There’s an exchange that happens in my office at least once a week:
Me: “What’s on the lunch menu for today?”
Colleague: *Downloads canteen lunch menu*, *reels of a list of boring dishes*
Me: “Sod it, I’m going to Yalla Yalla.”
Colleague: *Without looking up* “Can you bring me back a halloumi wrap?”
Yalla Yalla is always the kryptonite that breaks those weeks when I am trying to eat healthily or not spend too much money on buying lunch. With a wedding looming, and a very unforgiving wedding dress to squeeze into, those weeks are becoming more and more frequent. However, the healthy options from nearby boring salad bars and the cheapo options from the staff canteen can never compare to the sheer middle eastern delights on offer just a mere hop, skip and a jump away on Winsley Street. And I KNOW that I should be making my own lunch at home and bringing it in and all that, but I am disorganised. Also, somewhere in our building is a person who likes to pinch other people’s lunch. My friend had some sushi nicked the other day and she was very annoyed about it.
Anyway, Yalla Yalla has a little takeaway counter that sells a range of different wraps, as well as coffee and those little sticky pieces of baklava that I just love. I have tried most of the wraps now, and my favourite is the lamb shawarma, something I feared I would forever have to trek to the Edgware Road for, and the simple falafel wrap (not quite as good as Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush but, in my mind, nothing is). The wraps are priced anywhere between £4 and £5 and are well-made and delicious. You have to wait a little while, especially during the busy lunchtimes, but it is worth it.
Despite being a frequent visitor to the counter, until Wednesday I had only ever eaten in at Yalla Yalla once before; at their beautiful little original site at Green’s Court. On Wednesday, Claire and I met there for a very speedy lunch to share news on weddings and house renovations over some baba ghanoush. There are two ways that you can eat in at Yalla Yalla: you can order one of the mezzes as a starter and then move on to their menu of middle-eastern main dishes, such as a moussaka, mixed grill or grilled seabass; or you can order a range of the mezzes and share. Being always keen to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting, I have yet to opt for the former, although I have cast many a desirous eye over the Lahem Meshoue.
During my two visits to Yalla Yalla, plus many jaunts to the takeaway counter, I have worked my way through a large number of the mezzes on offer and have found myself to be impressed with most of them. The houmous, the stalwart of any middle-eastern restaurant, demanding the most perfection, is beautifully smooth and not overloaded with either lemon or garlic, which many restaurants have a tendency to do. One of my favourite dishes is the houmous shawarma, a small bowl of houmous topped with a hefty portion of grilled lamb spiced with, among other things, cumin and cinnamon. The baba ghanoush is equally as fine, with the smokiness not overpowering the aubergine flavour and a slightly loose texture. The addition of pomegranate seeds on the top makes it a little more special. Both of these come with a basket of flatbreads which, although delicious, with only three small ones between two, never seems like quite enough.
Always wanting to include a little greenery into my lunch, I will often order the tabbouleh or the fattoush, either as a side to the wrap or as part of the mezze. The tabbouleh is very similar to those I have eaten in the middle east, very heavy with parsley and mint and, unlike the more westernised versions, with the cracked wheat taking more of a backseat. The fattoush is also delicious, but I’ve always hoped that it would be a bit sharper with vinegar, but that may just be my personal taste.
Other favourites include the chicken rakakat, little chicken-filled pastries that have the appearance of spring rolls but the flavour of a kebab, complete with a huge kick of harissa, and the halloumi meshoue , which feels like a little bit of Greece with its olive oil, black olive and fresh mint dressing.
In addition to this, they have some delicious Lebanese reds and whites, something that popped on to my wine radar a few years ago when out with a friend whose approach is far more sophisticated than mine (if they’re French, they probably know what they’re talking about), and those little cups of strong, sediment-filled Turkish coffee that will safely pull you out of your food coma just in time for an afternoon back at the office.
Whilst not entirely perfect, it is one of the best examples of middle eastern food in London, and keeps me coming back for more. They do get very busy around lunch and dinner and don’t take reservations (who does these days?!) If you’re an expert on this kind of food, you may find that it is a little too wide-reaching, as it does encompass food from many regions and there are more country-specific places out there, however it is a great introduction. For only £35 for lunch for two (with wine), it is also very kind to the wallet.
Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ. There is also a restaurant at Greens Court, Soho and a pop-up on Shoreditch High Street.