Mezzet Dar, East Molesey KT8 9ER - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:00 08 November 2016
With summer feeling like a distant memory, Surrey Life restaurant reviewer Matthew Williams seeks an escape to sunnier climes at East Molesey's hotly-tipped Mezzet Dar - and post-tapas discovers one of the most unusual cheesecakes around. All will become clear…
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2016
Need to know
39 Bridge Road, East Molesey KT8 9ER
Tel: 0208 783 0149
What we ate:
Halloumi on Holidays, £5.50
Fadi’s Favourite Dip, £6.50
Crab Croquettes, £7
Chubby Cheek, £9
Silence of the Lamb, £9.50
The Tomato, £5
Blanc De L’ Observatoire, Sauvignon/Muscat 2015, £5.30 a glass
Prieuré Château Ksara, Syrah/Mourvèdre 2013, £5.30 a glass
REVIEW: Earlier this year, we received a restaurant recommendation that we couldn’t ignore. It had only recently come to light that Hollywood A-lister Antonio Banderas had moved to Cobham, but one dead giveaway was that he kept popping up in random locations locally – without a mask. One such destination was Mezzet Dar, the Spanish/Lebanese tapas hybrid we had been meaning to visit ever since it opened a couple of doors down from its highly-thought-of sister restaurant, Mezzet, in 2013.
Well, now we couldn’t resist and so up it jumped on the Surrey Life restaurant ‘hit list’ to No.1 – and, on a particularly cold and miserable day, my wife and I found our way up to East Molesey.
Located on the impressive Bridge Road, which somehow manages to maintain a little of the hidden-gem feel, despite being only 10 minutes walk from the gates of Hampton Court Palace, the diminutive Mezzet Dar is found directly next door to Le Petit Nantais, a popular French restaurant, and opposite the Hampton Court Emporium, the kind of place where it looks like you could stumble across some long-lost Antiques Roadshow treasure.
With the pitter-patter of rain searching intently for every gap in our clothing, my wife and I dart inside the door of the restaurant – and immediately escape to somewhere where the thought of warm sandy beaches and cocktails is no longer just a defence mechanism against the cold.
It’s by no means a big place, slim and almost café-like, but it’s welcoming and you can see why its relaxed vibe has proved such a popular addition to its more formal sister site. Realising that Antonio doesn’t appear to be sitting in his favoured library room, a snug addition that you might miss if you only briefly popped your head through the door, we settle at an inviting corner table by the street-side window to watch the world go by.
It’s actually just after lunch, but there’s still a table of animated youngsters, who appear well-acquainted with the place, and a steady stream of other couples who seem to know exactly what they’re looking for. The number of, presumably, regulars who pop in during our visit to enquire about evening tables is also noticeable. This is clearly a place that flows along and begs for return visits.
Even before there’s food on the table, it’s easy to see why. ‘Dar’ is Lebanese for “lounge” and Spanish for “to give” and it has a fun, friendly and easy-going atmosphere that dares you to leave your worries at the door.
As it turns out, the food is very good too. With a glass each of the recommended ‘house’ Lebanese red and white wine respectively, both making a good impression, the bubbly Isabel walks us through the menu options. It takes many exotic twists and turns through – at least I like to imagine – tree-lined, sun-dappled squares... music dances from the fingers of the flamenco guitarist in the corner – hang on, is that Antonio…? Where was I…?
In the end, we settle for a mixture of their recommended dishes, as well as some wild cards to keep them on their toes, and it’s not long before our table bursts into life with vibrant colours and aromas that head straight for the ‘eat-me’ lobe of the brain. In fact, it’s something akin to a Game of Thrones feast, with flatbreads to scoop the popping pomegranates, pistachio, feta and labneh blend in Fadi’s (the owner) Favourite Dip; abundant griddled halloumi with pesto sauce and sun-dried tomatoes; and, finally, crab croquettes off the chef’s specials with a delicious bisque. That’s just round one, and we take our time savouring the dishes, as you should.
I always enjoy tapas, and yet I often forget just how much for some reason. It’s the sense of occasion and, when you pick the right place, the unfussy but unmissably tasty dishes that let the ingredients do the work. Here at Mezzet Dar, they seem to have a happy knack of playing with such simplicity and yet bringing a dose of theatre to proceedings.
On cloud nine
Indeed, our ‘mains’ – and they are very decent portions for tapas – arrive behind a billowing rosemary cloud, as the marinated Scottish lamb is delivered on a burning bed of the herb. While you do take a slightly nervous look around for the fire extinguisher, it’s a delight to the senses. The pyrotechnics are not at the expense of the cooking, however, and just add to the show. Eating out is meant to be fun, right?
The lamb is as good as I’ve eaten (there’s nothing spectacular going on, just perfectly cooked and seasoned meat – it’s easy sometimes, hey?) and the Ibérico pork cheek is also delicious, although the mash with truffle oil is slightly too ‘creamy’ for my liking (you can’t account for personal taste!). Flavour-wise, though, it’s the Presa, Iberian pork loin grilled with oyster mushrooms, that leaps through the alluringly hanging rosemary cloud to steal the show. While this is clearly a very different restaurant experience, this dish reminds me of the first time Fernando Stovell, chef/owner of Stovell’s in Chobham, shaved off a sliver of Ibérico ham for me to try. It’s a magnificent beast, and I’m sure would have headed straight for the top table at a Henry VIII banquet.
For those of a more vegetarian persuasion, fear not, as that is the joy of tapas and there’s plenty to appeal to those not looking to work their way through the farmyard – the ‘courgette flower’ seems to particularly be catching the eye and taste buds of our fellow diners during our visit.
Utterly stuffed, but delightedly so, we’re asked if we’re tempted by a dessert. In normal circumstances, at lunchtime, we’d have declined and left for a wander along the Thames – but it still looks horrible out there and I’m intrigued so blurt out that we’ll share something… “surprise us”.
My inner dessert fiend is somewhat taken aback then when what looks very much like a tomato resting on a bed of couscous appears at the table. “Er, I think this may have been intended for another table?” I query. “Just try it,” Isabel laughs.
With some trepidation our spoons bite into the blushing red skin of the tomato, but instead of a squirting, seed-riddled mess, we discover, well, that it is a dessert after all. In fact, it’s probably the most unusual deconstructed cheesecake I’ve seen to date. A gimmick? Well, yes, but you can’t wipe the smile off our faces – and Sylviane, normally a fan of cheeseboards rather than cheesecake, attacks the dish with the same gusto that I do. Most unique dish of the year so far?! Probably…
Somehow we manage to peel ourselves from our chairs – there is still work to be done, after all – and make our way out into the now surprisingly gloomy day after our holiday with halloumi et al. I’m later told that Antonio popped back in the following weekend. Based on our experience, I’m really not all that surprised. The place is a delight.
3 other hotly-tipped tapas restaurants in Surrey
• 177 London Road, Camberley GU15 3JS. Tel: 01276 670670
Way back in 1991, this little Spanish tapas bar opened on the London Road in Camberley. Today, it remains the real deal.
• 12A Market Street, Guildford GU1 4LB. Tel: 01483 303479
Guildford was already home to the popular La Casita, but the new kid on the block is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it De Nada.
El meson de Los Hermanos
• 20 Baker Street, Weybridge KT13 8AU. Tel: 01932 851333
Long part of the furniture in Weybridge, El meson de Los Hermanos brings those sun-drenched holiday vibes to Surrey all year long.