PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
You might have a bit of a misunderstanding about the Lebanese food that you find on Oxford Street. Chef Simon Zalloua, having spent time at Rockpool and Alira, is changing the direction of the street-store-associated cuisine. He and his team at Embers Mezze Bar are serving the earthy spices and rich textures within an old sandstone building that commands attention from the lower end of Oxford Street.
A kind of fusion décor sees the elegant structure crossed with the subtle style of a cushion room through banquettes that wrap around the curved walls and are lined with pillows. Shades of mauve are set off by orange and yellow lanterns glowing from the high ceilings, while tall arched windows lookout onto leafy trees that are as old as the building.
Each meal here should start off with sesame seed and spice-coated labneh balls, pulled from their oil-filled jar and spread across toasted Afghan bread. Fennel salad draped on silken slivers of kingfish ceviche balances with the bed of nutty tahini sauce for entrée. There is a tangible ceremony with these dishes that sees the strong flavours mopped up by bread, or complemented by the next meal. Here, the lemon of the ceviche adds zest to warm roquette and parsley salad that is buttoned with chickpeas and cauliflower florets. Pomegranate jewels cut through the earthiness absorbed by the cauliflower with sweetness and tang - this play between tart and rustic characters a constant throughout the menu. The golden pastry sambusak pillows are broken in half to reveal fluffy shanklish cheese innards before being dunked in garlicky preserved lemon salsa. A variation of the Israeli dish shakshuka sees the flavours of tomato, egg, chorizo sausage and dusty coloured spices instil within a small frypan and grow dark, crisp and rich around the edges.Embers Mezze Bar sees the tastes of the East meet the West within this grand building, and creates a new standard for the rustic cuisine.