20 Apr 2009

Prince Fakhreldine's Hair

FROM THE street, Mayfair’s ‘Fakhreldine’ is bedecked in so many lights that Harrods should sniff a rival. By some quirk of branding, its title shares the ‘Star Trek Deep Space Nine’ font, tartily backlit in shocking pink. Despite a goring by critic, A.A. Gill, who found it even more unpleasant than its name sounded, I ventured within to see whether it would offer an insight into Middle Eastern cuisine beyond flimsy flat bread and a promiscuity of parsley…
A hostess so tall that the air was thinner where she finished weaved us to a table overlooking Green Park. A plate of radishes, lettuce, carrots and cucumber was already waiting. This rabbit food gesture reminded me of the nibbles offered at the thank God it’s shut ‘Papageno’, Covent Garden. A big brigade of sombrely dressed staff was stationed around an almost entirely Lebanese clientele. Through probably London’s cleanest windows, we glimpsed vulgar limos with their boozy cargos stretch past.
Knowing from his review that the bodged drink had vexed the man from The Times, I considered ordering an orange and cranberry juice, to play devil’s advocate. Annotated as ‘dangerous, fire, and extremely high alcohol’, I was tempted too by the ‘Storm’ house cocktail. Instead I opted for aromatic Château Ka Source Blanche from the Bekaa valley. Served in an unfortunately thrifty glass, its aromatics complemented the food. It came from a list surprisingly light in Lebanese bottles peppered with typos like ‘rijoa’. My companion chose a foamy raspberry Bellini, which evoked melted lolly.
From a menu covered in fingerprints, we ordered a smattering of mezzé. Emerging from a tangle of parsley, my slobby lamb tartare was as over minced as Dale Winton. Four deep-fried prawns were pricey for £11, arriving with a cool sauce rather than the spicy one advertised. Oast house shaped falafels felt sandy, suffering from an overly dense aggregate interior of beans and herbs. Spinach triangles of cracked wheat and sumac smelt inexplicably of smoked fish. The only excellent dish had the appearance of ectoplasm: strained yoghurt dusted with poppy seeds within a highlighter yellow olive oil moat. I scooped this with a warm puff of Frisbee shaped bread.
I took a sip of warm mineral water and hoped for more precision in the mains. Unfortunately, a flabby Loubieh of lamb cubes, green beans and tomato with prickly rice looked like a hastily plated T.V. dinner. Simply too much for one cramped plate. It also arrived with an unexpected garnish – a curly black hair. For £21, my mixed meat grill featured a floppy flatbread lid glistening with grease. Beneath, various charred items lounged on another green heap. Only the lamb cutlet provided tender, gnawable pleasure.
Whilst the Arabs may have more experience with milk than most (having invented cheese) on the evidence of our traditional pistachio ice cream, the Italians have nothing to fear. It incorporated all the grace and hedonistic ambition of a processed chicken substitute dredged from the far reaches of a dismal health food shop (without wellbeing connotations). Visibly sticky and vaguely lactic, it was enormously challenging to sever into manageable chunks.
After rather good cardamom coffee served in an espresso cup with an albeit dangerously slippery handle which pivoted it towards my lap, we prepared to abscond. Or so I thought. With eyes like saucers, my companion declared, “there’s no way we’re going.” A freshly disrobed belly dancer was dining room bound.
The lights dimmed into the need for night vision - one way of offsetting the megawatts illuminating the exterior. The arresting and in her field, skilled performer pulsed around the tables like a pinball, plucking willing victims to emulate her gyrations. Whilst she danced, the atmosphere turned carnival (and carnivorous). A mature, portly gent encouraged his ‘niece’ to spoon-feed him lasciviously. Another chap thoroughly filleted his nose. Two more diners brazenly bankrolled the belly dancer’s bra.
We left as Lebanese lute segued into house. Whilst I will gladly punch new holes in my belt for genuinely talented chefs, Fakhreldine delivered a meal from which I resent getting fat. Despite boasts of being a fine dining restaurant, on account of the dining room wildlife, I would suggest that the food is far from the point at Fakhreldine…
Fakhreldine - 85 Piccadilly, London. W1J 7NB. T. 020 7493 3424
Nearest Tube: Green Park
Fakhreldine on Urbanspoon

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