Ishbilia is a Lebanese restaurant in Knightsbridge which has been operational since 1998. My Lebanese friends Fayez and beautiful Lea think this is one of the best, if not the best, Lebanese restaurants in London and he has been coming here for many years. 'Zagat' Magazine has voted Ishbilia the UK’s number one Lebanese restaurant for the past three years, so this could be one of the best Lebanese restaurants in London. The head chef and owner is Mohamed Alkhlaifaoui (Abu Mahmoud) and Ishbilia has one of the largest (if not the largest) Lebanese menus available in London with over a hundred dishes to choose from. It did feel like the choice here was much bigger as Fayez kept ordering dishes for us to share that apparently are very traditional but that I have not seen before ever.
I came to Ishbilia for dinner with my friends. The décor is sort of plain but sophisticated at the same time with white tablecloths. Ishbilia recently undertook a major expansion and refurbishment program by knocking through the existing restaurant into the adjoining premises, and so created a larger dining area. They also added a private room as well as a 'Mezze Bar' downstairs.
In a very welcoming Lebanese manner, when I first arrived they put a plate of fresh vegetables, you always get in Lebanese restaurants, on our table. I tried both the radishes and carrots and they were crunchy and nice. I love these fresh vegetables you get in Lebanese restaurants. They also brought us fresh sesame bread and pita that they cook in their own oven. Fayez ordered all the food for us and we only had hot and cold mezze and did not even make it to the main courses, but apparently they also do very good meat cooked in their charcoal grill.
In the pictures you can see dishes like “'Moutabal' (smoked eggplant and sesame oil dip, topped with fresh pomegranate), and apparently their “legendary” 'Hummous Kawarmah' (hummus topped with diced lamb and pine kernels). All the food was excellent and the hummus with lamb literally melted in your mouth, it was excellent, my dinner buddy Alex loved it. Fayez ordered a lot of dishes I have not had before, like “Zaatar salad”, small Lebanese pizzas and a dish that Lebanese people have for breakfast. I very much enjoyed the small Lebanese pizzas, we had three different ones “Lahem Bil Ajin” - or baked Lebanese mini pizzas topped with marinated minced lamb, tomatoes, onions and pine nuts, “Kallaj Bil Jiben” which was Lebanese flat bread topped with halloumi cheese and dry mint and also “Arayes Ishbilia” or Lebanese flat bread topped with marinated minced lamb, peppers, onions, parsley topped with tahina sauce and pine nuts. All were excellent but my favourite one was Lahem Bil Ajin.
Fayez also ordered a Fattoush salad (Mixed salad with sumac, mint and toasted Lebanese bread in a vinaigrette dressing) which was delicious. I also very much enjoyed “Warak Inab” (Vine leaves filled with rice, tomatoes, parsley and herbs, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil) which Lea also said were very good. We also got a few more hot mezze, including lamb sambusek (deep fried Lebanese pastry filled with minced lamb, onions and parsley and Cheese Kallaj or pastry filled with cheese. The last hot mezze we got was “Sojuk” or Armenian spiced lamb sausages with or without tomatoes and garlic.
1. All the dishes were great, there is nothing bad to say about Ishbilia, and it does Lebanese food very well. I am not an expert on Lebanese food, and actually find it so hard to taste any difference between Lebanese food in various restaurants, as the taste seems so similar everywhere I go, having said that they food felt just a tiny bit better than in an average Lebanese restaurant (but as I said with Lebanese food I can really not see the difference much between restaurants). We also ordered some fruits, baklava and a traditional Lebanese dessert – Knefeh – to finish our meal. This Knefeh was quite interesting as it had cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, so it was sweet but with cheese.
Ishbilia is a very good, solid Lebanese restaurant in London
Date: 08/ 01/ 14
Price for 6 people with a bottle of wine: a bit over £200, I just glanced at the bill