Levant, Marylebone

Levant Lounge
Middle East feast

The Vibe

One of the things that Middle Eastern restaurants in London get right, particularly when located somewhere upmarket like Marylebone, is balancing hedonism with low-key dining. Levant is a cavernous basement restaurant accented with plush cushions, rich fabrics, fancy latticework and strewn rose petals. Add to that the low wooden tables, potent cocktails and many mezze bowls to pick at and you have yourself a very comfortable dining experience. It’s a place where close groups of friends share anecdotes and small plates- without the perfunctionary binge drinking- and effortless dates take place between two cosmopolites who’ve been here before and liked it enough to return. There’s nothing particularly novel about eating Lebanese food in London; it’s everywhere and it’s been franchised to death (Maroush, Comptoir, Yalla Yalla). However, Levantgets date marks for the tucked away location, the cosiness, the excellent food, the cocktail menu that most of these places are missing and the goddamn rose petals.

The Order

Don’t beat around the bush, go for the Feast menu (£29.50 per person). Quick and easy, no need to awkwardly pick and choose, you get a selection of their best hot and cold mezze, followed by a sharing platter of mixed grill meats, salad and buttery rice. It’s all delicious, with particular kudos going to the babaganoush, the sambusak (pastry filled with chicken, onions and pine nuts) and a wonderful laham meshwi (lamb cubes marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and spices). The dessert is a four floor tower of Turkish delight, baklawa, fruit and pistachio fancies, accompanied by a sweet mint tea. It’s a struggle to get through but take your time and try your hardest.

The Game

Pick a Friday or Saturday night and make it a 9 o’clock reservation, just to ensure the place has a decent backdrop of diners. Meet your date outside, by the lamplit awning, and descend together. It’s often a useful character test to see how a date reacts to more ‘exotic’ locations. If they settle happily into their seats, let you do the ordering and savour every morsel, you’ve got a winner. If they insist on proclaiming what an unusual find it is, continuously ask you to explain what’s what as if a native yourself and decry repetitively how  ‘sexy’ the belly dancers are, then speed-eat and get the hell out of there. All going well, eat for at least 3 hours, talk slowly, be languid and then roll into the cab your waiter has ordered. Go home separately but, gents, do drop your date off first, no matter how out of the way. Banter over text the next day about being full for a week and then promptly set up the next date in a cocktail bar ‘since we won’t be able to eat for a while’. Nicely done.

The Faults

The belly dancing is good but the music can be too loud for conversation. Try and make it a comfortable pause.

Sex Factor

1. Everything about it is sensual, from the incense to the ornate furnishings, but good food comes at a price and you’ll be too full to even think about doing the bad thing.

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