Mediterranean street food dreamt & brought to life by one of Ottolenghi’s founding fathers and served fast and fresh in a centrally located site.
With credentials like these being flung excitedly over the food-lovin’ airwaves of London, new hot spot Sesame has been billed as the latest essential place for a quick, simple & healthy meal on the go and so, on the drabbest of steel grey Sunday afternoons with rain-swollen clouds unburdening their cargo on the unsuspecting good folk below, flavourful & delicious Mediterranean fare was exactly what was needed.
First impressions were promising; a beautiful, sea blue, trimmed exterior effortlessly married together clean modernity & a sense of wandering in the back streets of a sun baked country while street food hawkers shout, cajole & barter and the smell of juicy meat spitting & smoky vegetables roasting storm your senses.
Located on Garrick Street, Sesame is perfectly placed for tourists & office workers of Leicester Square & Covent Garden as well as those who blossom under the promise of a delicious meal like daisies in the late spring sunshine and will seek it out wherever possible. J and I are two such daisies though the late spring sunshine is conspicuously absent right now…
Rustic, cheery and boldly tiled, we walked straight in to a friendly welcome from amiable staff who waited patiently while we scannned the menu, noseyed around the hot & cold food counters, gently dusted off the droplets of rain that had glittered our coats and inhaled the scent of something – many things – delicious.
Sesame’s food has been dubbed ‘London’s poshest kebabs’ but if you’re anything like me and would rather chew your own toes – maybe even those of the chap sat next to you on the tube right now – than eat what hangs in the windows of most kebab shops, fear not. The menu may propose you get your groove on with lamb, chicken & pitta but what you end up with is as far from that shady image of the kebab as you can thankfully get.
Skewers & pittas come loaded with lamb or chicken as well as an aubergine option for vegetarian diners. Salads bid for your selection with their array of sweet, sour, spicy vegetables & wholegrains gorgeously vivid in windowed boxes – recognisable ingredients like butternut & beetroot mingle with traditional Mediterranean spices such as za’atar, and the perennial favourite brothers of our own dining table, bulgar and barley, nestle in on the action as well.
Employing our usual tactic of picking and sharing, J & I went for the spiced lamb kebab with chopped salad, tahini, mint yoghurt and zhoug (a green chilli sauce) and paprika & cardamom chicken with chopped salad, sauerkraut, hummus & zhoug, both served in pittas.
Ok, I need to just take a moment here to heap sincerely deserved praise on the lightest, fluffiest, softest & altogether loveliest pittas I have ever eaten. The perfect size for holding with both hands and demolishing one giant bite at a time, I could eat these babies with nothing but a humungous pot of chickpea strewn hummus to scoop them into.
The lamb was rich in flavour, well spiced & generously portioned with crunchy chopped salad balancing out the succulent meatiness.
Good as the lamb was, the chicken surpassed it for me – perfectly cooked, this was one tasty bird taking flight to its final resting place. Pops of tangy creaminess came from excellent hummus and the flavours of everything were subtle but defined.
Harissa & cinnamon infused cous cous was warm & comforting when spooned out of a tub also packed with chickpeas, sweet potato, courgette, Iranian lime & that most under-rated store cupboard staples, dried apricots.
This is the point when I’d love to show you a picture of the rose & walnut chocolate brownie that was dessert but as it was devoured in the darkness as an accompaniment to Mr. Clooney’s latest flick, alas, I cannot.
What I can do, because I’m just that kind of gal, is tell you that it was freaking delicious. To further illustrate my selflessness, I can also confirm that yes, it was dark, squidgy, crumby round the edges, studded with walnut nuggets and delicately perfumed with the fragrance of rose, enough to satisfy my floral adoration but thankfully not enough to take me back to a time when crispy petalled potpourri was considered the height of cutting edge decoration.
Ok I hear you asking, you enjoyed the food, liked the decor and found the staff friendly…so where’s the oddness mentioned in in the opening paragraph? Well for every thing I sincerely appreciated, there was something that jarred a little bit like the bins, tray holders & cutlery/napkin dispensers that looked directly borrowed from the more obvious fast food joints. They, coupled with slightly-too-loud & a-bit-too-modern music, were at odds with the more traditional-to-its-heritage decor and while the addition of a quirky enamel sink in the downstairs eating area signposted as a point to wash was cute, I’m not sure I fancy someone washing their hands mere inches from my food.
Hey maybe I’m being obsessively picky because frankly, I could just not look at the things I didn’t care for and focus instead on the things I did like those dreamy pillows of pitta but I only mention them because they brought me out of feeling completely at home and made me think I’d better eat quickly rather than get settled in for a good lunch.
Tasty, reasonably priced & a welcome addition to the self proclaimed ‘fast food’ family are all points in Sesame’s favour that are hard to argue with; as a healthy lunch on the run goes, it hit the spot and I’d return for pittas & potted hummus to squirrel away into my bag but I wasn’t left with the crazed, wild-eyed, ‘must-come-back-and-I’ve-not-even-finished-this-meal-yet’ feeling yet that I’ve had in other places recently. That said, I love the fact that it’s another option for hungry folk and in a time when other chains are opening new locations with monotonous regularity, it’s worth supporting a place that tries to do something a little different.