Tucked around the corner from Kensington High Street is Randa, a fine Lebanese Restaurant which is part of the Maroush group of restaurants. Started in 1981 by Marouf Abouzaki who left war-torn Lebanon for London, The Maroush Group now includes 16 restaurants, ranging from the fast food operations of Beirut Express on Edgware Road to the more upmarket establishments such as Maroush on Vere Street and Randa. All the Maroush restaurants aim to serve authentic Lebanese food the traditional way, and at Randa, the menu offers a standard staple of Lebanese goodies. The selection includes a variety of much loved hot and cold mezzes such as hommos as well as an assortment of baked goods and pastries. There is also a fine selection of main courses including seafood and meat grills.

We began our meal with a selection of mezze including chickpea hommos (£5.50) and moutabal baba ghanouj (£5.75), a grilled aubergine purée mixed with tahine. Both of these were delightfully good. The hommos was thick, creamy and tasty, but the baba ghanouj proved to be my favourite with its rich, decadent and slighted charred flavour.

Randa - London Food Blog - Cold mezze

Randa – Cold mezze

Charcoal-grilled marinated chicken wings served with garlic sauce (£6) proved to be a winner. The wings were really nicely cooked and succulent, and they paired wonderfully with the strong garlic-y flavour of the wonderfully thick sauce. These chicken wings with garlic sauce are a personal favourite of mine, and on occasion I will pop into Beirut Express on Edgware Road just to order the wings.

Other hot mezzes included kibbeh (£6), deep-fried lamb meatballs mixed with cracked wheat and onions, and falafel (£5.50), deep-fried bean and herb croquettes served with tahine. Both of these were freshly prepared with crunchy coatings and tasty fillings. Grilled halloumi cheese (£6.50) was truly yummy with a robust earthy flavour.

Randa - London Food Blog - Hot mezzes

Randa – Hot mezzes

Les successful items included the Maroush salad (£5.75) and lentil soup. The salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley, mint, onion, radish and with a lemon and olive oil dressing was also wonderfully fresh. But it was over dressed with too much lemon juice and very acidic on the palate. A lentil soup (£5) was also a little bland.

For our main we shared a plate of grilled king prawns (£18) which was a dream to eat. Four jumbo-sized prawns sat on our plate and were firm in texture and very nicely cooked. The combination of texture and good cooking yielded something that was really flavoursome.

Randa - London Food Blog - Jumbo prawns

Randa – Jumbo prawns

For dessert we tried a selection of baklawa which contained a variety of fillings. The pastry was delicate and the syrupy sweetness of the baklawa was not did overpower the flakiness of the pastry and the tasty fillings. All of these were delicious.

Randa - London Food Blog - Baklawa

Randa – Baklawa

The food at Randa was really enjoyable. The mezzes sang of freshness and authenticity, the prawns were delicious and the baklawa was good too. I would have liked better balance in the salad dressing and greater flavour in the lentil soup, but otherwise it’s a big tick for Randa on the food front. The service was warm and friendly too.

Summary Information:

1) The food was generally well executed with the moutabal baba ghanouj being my favourite.
2) The jumbo prawns

1) The salad and the lentil soup were the weakest dishes that we tried.

Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5

Prices: About £20 to £40 a head.

Website: https://www.randa-restaurant.com/

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Square Meal

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Naga Restaurant

Naga Restaurant and Bar, located across the road from Kitchen W8 on Abingdon Road, is an Oriental restaurant that draws its influences from both Vietnamese and Chinese cooking. There is also a Pan-Asian twist to the menu, and Head Chef Syarief was recognised as the Best Pan Asian Chef in 2011 by the Asian Curry Awards. Naga Restaurant and Bar also won Best Chinese Restaurant 2012 from the Asian Curry Awards.

The décor is appealing, helped in part by the glass ceiling overhead that leads to a light and airy feel. It’s a comfortable, casual space that one can easily relax in.

There were four of us so had a large variety of dishes to share, starting with the silken tofu with ginger dressing (£5.70) that was lovely and smooth and very delicious. The dressing, with its sweet and savoury tones, worked really well with the tofu even if there wasn’t a strong hint of ginger. The deep fried coating around the tofu added a nice texture to it.

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

Silken tofu with ginger dressing

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Kitchen W8

Note: Kitchen W8 gained a Michelin star in 2011.

Salted cod fish balls

Salted cod fish balls

Kitchen W8, which opened about three weeks ago, is co-owned by none other than Philip Howard of the two star Michelined restaurant The Square, and Rebecca Mascarenhas of Sonny’s (which I also coincidentally visited recently). Wow. Philip Howard is some star backing. But Rebecca is no new comer to the restaurant dining scene either. She owns not only Sonny’s in Barnes, but Sonny’s in Nottingham and The Phoenix in Putney as well. With Kitchen W8 she has her fifth restaurant opening for it is located on the site of one of her previous restaurants, the appropriately named 11 Abingdon Road (the address of the restaurant), which closed in July this year and which subsequently made way for this new joint venture.

The premise for Kitchen W8 is simple – a neighbourhood restaurant that serves good “modern English style food with a French soul” at decent prices. The décor feels too glamorous to be a simple ‘neighbourhood’ restaurant, but then this is Kensington after all. It’s very stylish and warm – the walls are of a grey colour and the floor of a walnut wood. The lighting is also cleverly done to great effect – the restaurant is nicely dimmed, but there are individual spotlights illuminating each table for better visibility.

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Launceston Place – Great Britishness…

Foie gras with dark caramel sauce

Foie gras with dark caramel sauce

I have been eyeing up Launceston Place, a Modern British restaurant, for a little while, ever since Tristan Welch accepted the post of head chef in November 2007. After five months of planning and refurbishment, the restaurant reopened in March 2008. Tristan was previously at the two star Michelin restaurant Pétrus (which has now been renamed Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley) where he worked his way up from the position of junior sous chef to head chef in less than 18 months. With stints at Le Gavroche, and L’Arpège in Paris as well, it’s hard to overlook his culinary pedigree.

The restaurant is tucked away in the backstreets of Kensington, and is housed on land which was once part of the manor of Earl’s Court. The original structure of the restaurant (actually four houses joined together) was built circa 1839 and adds to the building’s sense of history. The façade is undeniably charming, but the interior of dark charcoal coloured walls and floors is austere, and rather harsh for a setting intended to exude old world charm.

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