This Lebanese restaurant has been operating since 1998 on the busy Westbourne Grove thoroughfare; the name means “oasis”. The dining room is in two sections, one a few steps up, the walls adorned with art by a Syrian painter. The exposed brickwork and hard floor combined with music playing would have meant for a noisy room had it been busier, but on this weekday lunch was very quiet.
The menu offered a range of set meals, plus a lengthy set a la carte choices. Starters were generally priced at £4 to £5.50, main courses £11.50 to £14, and the set meals at £13.50 to £26 a head. The short wine list ranged in price from £15 to £52, with wines such as Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc at £21 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £8, Faustino Rioja 2008 at £29 for a wine that retails at £10, and Taittinger NV at £52 for a wine that costs £35 in a shop.
There was a rather anachronistic cover charge of £1.50, which presumably accounted for the bowl of crudites and possibly the bread. The latter was still warm when served, the unleavened bread having pleasant, light texture, much better than the hard, cold slabs that sometimes appear in Lebanese restaurants (13/20).
Hummous was served with a few chickpeas as garnish, and was flavoured with sesame paste. It had good flavour and an enjoyably rich texture (13/20). A further dip was moutabel, a lightly spiced aubergine dip (12/20). Tabbouleh, salad made with crushed bulgur wheat, onion, mint and parsley, tasted fresh and had a useful hint of lemon to liven it up (13/20).
A pair of vine leaves stuffed with rice avoided the dryness that can afflict this dish (12/20), and falafel stuffed with ground chickpeas and broad beans were very pleasant (13/20). A sambousek pastry stuffed with lamb was well seasoned, though the lamb lacked much inherent flavour (12/20). Finally kibbeh maklieh was fried ground lamb with crushed wheat, and was again properly seasoned (12/20).
Dessert was baklava, but it was bought in rather than made in the kitchen, and was rather dry. The bill for my lunch plus water to drink came to £20 including tip. The seemed reasonable for what was simple but very pleasant food. Service was distinctly basic, the waiter flicking through a magazine or chatting on the phone rather than paying much attention to the room. Given the generally very low standard of Lebanese food in London restaurants, Al Waha was a pleasant surprise. The food that I ate was all competently made, and served at a low price; I would happily return.