Food Review: Arabica, Borough Market
Borough Market, London Bridge
A photographer told me recently about his fascination with the hustle
and bustle of customers visiting the Monmouth coffee shop at Borough
Market, a contrast to the general lack of activity nearby.
I'm sure newly-opened Arabica, just a few steps away would love to tap
into that buzz. And with its array of superb mezze there's a good
chance of that.
The process of choosing is a pleasure. Fortunately the staff were able
to offer advice on meal sizes - four main plates with sides to share
is about right.
My pal and I eventually settled for marinated green olives (£4),
hummus (£4.50), falafel (£6) and semolina crumbed Cornish squid
The squid was soft-as-silk ensconced in a light coating with hints of
spicy warmth arising from some sumac.
The falafel's nutty crunch, courtesy of a scatter of seeds,
complemented the creamy, hummus while superb wine matches brought the
best out of all the dishes.
By this time we'd become fully immersed in Arabica's laid back
atmosphere and opted for further plates of chili coated king prawns
(£9), tabouleh (£5.50), magdous (£5) and spinach fatayeh (£6). The
surprising tang of pickled aubergine packed with walnuts in the
magdous cleansed the palate in preparation for dessert, which came in
the form of chewy baklawa (£3) and chocolate dates stuffed with
A slug of Arak, a Levantine spirit, rounded things off beautifully.
Quick Fire Q and A with Wharfer James Walters, Arabica Bar and Kitchen's founder and chef.
After joining forces with Jordanian pal Jad al Younis to learn about the flavours of the Levant, an area that covers the Eastern Mediterranean, Arabica first sold mezze from a cool box Borough Market visitors 14 years ago.
Since then, it has expanded with outlets at Selfridges Food Hall, the Real Food Market and Broadway Market.
>Is Arabica Bar and Kitchen your first restaurant venture?
We had a little restaurant in west London in 2002 but it was more of a cafe.
After we opened the counter at Selfridges we realised we really wanted a home for Arabica - somewhere people could come to relax and a place for us to provide an entertaining experience with food, music and drinks.
>How did you come to return to Borough Market for your 80-cover restaurant?
We spent about two or three years looking for sites. When Borough Market approached us, it was like coming home.
It felt good. This was the birthplace of Arabica and now we had the opportunity to pursue the food and service.
>Tell us about the mezze style dining
Rather than getting a main course or something to yourself, everything is small plates.
It's about sharing dinner on a table, sharing a bottle of wine, sharing good conversation. That's the spirit we are trying to create here.
>Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
I'm inspired by everything and anything, even down to things not related to Middle Eastern food.
If you're open and creative and inspired by your surroundings you find some way of applying them.
It's a journey and the problem when writing the menu is knowing when to stop.
I really want to do five more dishes but that's not feasible for the kitchen. But I'm excited by the menu, there's something for everyone.