Serving up authentic Lebanese street food at pleasantly affordable prices, the original Soho branch of Yalla Yalla is a very safe bet for tangy meze, excellent service and a vibrant atmosphere on almost every night of the week. Cosy and compact, the little eatery has the capacity to transport your taste buds – at least for an evening – away from Soho’s side streets to the busy lanes of Beirut.
Located just off Brewer Street, this branch of Yalla Yalla is tucked down one of Soho’s lesser known, cobbled side streets. There may be less hustle and bustle here than in the rest of surrounding Soho but this doesn’t mean that the venue follows suit; it’s gone from being one of the capital's best-kept secrets to a newly discovered favourite of many – and all the while retaining its charm. If you're heading down after 7pm, be prepared to queue outside every day of the week, waiting for one of the handful of tables to become free. Once you're inside though, you can marvel at the walls spattered with authentic paintings and artefacts, amid the yellow and black décor.
If you’re looking for a quiet, refined vibe, look elsewhere – Yalla Yalla is busy and bustling at all times, and in such a compact venue you’ll be seated just a few inches from the neighbouring tables, with waitresses squeezing past as they balance plates of mezze. But far from this proximity being frustrating, the bustle creates an authentic vibe, with lively music just audible in the background over the cascade of chatter. All told, the atmosphere in here is just what you’d expect from a restaurant whose name is the Lebanese for 'let’s get going'.
The impressive selection of mezze on offer is the highlight of the Yalla Yalla menu; order around 3 per person and, at a price of around £5 per dish and with complimentary flatbreads and olives thrown in, you should be pleasantly satisfied.
Traditional staples such as falafel and tabbouleh (a fresh salad with chopped herbs, olive oil, tomatoes and lemon juice) are excellent here, but the real joys of the mezze menu are found a little further down the list. The soujoc (homemade spicy Lebanese sausages with tomato and herbs) are tangy but not overpowering, while the samboussek jibne (pastry stuffed with feta and halloumi cheese, and infused with mint) are melt-in-the-mouth bites, the pastry a perfect stage between soft and crispy and the cheese creamy and salty inside. The kibbe lahme (deep fried lamb and cracked wheat parcels) are packed with herbs and full of flavour, while the halloum meshoue is a simple but brilliant addition to the menu, with grilled halloumi cheese served with black olives and fresh mint.
One particular highlight on the mezze menu has to be the sfiha - a beautifully presented pastry with an aromatic combination of minced lamb, tomatoes and spices, topped with pomegranate seeds and lime juice; the unusual flavour combination is mouth-wateringly good.
If one larger dish is more to your taste, try the lahem shawarma main. At slightly over £10, it’s a mass of mint-infused, marinated lamb with a cool and refreshing red pepper side salad. Finally, make sure you don’t leave without trying the manaeesh cheese – an oven-baked doughy bread with melted cheese and seeds that’s just incredibly moreish.
If you can manage the desserts after working your way through all that mezze, try the baklawa for a touch of Lebanese authenticity, or sample the excellent 'Yalla Coco', a coconut mousse and mango sorbet served with glazed coconuts, for a lighter, refreshing dessert choice.
For something to sip with your dinner, go for one of the Lebanese wines – the Chateau Musar Mosaic rosé is light, full of blackcurrant, strawberry and redcurrant flavours and, like everything else here, pleasingly affordable at around the £15 mark. If you’re tempted to linger a little while longer after dinner, finish the evening with some traditional Lebanese mint tea.
The Last Word
A firm favourite with Soho locals, all it needs is one trip to Yalla Yalla for you to see why queues for this place go all the way down the street, even during the middle of the week. With great quality food and a bustling atmosphere, you'll be hard-pressed to find better, more authentic or more affordable Lebanese cuisine in central London.