I recently popped into Maroush Bakehouse in Earl’s Court to check out the renowned London-based Lebanese chain’s latest incarnation. The very first Maroush restaurant was opened on Edgware Road by Marouf Abouzaki more than 30 years ago. Now the chain boasts 15 outlets in various guises, its latest creation being two bakehouses situated in Knightsbridge and Earl’s Court.
My favourite Lebanese restaurant, located on Westbourne Grove, closed down some years ago. I have exceptionally fond memories of the many nights I spent there; the food was some of the best I’ve ever enjoyed, so when I visit another Lebanese restaurant I am burdened with all sorts of expectations.
When we arrived at the Maroush Bakehouse I was surprised to find it a lot smaller than I had expected. There’s good reason though… through large glass windows you can see just how much space is needed for all the equipment required to bake everything, from their breads, to desserts. The attentive and charming waitress gave us the choice of our table – I hate being forced to sit in a specific place, particularly if the restaurant isn’t very busy and they are determined to sit you next to another customer. All in all, things were off to a great start.
The venue has a very European-style, informal café vibe. You can pop in to quickly feast on a kebab (though these are referred to as sandwiches on the menu) and even pick up takeaway. The venue, as yet, does not boast an alcohol license, so you can take your own beer or wine and there are plenty of excellent juices on the menu too.
We started with a selection of small dishes from the mezza menu. Hommos was a must, as was baba ghanouj (grilled aubergine pureed with sesame paste and lemon juice) which came liberally sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, so it looked beautiful and each bite had a little burst of sweetness. I am a complete and utter cheese fiend so grilled halloumi was another essential. It was perfectly cooked and much less salty than the halloumi that’s readily available. While the hommos was outstanding and the baba ghanouj delicious, our favourite dish, without a doubt, had to be the moussaka. This was like no moussaka I’d ever had before. For one thing, it didn’t come layered. Large pieces of tender fried aubergine had been baked with tomato and slithers of onion, chickpeas and sweet peppers. The tomato sauce had an incredible richness. The dish was so comforting, perfect food for the cold winter’s night on which I visited.
I did wonder if it could get any better and I was pleasantly surprised. For main my dining companion ordered shish taouk marinated chicken, grilled and served with a garlic sauce. The garlic sauce was particularly interesting, it had the look of whipped, glossy egg whites but it was essentially an aioli and had a powerful, peppery garlic punch. The chicken was tender and melted in the mouth. I opted for the shawarma lamb which consisted of very fine slices of marinated lamb, sesame oil sauce, onion, parsley, tomato and pickles. I’ve never seen so much lamb on a plate in my life. The lamb came with a tahini sauce too which complemented the aromatic meat well. If you could fall in love with a plate of food, this would have to be it. There was nothing overly complicated about it, the lamb was simply well marinated and boasted wonderful flavours, it was tender but there were also lovely crispy bits. It was a dish with many flavours and textures but few ingredients.
Unfortunately, I was defeated by the lamb, and both feeling rather stuffed, we declined dessert. However, over some mint tea we did try a few pieces of baklava which were not only beautiful but also most pleasing.
I can’t fault the Maroush Bakehouse. Sometimes chains overextend and devalue their brand but I can only see them continuing to go from strength to strength. The Maroush Bakehouse in Earl’s Court is an excellent multi-purpose, informal dining venue serving up the very best Lebanese delicacies. Plus, those who want to continue their feast at home can pick up all sorts of breads, sweets, baklava and cakes from the café’s own shop.
Maroush Bakehouse 131 Earl’s Court Road, London SW5 9RH
Tel: 020 7370 4323