liver; I’m not sure I’d want a whole plate of it but the soft, offally nuggets made a nice contrast to the smoky chunks of meat. 

And while the polystyrene plate and plastic cutlery gave it the requisite air of being two in the morning outside the kebab van, hoping you’ve still got enough cash for the taxi, here the food was far better and there were no fists flying or associated gutter-side dramas...

Buoyed by a successful first sampling of mystery meat, we switched up our surroundings for our second kebab with a visit to Moroccan stalwart, Chez Omar. Also found in the Marais, this veritable institution has kept celebrities in couscous and roast lamb (lauded as the best in town by David Lebovitz) for years. And while its glory days may be long gone, still expect to see queues out the door at peak times.

Couscous often gets a bad rap, but that’s little wonder when most people’s experience is something stodgy and bland, straight out of a packet with Ainsley Harriot’s face on it. The real stuff is made from hand rolled pasta that is steamed, not soaked, three times using a couscoussier, or double chambered cooking pot. A lot of effort for something you can prepare at home by boiling the kettle, even if it does taste of sadness and dried herbs (and Ainsley has a lovely smile - TE).

I have to say, I was dubious it would all be worth the effort. But, in one of those very rare (ok, pretty much daily) occasions, I was happy to be proved wrong. Instead of the familiar close-textured gloop, this was buttery and ethereal, and the grains stayed fluffy and separate even when mixed with the juices of the accompanying chickpea and vegetable stew.

Alongside were skewers of good grilled lamb and even better merguez sausages; spicy sticks of juicy minced mutton flavoured liberally with cumin, coriander and chili pepper. They also provided their house harissa, smokier and less salty than L'As du Fallafel but with a pleasingly punchy afterburn.

The jury's still out on the Algerian wine, although you can see we didn't leave much evidence. Better was desert; a giant tray of brightly coloured sweetmeats that are left tableside with a pair of gold-plated tongs for you to PYO, a dangerous prospect with the Ewing around. 

Thankfully the sheer amount of sugar crammed into each morsel makes it hard to eat more than one, although I’m pretty sure my wife would have grabbed another luminous chunk of rosewater-perfumed wobbly loukum given half a chance. To drink try a glass of fresh mint tea, a reviving panacea after the sticky sweetness.

And, in case you were wondering, the Ewing was a fan. In fact, shawarma queue outside the Hello Boss van every Friday night for her mixed meat and cheesy chips (wishful thinking, but I had to get a terrible meat-based pun in somehow).

No comments:

Post a Comment