Abo Ali is one of the larger Lebanese grill houses on City Road. With framed pictures of the Kaaba and pyramids and camels, it’s no surprise to see there is no alcohol on sale, but there are plenty of fresh juices: my lemon and mint is tartly refreshing on a warm evening, although our three year old takes a sudden liking to it, so that’s the last I see of that.
All cooking (except for the rotating doner spits) is done to order on skewers over charcoal in the window. The smell of grilling meat hits you before you walk in and is a far more effective sales tool than any number of tweets or A-boards.
Before the meatglut we go for the mixed mezze: a decent mouttabal could do with a touch more smokiness, but falafel are light and crisp. Vine leaves I can take or leave, but the hummus beiruti is very good indeed, with more than a hint of warmth.
But at Abo Ali, it’s really all about the sharing platters.
For a quick weekday meal for five of us, Platter 3 (£35) is a sizeable beast, and it’s noticeable (and gratifying) they don’t try to ‘up sell’ to the more expensive one. It’s best described as ‘a little bit of everything’.
But the daddy of them all-Platter 4, at £50- is a leviathan, and it’s what we have a week later for a family birthday.
It’s brought to the table by a team of pack mules, struggling under their burden.
Occasional search parties are dispatched to look for mountaineers who were last seen on its slopes.
Well, not literally.
The lamb shish kebab is a highlight, cubes of meat marinated til remarkably render. It’s an object lesson in doing simple things well. Chicken wings have picked up a deep smokiness from the grill.
The herbiness of the chicken kofte peps up what could in other hands be underpowered: it’s got just the right amount of lubricating, flavoursome fat to keep it juicy.
All of this sits on top of a mound of nutty rice- you can go the whole Cardiff and order half-and-half, or just substitute chips- however wrong you know you are, deep deep down- and you get a couple of very good freshly-baked flatbreads to start you off.
The bread keeps coming, too, as you plough through what’s in front of you. It’s a nice touch.
Of course, this isn’t refined, ‘technical’ cooking- but it is precise in its use of flame. Get it wrong and there’s nowhere to hide.
All that food? It fed nine adults and three children. It isn’t a posh night out, it’s not elaborately folded napkins and elegant tableware. It’s not fancy: it’s simple food done well. For a relaxed sit down, for a mountain of food to be shared by a group of friends, for a family meal out- Abo Ali is a sure bet.
224 City Road
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:
This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.