THE words delicious and kebabs don’t often go together.
The traditional Middle Eastern dish has an unfair reputation as greasy post-pub food, thanks to its dumbing down in British cuisine.
But Ali Baba in Sunderland city centre serves up kebabs as they should be, not carved in slimy slices from a revolving chunk of mysterious meat.
Ali Baba is a character from medieval Arabic literature, who outwitted the 40 Thieves.
We stumbled across his namesake cafe and takeaway in Olive Street while searching for an afternoon bite to eat.
This is often easier said than done in a city centre where the cafes close after lunch and the restaurants don’t open until early evening.
The decor in Ali Baba is basic, with wooden tables and chairs, but if you don’t demand the plushest of surroundings, it’s a hidden gem.
We were presented with a complementary bowl of spicy lamb soup while we scanned the short menu, with everything priced under £10.
Basically, it’s kebabs, stews, wraps, side dishes and a daily special, with the emphasis on meat and lots of it, apart from a lone offering of vegetable kebab.
My partner fancied the fish kebab, but there was none left, so he settled for a mixed kebab of chicken and lamb, with salad, naan and a side dish of pickled vegetables.
Once a committed veggie, I’m now very partial to a cut of poor, fluffy little lamb, so went for a lamb shank, served with rice, bread and a vegetable stew.
It sounded fairly simple, but what arrived was a banquet fit for a prince.
My huge chunk of lamb was a little fatty, but perfectly-cooked so it fell apart.
It came with a large basket of freshly-baked naan breads and a small bowl of chickpea soup, of which I only managed a few mouthfuls.
Little pots of garlic and chilli sauce were also produced and glasses of strong black tea to wash it all down.
My partner’s grilled and seasoned kebab was served in the traditional way on three skewers and was succulent and well-cooked.
He polished it off, along with a plate of chips, but passed on the pickled veg as “too vinegary”.
Our Middle Eastern feast came to just £15.50 – no 40 Thieves here.