We were in Oxford at the weekend and decided to go to Al Shami in Jericho for a late Sunday afternoon lunch – and our first experience of Lebanese cuisine.
Having never eaten Lebanese before we could perhaps have done with some guidance on the menu but we decided to dive in and order four mezzes and two mains, plus some bread, between two of us and a couple of Lebanese beers.
Before our order arrived we were presented with the most unusual “salad” I've ever seen … Carrot sticks, some sort of pickled thing, olives, radishes, one whole spring onion, a quartered lettuce, a beef tomato (whole) and a green pepper (also whole) … We picked at it but weren't entirely sure how to eat it!
Then the mezze dishes arrived, closely followed by the mains, so we ate them all together. The mains – meatballs in tomato sauce, and some sort of lamb dish, also in a (tastier) tomato sauce, served with rice and cracked wheat – were okay but not especially inspiring – but the mezzes – a potato and garlic dish, roasted aubergine with tomato, meat pasty type things and some sort of dried, cured beef strips – were excellent, very tasty and well presented too. The potato dish and the dried beef in particular were superb, spicy and flavoursome without being overpowering and I'd definitely have them again. I also really liked the bread, which was some sort of flatbread.
We really enjoyed our meal, despite the slightly underwhelming main courses. The downside of this particular restaurant is the atmosphere. When we arrived there was a large party there who were quite noisy, but as soon as they left the place descended into silence. Ok it was a Sunday afternoon and there was only us and one other person there but when a restaurant is so quiet you can hear the other diner crunching on their dinner …. It would be much better with some authentic music in the background!
So overall we enjoyed our meal and left feeling thoroughly stuffed, and I would definitely eat at Al Shami again – but I think next time we'll pick six or eight mezze dishes and skip the mains – and I'm tempted to take in my iPod and a portable speaker and set Spotify to play some Lebanese belly dancing music!