Without leaving London, this little culinary trip is going to take in three distinctly different countries: Israel, Greece and Syria, beginning with the former, which means starting with an address which rather grandly reads ‘One Marylebone’, now an events location in London NW1 but formerly Holy Trinity Church, built almost two centuries ago by Sir John Soane to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo a decade or so beforehand. Now long deconsecrated, it is the site of a new restaurant called Chameleon. (I have not yet been back to ascertain if it’s so-called because the menu keeps changing.)
The venue describes itself as “Tel Avivian gastro sharing”, which might sound a bit off-putting but, as with the perfectly pitched live music, there is nothing off-putting about this place. You can see below the two main courses we shared. To begin with we had two tremendous dips – zhug, which is garlic, coriander and chilli, and sweet harissa – with gorgeous fresh bread. The chef, Elior Balbul, has doubtless learned from Yotam Ottolenghi that Israeli food can prove very popular in the UK, and this restaurant should do exceedingly well. Fittingly, I thought, for a fine summer’s day, I washed the food down with a glass of rosé from Galilee.
Briefly leaving the Middle East for another meal, the next stop (not on the same day, I should add!) was in Charlotte Street, London W1, at the Greek eaterie, Ampeli. Its business has been ravaged by the pandemic, not least because it only has very limited outdoor seating. In addition to my choices (below) the menu has such Hellenic classics as barrel-aged feta with roasted red pepper dip. However, for my third plate I opted for the heritage tomato salad with graviera cheese, anchovies and olives. Delicious.
About 300 hundred yards to the southwest from Ampeli one arrives in Syria…sorry, Soho, and Imad’s Syrian Kitchen. Its proprietor and chef, Imad Alarnab, is a 43-year-old who fled his war-torn native country and arrived in the UK as a refugee with his family in the autumn of 2015. He’d had three restaurants in Syria before “everything I owned was bombed within six days in 2012”. He began work in London at a car wash. Now he’s a restaurateur again. It’s an amazing story. Prior to enjoying the dish you see below I had ordered mtafayt bamyeh (“that’s easy for you to say,” I remarked to the waitress) – okra and labneh with coriander and olive oil. I will be going back; few restaurants could be more deserving of support.
And the photo on the home page? That’s Madison, which like Chameleon is another great location for outdoor dining on a summer’s day. As you can see, it’s quite close to St Paul’s.