When you moonlight as a semi-professional diner, a key part of the job is finding new places to wine and dine at. As much as I would love to tell you about my favourite chilli cheeseburger over and over again, I have a feeling you’d get bored of me praising the plumpness of its patty or the gooeyness of its cheese. So there you go dear reader, everything I do… I do it for you…
Not that it’s too much of a chore for me. A certain someone and I are always curious to try something new – be it new in London, or simply new to us. We could visit a new Japanese restaurant everyday and I’d be happy… but I think the best kind of new, are the cuisines we’ve never tried before. I ventured into Bengali territory recently, but our latest discovery? Drum roll please… Alexandrie, a restaurant in Kensington serving Alexandrian cuisine.
Have you heard of such a thing before? If so, you’re doing much better than I was – at the risk of losing my semi-professional diner status, I must admit I turned to the interwebs to enlighten me. For those still in the dark, Alexandrian cuisine is Egyptian – modern Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city but back in ancient times, it was founded by Alexander the Great and one of the most powerful of its time. Regardless of the era, Alexandria has always been a bit of a melting pot and influences from around the Mediterranean are evident in the food culture.
For a neighbourhood restaurant, Alexandrie is swish, although this is Kensington and only the swishest will do for these locals. White tablecloths, polished silverware, waiters with white gloves… It’s quite luxurious just for lunch, but I’m hardly complaining as our waiter delivers the wine and a selection of dips with the bread. Thin, crispy and dotted with charred bits, the bread is perfect for scooping up the creamy hummus and baba ganoush. The real surprise hit was the pickled aubergine; I often declare how much I loathe the purple monstrosities yet I occasionally end up finding an exception to this rule. This was one of those occasions.
There are several choices to start; three of these are a soup of some description which all sounded utterly lovely but it wasn’t quite the weather for it. Instead, a certain someone tackled a huge bowl of mussels in a simple herb cream sauce, and I investigated the ethical foie parfait. Is there such a thing? I ask because some might have no issues on the ethics of how foie gras is produced (forced feeding to plump up those livers) while others might also claim that without this process it’s not technically foie gras…
Alexandrie’s version consists of two liver parfaits – one resembling a typical French number, the other a darker, more spiced Egyptian style. Both pass the test for creaminess but I actually preferred the warming spices from the Egyptian one. I spread both quite liberally onto the tiny toasts with a dollop of chutney on top and still had more to spare for a certain someone to do a compare and contrast exercise too.
As soon as I spied the harissa-spiced poulet au pistou on the menu, I knew that was the dish for me. I’m not usually a chicken orderer in restaurants because I, like most, think it’s the boring man’s choice. However, this chicken was filled with both harissa and pesto, and covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. There was nothing boring about that, or the impressive, precisely pressed potato gratin which had a layer of confit duck through the middle! Bells and whistles aside, the chicken was beautifully moist and tender, which is the most important thing.
Across the table sat a generous ox cheek resting on top of lentils and carrots. I can’t fault the execution of the cheek; it arrived with the appearance of structural integrity but in reality, you could’ve cut through it with a spoon. That’s what you want in a braised cheek, a piece of meat that’s been cooked low and slow, and falls apart with the slightest pressure. Our only beef with the beef? It could’ve done with a sauce – the lentils were reasonably wet but a drizzle of an unctuous sauce, perhaps one made from the braising liquid, would have brought the dish together nicely.
This was not our typical Saturday lunch; for a start, I hardly knew a thing about the cuisine before we arrived. Two courses later, I felt a little more informed but suspect this was a prettied up, more accessible portrayal. As a novice, I didn’t mind at all – we consumed it all with pleasure, the portions were surprisingly large for a lunch service, yet the prices were surprisingly small, even for a lunch service. If you’re after something new, and want to try Alexandrian cuisine… mosey on over to Kensington for a leisurely lunch or a more decadent dinner!
Have you ever tried Alexandrian cuisine before?
Thanks to Aladino’s for introducing us to a new cuisine, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!