Sunday, 27 May 2012


When I was much, much younger, someone once gave me a Yuletide card that went something like this;

Money’s tight, times are hard
Here’s your ****** Christmas card.

Of course, their card didn’t have lots of little asterix between ‘your’ and ‘Christmas’. No, it had a naughty word instead, one I wouldn’t dream of replicating here.

But the point is, all these years later, times are indeed hard and money is a tad tight. As a result, I have been eating out far less this past month. I appreciate, however, that you do not come here to read excuses – you want reviews!! Well ….. reviews and the occasional joke.

With this in mind, I am posting a review of a place I last ate in a few weeks back and which happens to be one of my very favourite places to eat. It’s a tiny (like, tiny) Lebanese restaurant called Meza, and is found on one of the least romantic stretches of pavement you could hope to stumble down. It’s on Trinity Road, heading away from Tooting Bec (SW17) towards Wandsworth Common and it looks like this;

The proprietor is a splendid chap who goes by the name Hekmat.

Hmmm, yes, I know, I’d never heard the name before either, but trust me on this – he is just about the most genial host you could hope to meet in a restaurant.

Or anywhere else, come to mention it. 

Lebanese beer? ' don't mind if I do.

I asked an Italian friend the other day if she really cooks pasta for her family, day in, day out, ad infinitum? She rolled her eyes as if to say, “another Englishman, asking the same question”, before saying that yes, actually she does cook pasta every day. But it’s the way she cooks it, she continued, that made her cooking special. Jokingly I retorted that you just had to follow the cooking instructions as to how long you had to cook the pasta for – 8, 10 or 12 minutes, depending on the level of ‘al dente’ you were hoping to achieve.
I finished this statement off with a hearty laugh, and patted her humorously on the shoulder, but she clearly wasn’t having the best of days, as she just rolled her eyes again and walked off, muttering something short and sharp under her breath. I think it was probably some sort of recipe.

Anyway, the point is, when you go to Italy, you eat pizza, or pasta! Or risotto I s’pose, but that’s beside the point. I'm not being ....... Italianist – that’s just the food they serve - and bloomin’ delicious it is too! (The best pizzas? Napoli, no question. The fishing port of Castellammare di Stabia on the Bay of Naples to be more precise, but that's another post for another day).

In a similar fashion, when you go to Lebanon, you eat pretty much the same food in every single restaurant, be it the brightly lit, glitzy five star place in Ashrafiyeh, East Beirut, or the small roadside shack famous for it’s deep fried kibbehs and falafels, on the main road up into the mountains, on the way to the Bekaa Valley.

I’m not knocking it – far from it, I LOVE Middle Eastern food, Lebanese in particular, but again, I’m merely highlighting that much of it is very similar. (note; “similar”, not “the same”).

And so it is with Meza, from the thick and creamy yoghurt (labne) to the fresh zingy parsley salad (taboulleh). From the deep fried minced lamb with pine kernels (kibbeh) to the smoky, flame grilled mashed aubergine that is baba ghanoush (or betenjine).

That's my son's hands above, getting well and truly stuck in to his 'taboulleh / houmus mix'. Great taste buds that lad, far more refined than mine (it's the reason I take him with me!)

From succulent and tender lamb kofte ....

... to er ... succulent and .... erm ... tender chicken shish taouk.

Ah yes, the wine, of course, the wine.

Perhaps very sensibly, for now, Hekmat has opted not to stock wines that would stretch ones wallet or purse strings too much. They are Lebanese wines as you would expect, but all around the £15 - 20 mark. Whether or not he plans to introduce Ksara and Chateau Musar to his wine list, I'm not sure, but more expensive or not, I think that he should; his restaurant deserves to have them on show and filling people's glasses.

We have entertained some very important people at Meza. In no particular order they include family members, close friends, Godparents of our children and their families, business bods, men of the cloth and so on, and none of these found fault with the food, the restaurant, the owner or his staff.

And why would they? I can't find fault with it, after all!

Having said all that, if I had to find one thing that doesn't sit quite right, it would be this; thanks to the CD player being broken, the radio is tuned to *swallows hard* Heart radio!

I mean for crying out loud, sort it OUT man!

I've said it on many occasion, Lebanese food and ambience do NOT naturally pair with the hits of the 80's (although the Eurythmics came on the other day - Sweet Dreams Are Made of This is STILL a cracking tune, I don't care what anyone says!)

We finish, as always, with Lebanese coffee. Oozing cardamom it is strong, sweet, and very difficult to stop at just the one.

(I only put that to sound tough - look at the size of the cup, that's almost to scale, that picture!!)

Anyway, to sum up, seek out Meza. Find Hekmat, he really is a smashing guy and he will look after you, trust me. He won't let you order too much just for the sake of making an extra pound or two - he often stops us if we get too carried away. Sadly, I thought my family and I were the most important customers that ate at Meza, but that was just because he is so good at making you feel very special. When we last ate there, I realised he makes everyone feel that way - I could see it in the other customers eyes, in their body language.

Make the trip there and see what you think. If you enjoy it, get in touch and tell me I was right. If you don't, I'll have the Sunday Times reimburse you, no problem at all.*

Regardless of all that, the main reason I eat at Meza is the anonymity afforded to me there.

Well, that's what I thought, but stone me, who should walk in the last time I was there? Omar Sharif, my old chum, whom I first met when he starred in Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. Crikey, that ruffled some feathers, I can tell you. The last time I saw him was in 2003 after he'd been arrested in a casino in Monte Carlo for head-butting a police man. He said he'd blown all his cash at the roulette wheel and could I loan him the $1700 bail that had been set?

Well, what are friends for if you can't ask to borrow a bit of cash every now and then, eh?

Of course, I should've seen it coming but no sooner had our coffee cups been cleared away, does Omar turn to me and tell me he's misplaced his wallet, and could he possibly borrow a few quid, possibly even add it to the seventeen hundred that he's never gotten round to paying me?

I sighed and paid up. After all, what are friends for, and he really is a splendid chap.

We've been pals for years.

34 Trinity Road
SW17 7RE
07722 111299

* = complete tosh

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