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Fakhreldine, London’s oldest and most iconically glamorous Lebanese restaurant in Mayfair, closed down in 2012 after 35 years. It went through some changes towards the end, trying to establish a younger, more nightclubby vibe – but in its heyday it attracted top celebrities and diplomats, and served seriously good food. We have many happy memories of eating there in childhood. Fakhreldine’s last head chef Youssef Harb, along with two of his colleagues, has now set up another Lebanese restaurant in Southgate.
Warda – a girl’s name that means ‘rose’ in Arabic – looks both contemporary and conservative. Neutrally decorated in browns and creams, it has comfy banquettes, good-sized tables, large lampshades and a slick bar counter at the back. Mezze is what we usually associate with Lebanese restaurants, but here the chef’s speciality is his family’s repertoire of slow-cooked dishes, usually prepared by women at home but now gradually disappearing.
For vegetarians, there are only two of these slow-cooked main courses on the menu (also available as mezze): moussaka, and bemieh (okra in tomato sauce). However, there’s a separate vegetarian mezze section with a wide choice; plus all the dips, salads and side dishes are meat-free. There’s also an excellent-value 3-course vegetarian menu at £22.50, which includes several mezze.
The food is superb. We devoured tangy, deeply smoky baba ganoush studded with a scattering of garnet-red pomegranate seeds; and fresh mint, parsley and green chillies added a lively kick to hummus beyruti. Green chillies, along with heaps of garlic and coriander leaves, transformed the humble batata hara – fried potato cubes, crispy from outside, tender within – into a deliciously moreish dish that we couldn’t stop eating. Grilled halloumi was served simply with a few mint leaves, but the cheese’s quality shone through.