Clerkenwell locals were surprised when Workshop Coffee closed its doors in July last year, leaving many to wonder what would take its place. Step forward new Middle Eastern restaurant, Sarona – an exciting project launched by three friends, Andre, Dan, and Stuart.
With a nod to classic Middle Eastern dishes, reinterpreted with modern-day variations, Sarona’s main inspiration are the flavours of Tel Aviv – particularly the street food. Taking its name from one of the city’s busiest neighbourhoods, it’s an intimate-feeling space despite the high ceilings. The brick walls have had a tagine-coloured lick of paint, while the lighting is industrial-chic. The drining room at the back, behind the bar area, is vast and open, yet has some cute banquettes nestled into the niches of the walls.
Middle Eastern mezze is the name of the game here, so it’s all about sharing your food, which is perfect because you get to sample a bit of everything. And there’s a lot to sample. Plus, when you throw in a chef called Aviv Lavi, you know it’s meant to be. The menu’s been dissected into segments: fresh, fried, comforting, charred & grilled, and sides. Influences range from Israel and Lebanon, to even Morocco, which makes for some lovely varieties.
Order some homemade pita bread and hummus masabacha to start with while you wait for your delicacies. A classic Middle Eastern tabuleh salad is a must, while the heritage beetroots and goats cheese is a modern Israeli winner.
Of the fried dishes, I’d recommend the spicy shakshuka, which offers real depth of flavour, and the deep fried whitebait with spicy aioli and fresh coriander. Yum. When it comes to comfort, look no further than stuffed courgettes. Deliciously filled with rice and minced lamb, it’s usually served in a garlicky tomato sauce, but Sarona’s modern twist sees the dish topped with raisins, confit leeks and Lebanese yoghurt. Lovely stuff.
Merguez sausages are another must, while the chicken pargit has some wonderful grilled flavour, working delightfully with the labneh and tomato seeds. The chicken schnitzel, meanwhile, was an experiment on the menu initially and when it was removed people demanded its return! Having tried it, I can understand why the demand was there.
Drinks-wise there’s some fantastic Israeli wine or Lebanese and Israeli craft beers if you really want to go authentic.
With a handful of Israeli/Middle Eastern restaurants in London seemingly on-trend in recent times (The Palomar, The Barbary and Bala Baya), it seems there’s a new cotender for the limelight.
For more information, visit www.saronalondon.com