When I was invited to try out the second branch of the Middle Eastern-influenced eatery in Kings Cross, I wasn't expecting to be blown away.
Middle Eastern menus are on the verge of becoming hackneyed. Hummus and (bad) falafel fill supermarkets fridges and even roasted cauliflower has begun to look humdrum. Mezze melancholy has begun to set in.
However, Arabica — an early entrant to the trend — has got it right. They’ve had years to perfect their art, having first plied their trade almost 20 years ago on a trestle table at Borough Market — BY (before Yotam Ottlenghi).
The brand went from street food stall to grown up restaurant – also in Borough. And now, founder, James Walters has brought us a sibling in Kings Cross — another London location that has been massively regenerated in recent years.
I met with my food writer friend for a Friday lunch. The room was buzzy but not over full, and service was snappy. You’re encouraged to go for three to four plates but we may have ordered a couple more.
The menu includes hot meze; dips; nibbles and meat, fish or veggie dishes cooked in the clay oven or charcoal grilled plus a few sides and salads. We kicked off with a slightly oily but hugely comforting dish of fava bean puree, which was delivered with a steaming, puffy pitta in paper bag.
Alongside it was a plate of moutabel — a smoky aubergine puree mixed with tahina and showered with pomegranate seeds. (I want to hate them as they are such a cliché, but they really do work — cutting through the smoky, creaminess.
Grilled haloumi utterly delicious — coated in very floral orange blossom and handfuls of chopped fresh dill and mint and sharing plate space with tart, poached quince. A stand out dish. Next up was their mushroom and truffle man-ousheh, a pizza-like Lebanese flatbread slathered in halloumi, ricotta, rocket and mushrooms and earthy white truffle oil that took it up several notches.
Berbere spiced cauliflower was in dangerous cliché territory. Every cookery writer worth their salt has touted a whole-roasted cauli in some shape or form. This one pulled it off, being as pretty (with rose petal and pomegranate coating) as it was flavour-filled. Meltingly tender inside and darkly charred on the exterior. Crunchy toasted seeds and sticky tahini yoghurt finished it off. We’d packed away so much food I asked them to pack it for me to take home for Mr P for his dinner.
Despite feeling fuller than Friday night dinner, I felt obliged to check out the puddings. Turkish-style Kunefe was a warm, heavy cheese and syrup-filled pastry topped with pistachios. Suprisingly comforting but definitely not health food. The Arabica affogato could have been better with a proper ice cream instead of the soft serve used. I have an issue with soft serve — it’s just not ice cream in my book. The honeycomb cashew filo finger in it was delicious and the whole coffee pouring thing is pure theatre that never fails to deliver.
Go. Mooch around the adjacent Coal Drop’s Yard and maybe even see a movie at the Everyman a few steps from this lovely eatery.
My Middle Eastern mojo was restored with one Arabica meal.