One of the perks of a food bloggers life is the occasional invite to offer your two-penneth-worth on a new restaurant. So it was that I found myself asked along to sample the dishes at Layla – a recent addition to the culinary heart of Wimbledon Village.
Layla has been serving authentic Lebanese food to the well-heeled residents of Esher for years and opened this second branch eight months ago to some pretty positive reviews.
The restaurant itself provides a perfect backdrop for this type of cuisine. There are ornate chandeliers bigger than the average London maisonette, carved alcoves providing privacy to loved-up couples and swathes of draped fabric in the oversized skylight - presumably to make diners feel like they’re in a posh Bedouin tent. The menu is full of delicious Middle-Eastern morsels including mezze, spiced meats and marinated fish dishes and is a great alternative to the typical high street blandness served-up by many of the surrounding chains.
According to our waiter, the place is “triple booked” every Friday and Saturday night (so it must be “quinitruply booked” during Wimbledon fortnight) when the atmosphere is ratcheted up with live music and entertainment. I was on a midweek visit with my better half so we were treated to a quieter night, perfect for a romantic rendezvous with no temptation to get involved in the weekend belly dancing...
We started with the hot and cold mezze platter, made up of the usual suspects of hommus, baba ghannuge, muhamara, flat breads, falafel and Kibbeh (Lebanese meatballs) - all classics and completely delicious. We particularly liked the muhamara: a spicy red pepper, walnut, chilli and pomegranate dip.
I let the chef choose my main course and was rewarded with "Castaleta Ghanam" - perfectly chargrilled lamb cutlets, on a bed of baked potatoes and roast vegetables.
For dessert, our waiter recommended the raspberry crème brûlée. Whilst tasty, I was left a little perplexed how this fitted into the Persian menu and wonder whether it couldn’t have been infused with some middle eastern flavours (maybe a little rose water or pomegranate molasses?).
All in all, Layla has got a lot of things right – the environment, the service and the quality rustic food were all top notch – however, this is not cheap, so you can’t help thinking that extending the lunch time deals might get the Wimbledon locals out of their post-winter slumber and create a midweek atmosphere to match the weekends.