Given both the numbers and the nature of the cuisine, I'd taken the dictatorial decision of pre-ordering table-loads of starters for everyone. These were generally agreed to be the highlight of the meal although as more and more arrived, the tables got very congested.
On Tom's table, the garlickiest of dips was a little too much for Michael and Nathalie, but Tom himself loved the intensity of so much garlic. The lamb meatballs were a big hit with Karen and Emily, while on Mark's table Tony and Ged were also fans.
The various dips were all well received - Dee heaped particular praise on the warm aubergine dip - though we needed extra bread to mop them all up. This was no hardship - the bread is excellent. The salads made for an interesting texture contrast, though the cucumber and pomegranate salad divided opinion. The combination of spices and flavours when you bit into the pomegranate was memorable.
Overall, the variety and depth of flavour of the starters seemed to impress pretty much everyone. It would have been nice if the waiting staff had told everyone what everything was as they put it on the table, but that's a minor gripe.
A more substantive gripe - albeit one that was related to the size of our group - was the slow service. My table in particular seemed to suffer and two hours elapsed between arriving and getting our main courses - even though the other tables were more or less finishing up. Naturally, it was a larger group than the restaurant was used to, but by the same token they'd turned down my offer of us staggering the tables to ease the pressure on the kitchen and were brave in accepting a couple of other tables of two during the night given that we ostensibly filled the place.
Main courses, which are predominantly various versions of grilled chicken and lamb, were good though didn't receive the same sort of acclaim as the starters. Nevertheless, one of the lamb dishes converted Goetz who confessed it wasn't his usual choice. Half of Mark's table opted for the Ghafghazi - a skewer of marinated lamb fillet and marinated chicken, served with saffron rice, salad and grilled tomato, and all of them enjoyed it.
The lamb shank was also a popular choice but comments were more mixed. Liz and Karen thought it was beautiful and tender, Michelle said it was very tasty, but Tony felt there was too much rice relative to lamb, and I thought it was a rather small portion and although it was tender it lacked a punch of flavour.
|Lamb shank and a lot of rice|
Portion control did seem to be an issue. Simon looked at his plate with one skewer of meat and then at Rosie's plate of two skewers, and remarked on the fairly small difference in price.
Jill and Elaine both opted for the sea bass - and this may have been the best dish of the evening. The plate certainly looked attractive and both of them were pleased with it. Suzanne also eschewed the grilled meat for the chicken and pomegranate stew, which she liked.
The same could not be said for Debbie's vegetarian dish. In fact she was so disappointed with it (and Phil and I both tried it and agreed with her) that we had it taken off the bill. The spinach and kidney bean stew tasted of tinned ingredients, she said, and it was certainly swimming in oil. Tom had the same and although he was not as underwhelmed as Debbie, he thought it was rather one-dimensional in both taste and texture. Tom D had the vegetarian special, which looked and tasted much better.
Few people had desserts, but those that did were generally happy with them. In my book you can't go wrong with a strong coffee and baklava.
Wines - consumed in quantity as usual at whampreview - were all good with most tables sticking to the house red or white or graduating to the next one up the list.
Overall, the night went well - the atmosphere was cosy on a cold night though with all of us chatting it got pretty loud. But that's not a bad thing, right? Tom suggested that more of the starter dishes could be extended into main courses to add some variety to the grilled meat offerings. I'd certainly be happy just ordering a selection of hot and cold starters and a bottle of wine.
Tom's table: 7.9
Mark's table: 7.6
Jonathan's table: 7.1
351 West End Lane
LONDON NW6 1LT
T: 020 7794 1200
Thanks to Tom and Mark for hosting tables