Petra’s one of those places we used to visit quite often when we first became interested in Middle Eastern food, but it sort of fell off the eating radar. We thought we better go back and see if it’s still as good as we thought. Well, no it isn’t – it seems to have got even better.
Situated just south of the city centre, on Upper Brook Street, its cheap prices probably attracts many of the local student population but, during the holidays, there were tables to be had. There’s nothing fancy, of course, paper tablecloths, no alcohol licence (but they’ll only charge you a quid for bringing your own booze), no automatic clean crockery and cutlery for the second course, etc. But there’s a good range of Lebanese/Syrian dishes which cover most of the expectations.
There’s freebie pickles when you sit down – olives, pickled turnips, red cabbage and chilli peppers.
There was an excellent moutabal – the aubergine creamy and smoky, with just the right amount of tahini to give it a savoury lift. And what may have been the best tabouleh I can recall eating anywhere – the freshest of fresh parsley, a zing from lots of lemon juice, the occasional grain of bulghur wheat, crunch from diced cucumber and tomato. Absolutely lovely and so different from a westernised version where the grain is the very predominant ingredient. There was less successful texture with fateh – served warm, this was cooked chickpeas in a thinned down tahini sauce – tasted fine just much too wet to eat with fork and bread. But that was the only slight miss of the evening and, even, there, the accompanying chilli sauce was bang-on.
Shish kebab was pretty much as you’d expect. A generous portion of tender grilled lamb, accompanied by an onion garnish and a different chilli sauce with a little less heat. Ordered as a separate side dish, a salad of finely chopped lettuce, onion tomato and cucumber worked well - a more refined version of the kebab shop salad.
Maklubeh was a new one on me. A Middle Eastern take on the Indian biryani, if you will. Cooked rice and lamb, with parsley and pine nuts, topped with slices of fried aubergine. A dish of plain yoghurt served separately to drizzle over everything. Really good – and I was glad we’d saved some of the chilli sauce from the starters – I mixed it into the yoghurt.
Service was spot on as you’d probably expect from a part of the world known for its hospitality. The two guys front of house seemed to just want to feed you and ensure you had a good time. They succeed on both counts.