★★★★☆ / Eclectic / Turkish Kebabs

Le Bab review – venison kebabs and a pig’s head

Moo, cluck and oink

Disclosure: A 10% discount was applied to the bill for my fourth meal, unsolicited. This was accepted only out of politeness.

I originally had no intention of reviewing Le Bab. The first thing that put me off was the location – Soho’s Kingly Court (home of the risible Whyte and Brown) is effectively a mini shopping centre and, outside of South East Asia, malls tend to be the last places you’d want to eat out at. The second thing was the social media descriptions of the food served at Le Bab – ‘posh’ or ‘gourmet’ kebabs. ‘Posh’ is a loaded word full of classist connotations that has no place in the world of food where dishes should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic origin. ‘Gourmet’ is so overused that it belongs in the semantic bin next to other similarly worn-out, now meaningless words such as ‘wellness’ and ‘pretentious’. Once I had a cup of tea and calmed down though, I found plenty to enjoy at Le Bab.

Le Bab is an attractive looking restaurant, almost to a fault. Although Iznik-style tiles decorate part of the interior, most of it is stripped back to the point of nakedness. Not only can you see the rafters, but the floorboards bend and bounce so much that I could feel staff approaching my table even before I could see them.

decor le bab

They probably didn’t tile the entire place because of all the grouting that would’ve involved.

First things first

Falafel has been given an unnecessary carnivorous makeover at Le Bab. The taste and texture of the beef shin flecks was hard to distinguish, let alone enjoy, amidst the interior of the deep-fried balls which oddly tasted of broad beans. The excessively hard and crunchy shell was hard work on the jaw, too. A poor start.

meatlafel at le bab

Who would have the balls to put meat in falafel?

meatlafel beef falafel at le bab london

Beef balls.

The decision to use pork instead of lamb in the shawarma was a curious one. Although the flecks of pig did have a somewhat moreish rub, it wasn’t especially distinctive while the pork was lacking in fattiness. It was left to the crisp radishes, refreshing blobs of yoghurt and the stiff, malty lavash-like wrap to save this kebab from being a complete missed opportunity.

pork shawarma at le bab

Definitely not halal.

pork shawarma kebab at le bab

Or kosher for that matter.

The ‘fondue fries’ felt like a poutine that had flunked out of finishing school. The floppy chips were also leathery, but at least they had been made out of whole slices of potato. The melted cheese on the side was allegedly made from Stilton, but the boozy addition of stout was the dominant element here. It made for a one-note condiment on a half-baked portion of chips.

fondue fries at le bab

Potato sticks with beer cheese.

Le Bab’s crème brulee had a crisp and sugary crackling, but the wispily ineffectual custard underneath left me unmoved.

creme brulee at le bab

Go out for gelato instead.

Going back for seconds

Lesser reviewers would have cut their losses after such a woefully uneven first meal, but that’s not always fair or thorough which is why I usually make repeated visits to restaurants before coming to a final verdict. I was still initially sceptical about the savoury lokma, but this meat-ified pastry turned out to be surprisingly good. The soft, glazed spherical shell gave way to reveal a creamy and distinctly flavoured chicken liver pate that also had a pleasingly spicy edge to it.

lokma at le bab

Now this is more like it.

lokma chicken liver pate at le bab

Judge me by my looks do you?

Dense and gamey venison koftes had a woody undertone that was neatly complimented by the plum-like sweetness of the accompanying jam. The creamy mayo and so-so vegetables weren’t really necessary, but this was still a good kebab made all the more enjoyable by a repeat appearance of the lavash-style flatbread.

deer adana kebab at le bab

Deer in the headlights.

venison kofte at le bab

Deer, oh deer.

Bitter and crunchy endive leaves were joined by sweet and equally crunchy pomegranate as well as crisp red onions and shallots. All of this made for an effective salad, although some softer elements would’ve been welcome.

endive and pomegranate salad at le bab

Red crunch.

Trio mio

Oddly labelled on the menu as a risotto, the maftoul is more like a large grained cous cous. It had a surprising mung bean-style quality to it, ranging from lightly bitter and tart to earthy and somewhat creamy. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely an acquired taste that becomes both more palatable and interesting when taken with the herby sprigs and measly morsels of milky, salty feta.

maftoul with feta at le bab

Sorry, can’t talk. I’ve got a mouthful of maftoul.

