Yalla Yalla means hurry up in Arabic and perhaps the name refers to the Lebanese fast food on offer to take away at this hip new Soho eatery. However if you take away from Yalla Yalla you miss out on the buzz of dining in the charming, hole in the wall style dining room. Tucked away in one of Soho’s myriad of laneways you will spot Yalla Yalla from the queue of people hovering at the door. It only opened a few months ago but word has spread fast that this is the place to get a cheap and unique feed. I have visited twice, once for lunch and once for dinner and at both times the place was packed with hopeful dine in customers being turned around every five minutes.
The problem with trying to get a walk up seat at Yalla Yalla is that the dining room is tiny. Bench seats with cushions line one wall and the tables are packed in with customers perched on small three legged stools. At the rear of the room a large counter stretches which is laid out with a veritable smorgasboard of Lebanese pastries and pre made wraps for the takeaway crew. The look is cosy but modern with pictures of Lebanon interspersed with bold curving arabic script across the walls.
The mezze options are plentiful and just the ticket for a light lunch or a starter for dinner. Hommos (£3.75) has a robust garlic flavour which is very moreish and comes served with airy flat bread. The tabboule (£3.50) is probably the best tabboule I have ever tasted which I put down to the freshness of the ingredients on offer rather than the usual tired and stale parsley. However my favourite starter is lamb sfiha (£2.50) which is almost like a minced lamb pizza with a strong hit of lime that startles your taste buds while also delighting them.
The food all looks stunning and is great to share. From the mains, the lahem casserole (£8.00) is a roasted shoulder of lamb had our table fighting over the stewy, soft meat. Charcoal grilled seabass, called lozok meshoue (£9.75) is served with a spicy sauce that cleverly enriches the smoky flavour of the fish. The only dish that was not successful was the felafel as the chickpea was on the dry side.
We also sampled a selection of desserts from the menu and the vast selection on the counter. Torta teen (£2.75) was a dense chocolate pastry tart with a real hit of bitter cocoa. As for the baklawa (£3.75) the light concertina layers of pastry had a superb nutty flavour that went perfectly with a pot of fresh mint tea.
Service was variable on my two visits. Over lunch I was in awe of the skill of the two waitresses deftly working the room and delivering every dish promptly, however over dinner they got a bit swamped and delivered some of our mezze options only when prompted and after our mains had been served. That said, these mezze then did not appear on the bill so they did address the issue. Special mention should also be made of the fact that Yalla Yalla does not charge the insidious London 12.5% “optional” service charge.
Yalla Yalla is owned by the chef Jas Youssef and the waitress Aga Illska and they have managed to create a gem of a place that is flying the flag for Lebanese food in London. I think that Yalla Yalla should be interpreted as meaning, hurry up and get there as soon as you can.
Details: 1 Greens Court, London W1F 0HA (Ph 020 7287 7663) Tube: Oxford Circus
Damage: Such a bargain even my mother would approve
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of nearby budget Italian eatery Princi
. The lahem casserole at Yalla Yalla reminded me of the amazing slow roasted lamb at Al Fassia