Restaurant Review: The Cedar, Maida Vale
IT IS always interesting to peruse the walls of certain restaurants, and what the proprietor has chosen to hang on them – some like to exhibit photos of celebrity visitors, others prefer framed reviews from the local and national press.
The Cedar Lebanese restaurant in Maida Vale highlights its own impressive plaudit on the wall next to its bar and kitchen door – it was crowned Britain’s best takeaway restaurant a couple of years ago, beating traditional favourites Indian and Chinese cuisine by receiving more positive reviews than any of the other 9,000+ eateries listed on online delivery site hungryhouse.co.uk.
But after eating here in-house it’s clear to see the venue hasn’t rested on those laurels at the expense of its restaurant offering, although from the constant action between kitchen door and delivery drivers it’s obvious that The Cedar still does a roaring takeaway trade.
But back to the à la carte menu here, I’ve rarely eaten Lebanese food of this quality in London, at such reasonable prices, which can make you feel a bit guilty when receiving some of the dishes and witnessing their substantiality not to mention their quality in taste and flavour.
The spread of food I and my companion ordered first began with some classic hot and cold mezze, including a delicious authentic hummus ras asfour, topped with diced cubes of tender lamb fillet, and muhammara – a dish of finely chopped nuts mixed with herbs and olive oil, which my friend said was the closest he’d come in London to eating the dish as he remembered it in Lebanon itself.
There was also a special Lebanese pizza called manakeesh, some lightly fried whitebait – perfect with a squeeze of lemon – and a delectable ‘sojouk’ dish of Armenian sausage in a spicy red sauce, which was great to mop up with the puffy home-baked breads fresh from the kitchen’s oven.
The meal was crowned with a majestic ‘farrouj meshwi’ baby chicken marinated deliciously in garlic and lemon, which was a veritable steal at £10.50, indicative of The Cedar’s inexpensive price range that belies the food’s quality.
Not to be outdone by the food, the wine list features entirely Lebanese wines to impeccably match the cuisine, in particular a white Adyar Inspiration 2015 that nicely complemented the whitebait and a red Cave Kouroum Petit Noir 2013 that did likewise with the meaty sojouk dish. It’s certainly gratifying to be able to imbibe the country’s own wines rather than the usual French and Italians.
While waiting for our baklava dessert I took a quick stroll around the dining room to admire its décor: exposed brick, furniture of wood and leather in earthy tones, and ambient mood lighting. There are also black-and-white pictures of Lebanon’s capital Beirut in its 50s and 60s heyday, which adds a touch of atmosphere and authenticity.
But what also makes The Cedar a great restaurant is the warm welcome and service, not only from waiting staff but from the chef and owner himself, Sami Khoueiry, who took the reins here in 1997. He ensures that the produce used in his kitchen is as fresh and locally sourced as possible, with meat bought from Smithfields market and fish from Billingsgate.
So if you’re in want of authentic, healthy and ethically provenanced Lebanese cuisine, not to mention fine Lebanese wines, then make sure to give The Cedar a visit the next time you’re in this northwest-central region of the capital. And if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, then I guess you’ll already know how great the takeaway options are.
The Cedar, 65 Fernhead Road, London W9 3EY. www.thecedarrestaurant.co.uk
A newer branch of The Cedar resides at 202 West End Lane, West Hampstead NW6 1SG, and the latest outlet has just opened at 81 Boundary Rd, St Johns Wood NW8 0RG