58 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8450 9999
Gourmand writes: It may surprise you to learn that I, Gourmand, have my detractors. These critics allege I'm not the food expert my pen name suggests. On a handful of obscure sub-Saharan cookery techniques these jealous fools may have a point, but challenge me on my command of the Arabic kitchen and I'll point to numerous case studies demonstrating my commitment to my research. I've eaten whole sheep's heads, raw livers, sheep's testicles and enough raw lamb to red carpet next month's Academy Awards. Having eaten at hundreds of Lebanese restaurants, including the best places in Beirut, I can confirm that Mango Grills is, well, a little above average.
Sadly for me, there are no adventurous dishes on the menu (what, no bollocks?), and the two dishes I really wanted (muhammara and fried kebbeh) weren't available. The unavailability of the former is understandable - it's a Syrian dish - but no fried kibbeh? Not good.
But apart from a soggy, microwaved lamb sambousek, the food we ordered was very good. Sorry to harp on about my impeccable credentials, but I've eaten more hommus than Terry Waite and am confident that Mango Grills' creamy, tangy 'Beiruty' version, with hot peppers and parsley, belongs up there with the best of them. The warak inab (stuffed vine leaves) were perky, fresh and sweet, the fattoush bristled with mint, onion and sumac, and the beef sujok (spicy sausages) were delicious too.
As with finished the meal with gloriously good baklava, I looked round the empty restaurant and wished Mango Grills had more customers. It's a clean, if rather bare, place with friendly service and reasonable pricing - we paid £15 for two. Just don't expect any (nasty) surprises.
How Gourmand has changed my life, Part #2567. On the morning of the day that would conclude with this meal I woke up in a gay art house. Before I started collaborating on this blog I would be more likely to target such an establishment with stones and spray paint than sleep in it.
I mention this for two reasons. First: I nursed a giant hangover throughout the day, which may prejudice this review. Second: Well, waking up in a gay art house and eating dinner in a Lebanese restaurant is some sort of bohemian dream, isn't it? In fact, I think you can buy it as one of those 'experience' days in Debenhams. Fuck that, ladies and gentleman. Here I am, living it!
On closer examination, however, my narrative collapses. There was only one gay in the house and the art was at best mediocre and at worst articles cut out of Metro. The Lebanese restaurant was called Mango Grills and had no atmosphere, nor customers to speak of. Indeed, in terms of restaurants we have visited so far it was most reminiscent of Mr Chan's - never a glowing comparison - because it functioned largely as a takeaway.
So geared were they towards over-the-counter service they even managed to 'take away' two of the menu options we wanted to order. We persevered and managed to order the decent mezze Gourmand has described to you above. For me, the only weak dish was the sambousek, which looked and tasted like a Birds Eye rendition of the Lebanese favourite. Our host was knowledgeable and personable, and happily gave us a big jug of tap water.
The moral of this review? Next time someone boasts to you about their gay art house/Lebanese restaurant 'experiences', remember that the reality often fails to live up to the billing. Good service, discretion and efficient transactions are all you can really expect from either.
Overall score 13.5/20
Mango Grills cruises into the bronze medal position