Falafel can be controversial — there is dispute over where it came from, whether it should be made from chickpeas or in the Egyptian way with broad beans, and there is even a simmering argument between Israelis and Palestinians over its ownership — both claim it as their national dish.
Whatever the disagreements, the deep-fried snack is now almost as common over here as it is in its native Middle East, but London still lags some way behind Tel Aviv in falafel appreciation. Finding a place to eat properly made falafel served in pitta with a good range of salads, pickles and sauces has become more and more difficult. Here are some of the few outlets that do come near to creating that authentic Israeli bus-station experience.
Golders Green Road, London, NW11
Taboon provides fully supervised Israeli-style falafel.
There is a daily choice of 10-12 self-service salads, including coleslaw, chilli peppers and Israeli salad. The sauces range from green chilli to hummus and tahini. It is one of the capital’s cheaper falafels — a fully stuffed pitta costs £3.30.
Taboon’s Dougie McDougall says: “The falafels are all made fresh on the premises each day and customers can help themselves to the self-service salad bar and various sauces.”
38 Brushfield Street, Spitalfields,
London, E1 6EU
The newest addition to London’s falafel scene, near London’s Spitalfields Market, was set up by Israeli Uri Dinay, whose grandfather owned a falafel and hummus restaurant in Israel.
For £3.99 you can buy falafel in pitta or a container and, although there is no self-service salad bar, you can choose as many veggies as you want from a selection which includes beetroot, cabbage, dill, tabouli, turnip and others.
There is also a range of sauces; aside from the obligatory hummus and tahini, there is amba — a traditional Israeli dip made from mango, which is rarely seen in Britain.
Pilpel is bright and airy, and decorated with photos of chickpeas and other falafel ingredients. Although its core business is take-away, it does have some seating.
Owner Uri Dinay says: “It’s always been my dream to continue my grandfather’s legacy. He said the most important ingredient in a falafel was love.”
43 Old Compton St, London, W1,
4 Brewer Street, London, W1
Maoz is in an international chain founded in Amsterdam in 1991 but now to be found in the US, Europe and Australia. However, its concept of falafel, developed by brothers Dov and Nachman Milo, is a uniquely Israeli one.
Although not kosher, Maoz is fully vegetarian. For £4.60 you get a large fluffy pitta or container with several falafel balls, a generous dollop of hummus and lettuce. In true Israeli fashion you then get to stuff your pitta with as much salad as you can cram in from a self service selection including beetroot, tomato, cauliflower, gherkins, spiced carrot and others. There are also several sauces including tahini, garlic and green or red chilli.
30 Charing Cross Road, WC2
Gaby’s is a long-established and popular lunchtime and pre-theatre venue, serving a mixture of Israeli, Ashkenazi and Mediterranean food. One of its most popular vegetarian dishes is the falafel, served in traditional Israeli-style pitta with authentic “charif” chilli sauce — you can even get Maccabee lager here. Salads are not self-service but there is a choice of cabbage, carrot and lettuce, or tomato and cucumber, plus hummus and tahini. A take-away falafel pitta is £3.50; to eat in costs £4.30.
27b Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2,
155 Wardour Street, London W1
At Just Falafs’ two outlets, in Soho and Covent Garden, the focus is on healthy and environmentally friendly food.
Customers must choose a set combination such as the FLT, which comes with hummus, leaf spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber and hummus; the bean beanie, made up of aubergine sauce, sprouts, broad beans and red pepper; or another which comes with beetroot, carrot and pumpkin seeds.
There are around five “free” extras which can be added to any wrap, and include gherkins, garlic sauce and chilli peppers.
Each combination comes in a heated flatbread wrap. At £4.75 for take-away and £5.50 to eat in, this is an expensive option and portions are fairly small.
The Covent Garden branch is take-away only but the Soho store has tables for eating in.