Can you book? No (but the wait is pleasant and not too long)
Price paid per person: £40
I emailed Berber & Q a few weeks before going to ask if they would consider bending their ‘no reservations’ policy, for no real reason other than fear of being turned away and sulking all the way home. They said no, but in a very friendly way, so we made it our business to get there early last Saturday evening and arrived just before 7pm. It isn’t a large restaurant, there are two sharing tables running along the centre, another five or so smaller tables against the wall and a few seats at the bar. We were told the wait could be up to an hour so put our names on the list and were advised to enjoy a cocktail either at the bar or either of the next door bars but to stay close as we would receive a call.
We opted for Draughts on the left, London’s first board game cafe, serving cocktails strong enough to get even the tamest gamers into the competitive spirit, but only two rounds in to a game of “put random items in chronological order by year of invention” we got the call, dropped our cards and ran. It’s questionable whether it was the call or choice of game that made me run.
The menu isn’t massive but when there’s only two of you and you both want to try everything, it feels big. I should say at this point that my keenness was down to the chef Josh Katz, previously at Made in Camden and Zest, the kosher restaurant in JW3 of which I’m a big fan (note Berber & Q is not kosher). Anyway, who wouldn’t be tempted by this mission statement:
“Grilled & smoked meats cooked over charcoal
Mezze from the East, music from the West
Beer by the growler, cocktails, pickles & pita”
I enjoyed a ‘top shelf’ (bourbon, cider brandy, maple syrup, egg white and baharat) whilst deciding and people watching. The crowd was late twenties/early thirties and trendy. There was fairly loud house music playing that gave off Saturday night vibes, but interestingly they had completely different music in the toilets, much calmer traditional Middle Eastern music.
With the help of our charming waitress we ordered a generous selection of meat and sides, specifically the hand-pulled fore-quarter of lamb (Mechoui), joojeh chicken thighs, smoked short-rib beef in date syrup glaze, mixed pickles, aubergine, beets with whipped feta, cauliflower shawarma in tahini and smoked beans with lamb neck.
All the meat was fantastic, my only niggle was that the lamb was a tad too salty. The aubergine was a little on the boring side, but the other sides more than made up for it, especially the cauliflower shawarma that had crispy baked ends and the smoked beans with lamb that was like jazzed up cholent. I really enjoyed the festal nature of serving everything on one big informal platter. Not only does it lend itself to sharing but the flavours all mix together and underneath it all you have deliciously meat-juice-soaked pita with which to capture stray pieces of meat.
After a substantial break in proceedings, we took a look at the dessert menu and couldn’t resist the chocolate and cardamom mousse and two Turkish coffees. The bottom layer of rich dark chocolate was deliciously offset by a little cardamom flavoured sour cream on top.
We ordered more than enough and had cocktails so it wasn’t cheap but it’s completely worthwhile. The atmosphere is great and the food is extremely impressive.