No matter how much we love our life in New York, London will always hold a supremely important place in our hearts. Coming back to East London is like returning to a food mecca which we know how to navigate perfectly, without making any mistakes, wasting any time, or taking any wrongs turns on the way to some of our favorite ever places to eat. This explains why having arrived in London at 2.10 on Thursday afternoon, by 2.30 we had taken the window seats at Berber and Q's new Shwarma Bar in Exmouth Market.
This tiny space slots right into the tasty street which is Exmouth Market. On this sunny day, Shawarma Bar's windows were flung wide open, a few tables and chairs scattered the pavement, and colorful tiles decorated the inside, interrupted by leafy green plants, almost mirrored pendant lights, and metal legged bar stools and tables. Wonderfully late on a warm weekday lunchtime there was no sign of a queue – just a few seats at the bar and a couple of tables were filled with happy customers drinking the last sips of their wine and wiping up the final strains of tahini sauce left in a plethora of bowls.
We came with the intention of having a small(ish) lunch, perhaps sharing a small portion of the eponymous shawarma. However when we got our hands on the menu, our self-control was abandoned. And thank goodness for that, because everything we tasted we wanted more and more of: it was all we could do to force ourselves to leave our seats in time to get to our next appointment.
I'm not sure I've ever been served a more simply spectacular, stunning dish than this plate covered with a wonderfully generous flower of labne which had been sprinkled, drizzled, doused, and dotted with green chillies, dill, lemon zest, pistachios, and plenty of spices. Served with warm challah bread, we scooped up mouthful after mouthful after mouthful until an incredibly clean plate remained.
The classic lamb shawarma is a dish of many components, which make for a riotously colorful tableful of food. Piling everything onto your plate, on top of a warm, thick pita bread, leads to mouthfuls rich with nutty tahini, smoky lamb, sweet pickles, spicy Harissa, fresh tomatoes, and warming chillies. With a side of spiced mejadra, topped with salty, crispy onions, I was ready to take up residence in this tiny little restaurant for the rest of the week. Every spoonful I ate seemed to become tastier and tastier. It took a lot of effort to persuade me to stop considering moving back to London immediately so that this flavor-packed bar would be so much more local.
Shawarma Bar, 46 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE