Places To Eat In London: Arabica, Borough Market
Way back when when I lived in Borough on the rare occasions that I did treat myself to a food delivery there was one restaurant that was always at the top of my list: Arabica in Borough Market. As well as producing a pretty solid range of Middle Eastern ingredients for use at home (they were one of the first people who I could buy pomegranate molasses from, for example) they do brilliant mezze. Whatever was delivered was always fantastic, so when it came to choose somewhere to have one of our regular catch up dinners with my best friend near London Bridge, I figured that the amazing food I used to get delivered could only be made better by cocktails, table service, and crockery that the washing up of is someone elses problem!
I arrived a bit early so I ordered a drink to go with my book. Out of the three that I tried, the ‘Levantini’: gin, dry vermouth, limencello, pineapple, basil and lemon. Light and fruity, but also tart and complex enough with a beautiful colour and aroma from the basil to go with the food, and to work as a pre-dinner drink. Later I got an excellent – but much less exciting – Pomegranate Margarita, and Sherin had a lovely and bright ‘Bekka Butterfly’: gin, arak brun, elderflower liquor, grapes, lemon syrup, basil and mint.
To start, we got some smaller dishes, including a couple of my old Deliveroo favourites. Arabica make the most incredible rice-stuffed vine leaves topped with a dusting of almost powdery walnuts and fresh lemon zest that I would simply love the recipe for – get these – and while I already knew how much I loved it my enthusiasm for their taramasalata can not and should not be underestimated. Light, rich, and the very very best version of itself. We also got the lamb topped hummus which was tasty, but a little fatty. All dips come with a lovely soft, light and warm pitta bread (though you can order extra if you’re only sharing one dip between two).
Moving onto the meat dishes, I think my favourite was the chicken and pistachio shish, which had the most complex flavour which more than made up for the chicken just being that little bit dry. The salad of chicory, orange, fennel and mint it was served on really brought the whole thing together, dressed lightly with an orange blossom water dressing that turned the delicious into the exotic with every bite. While we passed over the side it came with – I’m sure brussels sprout lovers would have loved it – the lamb cutlets with za’atar were beautiful – perfectly cooked, juicy and tender (we were asked how we wanted them done) they were smoky and aromatic without detracting from a really good couple of pieces of meat, such a treat.
Onto the veggie options, I was secretly less enthused when Sherin said the main thing she wanted to order off the menu for us to share was the Berbere spiced cauliflower. Usually I never find whole roast cauliflowers, no matter what manner of deliciousness they’ve been tossed in or smothered in as exciting as food writers make them out to be, but here I was wrong. Topped in this case with tahini (another ingredient that I usually avoid at all costs) mixed toasted seeds, pistachios, pomegranate seeds and dried rose petals it was beautiful. Tender, deeply savoury, every bite gave a different mix of flavours: believe me when I say I took the leftovers home with me and devoured them the next day for lunch, wishing I could have the whole thing all over again.
To round of the savoury section of our meal we also ordered some fried potatoes from the sides section of the menu. Heavy with coriander and with a few nuggets of pepper, onion, garlic and chilli. They were good, but not blow-me-away exciting. A side rather than a stand alone dish – is it just me, or are these dishes missing the mark, just a little bit when it comes to mezze?
To round things off we shared a pudding and a sweeter cocktail to end the meal. The ‘Turkish Delight’: vodka, hibiscus liquor, strawberry and rosewater jam and vanilla aquafaba. Was lovely; a bit to sweet to have with the main meal, it was lovely, aromatic and fruity; the aquafaba was also a revelation as I usually find egg white in cocktails – while delicious – a little heavy. This was light, creamy and sweet, and I think made the cocktail all that little bit more special.
Our dessert was the pistachio soft serve: vanilla soft serve topped with bits of baklava, pistachio cream and gorgeous nuggets of yet more Turkish delight. Not the most exciting dessert on the planet, but still really, really tasty. By all means get a pudding if you’re into sweet things as they’re great, but next time I go I’ll be using the stomach space for another savoury number!