Massis turns out very respectable Lebanese food in a business district near Little Venice and Paddington Station.
Massis has a smaller, less remarkable sister restaurant just off Oxford Street. This location, the bigger, bolder and more adventurous second site, is part of a development that includes a swathe of modern offices housing the likes of Marks and Spencer. In that respect this restaurant is here to serve the local business community, but is worth hunting out if you live in the area or you are in transit through Paddington Station.
There’s outdoor seating, which will be highly sought after when the weather permits, while through the venue’s large glass windows you will find a modern, smart space that wears its regional influences on its sleeve. The room, containing seating for around 50 people, has decor which will be familiar to those who have been to the eastern end of the Mediterranean or even in North Africa. Brightly coloured little candle-lit lanterns illuminate otherwise dark corners and larger ones hang over the back-lit bar. Ornate golden teapots sit waiting to be called upon next to sleek bottles of premium spirits. It has a whiff of an upmarket chain about it without feeling contrived. The room is lifted beyond the norm by an abstract print embossed on the far wall that looks like a representation of an ancient Middle Eastern arch.
Earlier on in the evening, the restaurant is sedate. Later on it starts bubbling as the room fills with the buzz of conversation and noise levels starts to rise. The staff do an excellent job of making your meal a pleasurable one. They’re happy to make recommendations, easy to strike up conversation with, and they leave you in peace when needs be.
Those new to Lebanese food shouldn’t be wary of experimenting. In fact, a lot of the smaller plates (mezzes) and mains will be common ground for anyone who has eaten Greek or Turkish food. Lebanon’s position at the east end of the Mediterranean means many dishes are commonly found, but are known under different names, in many countries in the region. So, for example, you will find hummus (£4.25), stuffed vine leaves (warak inab, £4.25), mousakaa (£3.95), falafel (£4.75) and halloumi (£4.75).
As is often the way with these things, the more you experiment the better your chances of stumbling across something fantastic. Step forth the mjadarrah (£3.75), a beautifully aromatic blend of pulped lentils and rice which is served cold with wispy strands of fried sweet onions on top. Spread liberally on the accompanying soft flat bread this is a definite highlight.
Between two people, six dishes are suggested as a sufficient amount. If you have any designs on sharing a more substantial main then four will easily suffice. Lamb is a particularly popular meat in this type of cooking and the spicy sausage (sujuk) are little chipolata size morsels packed with lamb meat, garlic and spices. The lamb sambousek (£4.75) is minced lamb encased in a pastry that has both a pungent aroma and flavour of goat’s cheese. The menu description doesn’t mention this so it’s worth knowing in case you have any particular aversions to goats or cheese.
By the time you reach the mains you may well feel like you’re fit to burst. Those with larger appetites or those willing to persevere will be richly rewarded by a list which is heavily reliant on their hot grill. Lamb and chicken dominate the meat selection but if you’ve pigged out on too much meat during the mezzes go for something off the fish selection. One will be enough (they’re big portions) between two with some rice to share on the side. The Mediterranean king prawns are the most expensive option at £16 but they’re worth it. A dozen or so carefully spiced prawns are placed around a bed of yellow rice. The Lebanese rice is actually quite plain, but when you squeeze some lemon onto it and pair with the smoky charred prawns, it all works together in a spellbinding fashion.
Desserts options are scant, but their sweet and sticky baklava is oh so good. The combo of honey, pistachios and pastry is enough to make anyone throw caution to the wind. The baklava works really well with the milk based pudding of the muhalahbieh (£3), too.
A glorious Don David Malbec (£25 a bottle) graces the wine list, but live a little and try the Lebanese Reserve De Couvent 2005 (£19 a bottle). Lebanon’s reputation is growing as a wine making nation and here’s a decent example why.
Even if you wouldn’t normally consider it, you should call for the tea pots (£2.35 each) at the end of the meal. The Massis Orchard (apples, almonds, cinnamon and vanilla) strikes a lovely balance between being sweet and spiced.
The Last Word
Whether you’re a newcomer to Lebanese food or an expert in the field, you’ll find something to savour at Massis.