Layla, Esher KT10 9QL - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 17:28 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 09:11 07 July 2014
Esher is well known for its range of exotic eateries and Layla has long held its own among the heavyweights. Matthew Williams heads off for a taste of Lebanon
Layla, 110 High Street, Esher KT10 9QL
Tel: 01372 462333
What we ate:
(a sharing four-course menu for two priced at £25 is also available)
Hummus: classic chickpea and garlic dip served with bread, £5.45
Tabouleh: traditional light and refreshing Lebanese parsley salad, £5.50
Vine leaves: authentic vine leaves filled with rice, herbs and spices, £5.50
Muhamara: crunchy textured dip of lightly spiced pureed nuts, £5.95
Arayes: chargrilled Lebanese bread filled with seasonal minced lamb and tahini, £6.95
Roast asparagus with Parma ham: fresh asparagus wrapped in Parma ham, baked in olive oil and Arabic spices, £8.50
Chilli & garlic prawns: stir fried king prawns with fresh chilli and garlic, seasoned with lemon juice and fresh coriander, £9.45
Grilled sea bass: oven baked sea bass marinated with Arabic spices, olive oil and lemon juice, served with oven roast vegetables and manierre sauce, £20.95
Castaleta ghanam: chargrilled seasoned prime lamb cutlets, on a bed of baked potatoes served with roast vegetables, £18.50
Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, £26.50
Found at one end of Esher’s cosmopolitan High Street, Layla has always been a restaurant that’s intrigued me. Perhaps it’s my guitar playing interests and the resonance of the ol’ Clapton tune of the same name or maybe it’s just because I’d never knowingly eaten at a Lebanese restaurant before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Cold mezze, hot mezze, main course… the list of options seemed endless, but a quick check revealed that I was unlikely to suffer any chopstick incidents and, in reality, mezze is more in line with the Spanish tapas. Fairly comfortable territory then, in theory, once you get a handle on the terminology.
Esher is spoilt for choice when it comes to high-end and exotic restaurants, with Chinese at The Good Earth and Orient, Japanese at Maru and Thai at the Siam Food Gallery, among those vying for attention. But what of Lebanese at Layla?
We arrived there on a warm Thursday night, with the street seating already occupied by people relaxing into the evening over the extensive wine and cocktail lists. Music poured softly through the door from the bar and we were led to an alcoved table with comfortable cushions and mood lighting – the intentionally dark interior just enough to keep things comfortable.
Taken over last year by the effervescent American Ashley and her husband, who’ve lived long in the area, she greeted us like old friends at our table with the house cocktail, a pomegranate Bellini. A spark of energy and full of laughs, Ashley told us that when the opportunity came up to buy one of their favourite restaurants, they couldn’t resist. In fact, they’ve already expanded into Wimbledon Village.
Scouting the ample wine list, our eyes lit up when spotting a few Lebanese offerings. To be expected with the cuisine, of course, but a first for us and, as such, a must-try. Described as showing an ‘abundance of blueberry fruit with supple tannins giving it length and persistence on the palate’, it more than lived up to its description and perfectly complemented the food to come.
Surrounding tables were already brimming with colourful dishes, some of which I recognised while others offered a window into the surprises that could lie ahead.
Zinging with flavour
As with tapas, the mezze offering gives plenty of opportunity for conversation and, as we picked through hummus, tabouleh, vine leaves and muhamara with various breads, we certainly had plenty to talk about. Whether it was mixing and matching or trying each dish in isolation, they all zinged with flavour.
Having long been part of this restaurant’s set-up, head chef Jean Ghanen and his team say they aim to reflect the tastes of Lebanon infused with the trends of today. Not being an expert on the subject, it’s hard for me to confirm exactly whether that’s what is achieved but I like what I like and the offering on show was certainly hitting the spot.
Moving onto the hot mezzes, we tucked into arayes (chargrilled Lebanese bread filled with seasonal minced lamb and tahini – a paste made from sesame seeds) mingled with the more instantly recognisable roast asparagus with Parma ham and a separate dish of chilli and garlic prawns. While the arayes won out for my wife Sylviane, it was the spicing of the prawns that grabbed me: the flavours hanging around wantonly, long after leaving the mouth. Delicious.
The main courses took us into slightly more traditional territory, albeit with a very noticeable twist – Sylviane’s oven- baked sea bass flaked and beautifully marinated with Arabic spices, olive oil and lemon juice, and served with oven roast vegetables and manierre sauce. Meanwhile, my own castaleta ghanam – chargrilled seasoned prime lamb cutlets, on a bed of baked potatoes served with roast vegetables – was a succulent and earthy dish.
Belly dancing begins
With a selection of ice creams and baklawa (layered pastries with almonds, pistachios or pine kernels) to finish and the night’s entertainment now in full swing – Layla hosts regular music and weekly belly dancing nights – we felt like we could have easily slipped into the lounge’s party spirit if our own bellies weren’t quite so full. In any event, Layla is a place that, with each passing dish, magically transports you from an Elmbridge high street to a seemingly far more exotic location.
3 other Lebanese restaurants to try in Surrey
49 Church Street, Weybridge KT13 8DG
Tel: 01932 830444
This bijou restaurant in Weybridge serves traditional Lebanese food with half of the menu, as tradition dictates, devoted to vegetarian food.
43 Bridge Road, East Molesey KT8 9ER
Tel: 0208 979 4088
Just a short walk away from Hampton Court Palace is this family-owned Lebanese. Where possible, they source produce from the environs of Molesey.
195–197 Merton Road, Wimbledon SW19 1EE
Tel: 0208 417 0606
A stone’s throw away from South Wimbledon station, you’ll find this popular restaurant with its beautifully crafted mosaics.