My antipathy towards chicken, the meat of choice for children and invalids, has been stated in other reviews, but the familiar chook can be done well. Although not class-leading, the chicken shish here was meaty and lightly smoky as well as moist – a rare trifecta for a chicken kebab. The modestly crispy skin wasn’t quite the crackling-like topping I was hoping for, but the modestly tart pickles and gently nutty and sweet squash puree enhanced the smoky, meaty qualities of the chicken well. Surprisingly, none of the kebab wraps at Le Bab suffered from excessive spillage when guiding them into my waiting maw.

chicken shish at le bab

Shish, time to create more booking aliases.

chicken shish kebab wrap at le bab

Fuck Nando’s.

The endive and pomegranate salad was just as good as it was before.

endive and pomegranate at le bab

Don’t forget to leaf a tip.

Go fourth and multiply

‘Do you want to help me eat a pig’s head?’

‘Has the answer to that question ever been no?’

And thus, with uncharacteristic wit and grace, Snaggletooth joined me for my final meal at Le Bab. If there’s one dish at Le Bab which will inspire all sorts of headlines, Instagram posts and Cameron-esque puns, it’s the pig’s head. Or, at the very least, it will inspire rubbernecking curiosity and outright revulsion as the pig’s head is brought to your table for your inspection, approval and photography before being taken away for the meat to be deboned.

pig's head at le bab

*insert libellous David Cameron joke here*

Don’t order the pig’s head if you’re in a rush – the cranium takes about half an hour to braise in stock and then a good 15-20 minutes to slice and dice. The large pile of bitty deboned meat was unsurprisingly unctuous, rich and fatty given the dominant presence of fat and collagen. Despite having cold feet after staring into our meat’s snout and teeth prior to deboning, Snaggletooth agreed that it was uncommonly delicious – especially when spooned into one of the lavash wraps served on the side and enjoyed with the julienned carrots, onions and turnips. The reduced stock is served as a dipping or spooning sauce and had a surprising tartness which, along with the sharp onions, helped cut through the substantial richness of the head fat.

pig's head meat at le bab

Just call me Dave.

carrots and turnip at le bab

What do they do with the teeth?

There’s another level of enjoyment to be had with the crackling. The deep red, lacquer-like pig skin ranged from crunchy and somewhat oily to perfectly and evenly crisp with a meaty undertone. Although I have deep respect for vegetarians, deeply sensual cuts of meat like perfectly cooked bits of crackling and expertly rendered hunks of fatty pork are two of the many reasons why I could never join them.

pig's head crackling at le bab

Of course Dave didn’t do it. He’s actually a space lizard and that’s not what space lizards do.

While vegetarians may not have much to choose from Le Bab’s menu, the one vegetarian kebab available was thankfully a winner. Firm and milky chunks of paneer tinged with (what I’m fairly certain was) turmeric and cumin. The mildly earthy beetroot puree and crispy onions complimented the cheese well, while the same quality lavash wrap made a welcome repeat appearance. A paneer kebab isn’t the most original idea in the world, but sod it. When it works, it works.

paneer kebab at le bab

Head cheese.

paneer kebab wrap at le bab

This kebab made Snaggletooth revise his ideas about paneer and what it can be.

The savoury lokma filled with chicken liver pate was just as good as it was before. Although Snaggletooth wished for more pate filling in the centre of each doughnut, he could quite happily eat a whole truck load of the things.

savoury lokma at le bab

Meat doughnut.

The Verdict

Kebabs are already such a storied, well-formed, well-developed and much-loved form of food that any attempts at innovation need to be done with care to avoid creating a needlessly modernised bastardisation of a cherished classic. Despite a disastrous start, Le Bab has largely managed to avoid this pitfall and created some surprisingly elegant and tastefully contemporised kebabs that justify their modest premium over traditional Turkish fare. Plus they do a cracking pig’s head too.

What to orderPig’s head; Paneer kebab; Venison kofte kebab; Chicken liver pate lokma

What to skipCreme brûlée; Pork shawarma

 

Name: Le Bab

Address: Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, Soho, London W1B 5PW

Phone: none listed

Webhttp://www.eatlebab.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon – 15.00 and 18.00-23.00; closed Sunday. 

Reservations: essential for dinner

Average cost for one person including soft drinks but excluding tip: £30-35 approx. 

Rating★★★★☆

Le 'Bab Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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3 thoughts on “Le Bab review – venison kebabs and a pig’s head

  1. Falafels don’t have to be made of chickpeas – the main alternative pulse is broad bean, and the green stuff in the interior appears to be fresh broad bean, so I don’t think they’re necessarily stretching the concept far in that respect. The meat content on the other hand is just weird.

  2. Pingback: Dickie Fitz review – light and airy Australian almost ruins an entire suckling pig | The Picky Glutton

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