What is the meaning of human existence ? Is there life after death? What can we really know? What is love? From the beginnings of civilisation such questions have been the life’s work of our finest minds, our greatest philosophers and poets. Descartes. Wittgenstein. Nietszche. Haddaway.
To these, we must add a thorny issue question to tax even the keenest mind: how to improve on a smooth, smoky hummus?
When we visited, Shaam Nights was unusually quiet- we took advantage of the pre-Iftar rush to reward ourselves for the virtuous act of riding rather than driving. The telltale Islamic geometric patterns, cool tiled floor and decorative lanterns making for an arresting refuge from the hubbub of City Road on a hot afternoon.
We started with chicken wings (£3); my personal benchmark of jawaneh brilliance is the late lamented Sands in Bristol, and these came close. Very close, which is high praise.The garlic paste was the kind of stuff you’d run your finger round the bowl of, at home: an honourable mention too for their fresh juices. The lemon and mint ‘Polo’ should be in the support car of every Tour de France team for its remarkably refreshing kick.
It’s simple food this, with little in the way of cooking that doesn’t involve the grill: but it’s also sadly easy to get wrong, as any over-seasoned or dried out, over-cooked meat will make all too plain. Food for sharing, food that speaks of hospitality and generosity and welcome. Food to be talked over, laughed over.
So- how do you improve that classic dish , that perennial vegetarian staple of mezze? Easy- you add a pile of meat to it, a chicken shawarma in the case of Shaam Nights. Which is where we come in: a bowl of hummus so silky you could make pyjamas out of it, is topped with sliced chicken and comes with a flatbread, still puffed and scorched from the oven.
Hog heaven, I think the phrase is. This could easily be a double-sized portion: you’d find no complaints from me.
So to the mixed shish (£9)- a predictable choice, but a dependable indicator of how well a kitchen knows its basics. The touchstone here- locally, at least- is the remarkable Mowlana in Four Elms Road nearby, where the chicken is the result of some dark alchemy that renders it sublime. On City Road alone there is plenty of competition- think Abo Ali, Lilo’s or La’Shish and many others- yet Shaam Nights’ version more than holds its own. A light hand on the grill pays dividends in smoky lamb and chicken pieces and a mound of rice. Teamed with the house salad (£3.50) – a healthy whack of lemon juice, olive oil and parsley- and you have a
Shaam Nights- best on City Road? To these eyes and stomach, yes. In a crowded field, it comes up trumps and has few rivals anywhere in the city. It ticks all the boxes: it keeps things simple and does what it does very well.
116-118 City Road
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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.