Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Restaurant Review: Fatoush, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne

About halfway through our meal at Fatoush I realised, in a rare moment of clarity, why it is that I like Lebanese food so much. It's basically a big old barbecue! There's a whole bunch of salads, dips and breads to get things going before the main event - great wodges of meat grilled over flames of varying intensity - demands everyone's attention. It's a convivial way of eating which lends itself to sharing. Civility and deliciousness all at once, what else could a person want? Saying that, it's still perfectly possible to mess up this kind of stuff, resulting in neither of those fine outcomes. Thankfully that was not the case at Fatoush, a newish joint up the top of Westgate road where we recently enjoyed a cracking rendition of Lebanese favourites.

There was a time when, in the provinces at least, a non-British meal out presented a more or less binary choice; Chinese or Indian. It's a great joy that we live in a more motley age. There are a few Lebanese places in Newcastle now, al Baik in Byker being probably the most notable. The clientele there seems pretty Geordie-centric, many taking advantage of the BYO policy to enjoy a pre/during piss-up feast. Being in the West End, the footfall at Fatoush had a much more Middle Eastern predeliction. I don't think they serve booze and certainly didn't see anyone bringing any in.

Complimentary breads and dips kicked things off. Pillowy soft, and billowing steam from their recently baked innards, these were very good, if a little stodgier than those we've had elsewhere. No matter, we were  more than ready for action, and they were fine vessels with which to scoop up the honkingly good garlic and chilli sauces.

Of the salads and dips we ordered - see pic at the top of this post - Moutabal was the stand-out. Wonderful smokiness on the aubergine and a judicious touch with the tahini produced something that was just about perfect. Hummus was a bit less fantastic, being very smooth but a touch claggy. It could've done with being let down with some additional liquid. Fried halloumi was squeakily good and the eponymous fatoush salad was also a winner, crisp-fried shards of bread and liberal shakings of sumac breathing life into what was otherwise a simple bowl of iceberg and tomato.

Divine intervention
We'd scarcely set about this lot when the main event showed up. After much deliberation we'd plumped for the "sod it" option of the mixed grill to share. The cubes of chicken, minced lamb kebabs and both chicken and lamb shawarma were bloody great. There are few finer things in this life than hunks of animal, juicy within and charred without, as the chicken was here. I've no idea how they get such supreme levels of tar-like umami on the outside of the lamb shawarma, but as long as they don't forget I don't feel that I need to. I usually find minced lamb kebabs an arid chore, but these were plenty juicy and perked up with parsley and onion. I liked that the veg on the plate was more than mere token, being charred to the point of collapse. I didn't so much like the cubed lamb which was overcooked although still very edible.

We had intended to have a light dinner before heading down to the nearby allotment. That was probably never going to happen once we got menus in front of us, a fact Kasia and I confirmed to each other halfway through this feast. The rest of the night effectively freed up, I did my best to polish off what remained on the table.

Service at Fatoush was super-nice; the woman who I took to be the head waitress was a proper host, offering to pack up what little food couldn't be finished and - as if we weren't already feeling enough goodwill towards them - offering us tea and coffee on the house to finish up.

The interior is cafe-like, but still a very comfy spot in which to stuff yourself silly. There was a a friendly buzz about the place, with families making up most of the clientele when we were there. If you've been to al Baik, or, back before it closed, al Basha (some of the staff from there have migrated to Fatoush) on a good day then you know what standard of food to expect. If not, get involved, this is some great stuff. The bill came to just over thirty quid for the pair of us including earlier soft drinks. Bargain, I tell thee.

We'll be back for sure. The only question is whether we manage to limit ourselves sufficiently to make a post-dinner trip to the allotment a possibility or not. Let's face it: probably not.


Shawarma Fatoush, 411 Wesgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 6PB
0191 273 3433


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