Cedars Lebanese

October 2, 2015

I had a very enjoyable meal at Cedars Lebanese Restaurant on Churchgate recently – here’s my review of it for the Leicester Mercury:

One in four of the population of Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. If the UK had received the same proportion, there would be 16 million.

I bring this up because somehow it seems to chime with the philosophy of Lebanese hospitality explained in the preamble to Cedars‘ menu. This tradition, it explains, stems from when the Levant developed as meeting place for European and Asian trade routes. “As Lebanese, we offer our guests the best food and comfort that we can afford…which generally consists of a variety of dishes and can always be produced at extremely short notice.”

The reference of course is to mezze, the variety of small dishes to be consumed in leisurely fashion over conversation that is familiar throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s a familiar approach at the burgeoning number of Turkish restaurants around Leicester. Can I give you chapter and verse on how precisely Lebanese mezze differs from the Anatolian style? To be honest, no.

But what I can say is that the mezze at Cedars stands up well to similar offerings around the city. In fact I’d say there’s a wider range of flavours on offer here and they pack a bigger punch. A lunchtime visit for the mixed mezze platter for £7.50 featured some excellent food with a pleasing variety of textures and flavours. Should you be on your own, this is definitely the way to sample the range on offer. It features eight items from smooth, nutty hummus drizzled with good quality olive oil through to savoury filled pastries such as sambousek, stuffed with delicous minced lamb given a sweetish edge with a hint of cinnamon and fattayer, an oven-baked filo pastry with sharp minerally spinach, onion, lemon juice and pine nuts.

More sweetly spiced lamb was contained in kebbeh, a little parcel wrapped in bulgur wheat and deep-fried, and there was more sharpness from the parsley, onion and tomato salad tabouleh and from vine leaf rolls filled with rice and herbs with lemon juice. Probably the only element I didn’t really warm to was the moutabel, grilled aubergine puréed with sesame paste, lemon juice and garlic. Despite a sprinkling of sumac this was a bit bland and I wasn’t keen on the “scrambled egg” texture.

On a quiet lunchtime the relentless Europop was a bit of an irritant and the staff were busy rearranging the back part of the restaurant rather than paying much attention to me, but the food definitely warranted a follow up.

Our self-selected mezze at an evening visit was even more impressive. Superbly grilled chicken wings came with French-influenced aioli – a powerful paste of whipped-up garlic and olive oil. We also loved the foul medames, tender broad beans and chickpeas with lemon juice and garlic, and the feisty sujuk, densely meaty little sausages in a mild chilli and tomato sauce.

We shared one main course too, a mountainous mixed sharwama, with piles of spiced, sliced and roasted lamb and chicken along with rice, salad, pickles and flatbread. The spicing dominated the flavour of the lamb somewhat but this was all good flavoursome stuff.

Unlike the majority of the new breed of Turkish restaurant, Cedars is licensed and has a fairly extensive Lebanese wine list, including the divine Chateau Musar. On this occasion we limited ourselves to a Lebanese pilsener, a mite sweet to my taste but good to try. We wrapped things up with refreshing mint tea and some nutty pastries.

I would imagine Churchgate must have it challenges when running a restaurant but Cedars has survived a good few years now. I can see why and it deserves to be far busier than it was on our visits.

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