VeganMoFo: Yalla Yalla restaurant review or, we hate it when our friends become successful
Yalla Yalla in Green's Court is an excellent little restaurant - the Lebanese food is great, the place is cosy and the service is always so friendly you want to give the staff a cuddle.
As it's so little, it's often packed. Last year, a second branch of Yalla Yalla opened on Winsley Street, off Oxford Street.
Part of me was properly chuffed - with a second Yalla Yalla, there's now a greater chance I'll actually get to eat there, rather than press my nose at the window cursing those inside for taking so long over their meals and wishing they'd develop a nasty rash that would speed them on their way.
The other part of me was a bit concerned: could the lovely ambience of the first, box-room-sized branch make it across to the second outlet, five times the size? I had to go and find out.
First the good news: the food is as good in branch two as branch one.
The complementary olives and pickles are still make an appearance before your meal proper, and there's still a good load of veggie and vegan choices on a menu that features both main meals and mezze.
We opted for four mezze dishes between two, and didn't go hungry. Oh yes.
Among the more familiar mezze are vegan good stuff like hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves and baba ganoush - the latter two of which we picked.
We also steered into commonplace mezze waters with batata harra (firied potato with red pepper, coriander, garlic, cumin and chilli) and muhammara, a dip made of nuts, olive oil, chilli and spices.
The vine leaves were decent examples of the species and while I've never had muhammara before, I'm pretty sure I'll be having it again.
Alas, however, while the food is still as good in branch two as one, the service and the ambience isn't.
We were sat by the kitchen. Whenever hot dishes were ready, the chef would switch on a heat lamp. The wait staff would switch it off when they came to take the dishes to the table. We couldn't feel the heat, but we could see the light - the on-off, on-off made us feel like we were in some Morse code-themed eatery.
There were also kitchen staff hauling full bins and raw meat through the restaurant and down a set of stairs into what must be a store room downstairs. It was a bit off-putting in the middle of dinner, to put it mildly.
The few visit we've made to the original Yalla Yalla, we've always been served (and awesomely so) by the same lass. Over our visit to Yalla Yalla part deux, we go three waiting staff in the course of one meal.
And while the first Yalla Yalla made a virtue of its smallness and dinginess and turned it into cosiness, the second one has gone to town with its space, with dodgy art, pine and crappy lighting.
It's great Yalla Yalla has been so successful that it needs a second outlet - and rightly so. Only I can't help but wish it had just stuck to the first one, and let me rave unhindered about its greatness.
(the original one)
12 Winsley Street
London W1W 8HQ
020 7637 4748