Arabesque, High Street West, Sunderland

Arabesque, High Street West, Sunderland.
Arabesque, High Street West, Sunderland.
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Going out on a limb in more than ways than one – Arabesque is not only breaking the culinary mould, it’s breathing new life into an end of town plagued by dereliction.

Going out on a limb in more than ways than one – Arabesque is not only breaking the culinary mould, it’s breathing new life into an end of town plagued by dereliction.

The former Twelve bar, at the far end of High Street West, had stood empty for a number of years, before brother and sister Adam and Sonia Strong decided to open a restaurant inspired by their Egyptian roots.

The result is an eaterie that combines traditional North African food with a warm welcome and a refreshing break from the usual choice of Italian or Indian, which the city centre mostly offers.

Though it feels a bit out of the way, it’s actually only a two-minute walk from the Sunniside car park.

However, as it’s not part of the Limelight leisure complex, you will need to pay for parking.

Step through the large gold door and you’re greeted with fittings and decor befitting of the menu’s theme.

Arabic tables with intricate embellishment, sarcophagus decoration and sofas and cushions you can sink into, set the scene for our traditionally Egyptian evening.

I was hoping the menu would be reminiscent of dishes I’ve sampled on trips to North Africa and I wasn’t disappointed – think tagines, falafel, lamb and plenty of dips to dunk your Egyptian flat bread into.

For lunch munchers, there’s also a bar menu featuring hot wraps, with fillings such as falafel, and burgers for £3.95.

There was also plenty of dishes I hadn’t encountered before – but the staff seemed more than happy to talk us through the options.

We decided to go for a main course each with a couple of mezze plates on the side to share.

I chose from the chargrill grill section which offers a range of meats served with Egyptian rice, salad and chips, or Arabic bread with a choice of two dips.

I’m not usually a great fan of chicken (controversial, I know) as I often find it bland, but the shish taouk was melt-in-your-mouth good, with a real smokey flavour.

Egyptian food isn’t traditionally spicy, but the kitchen are happy to add spice for those who like to put their palates to the test.

My choice was worth the £8.95 alone, but the added accompaniment of pizza-sized flatbread and lashings of zabadee (yoghurt, cucumber and mint) and houmous made it real value for money.

We also tucked into sides of grilled halloumi (£3.50) and foul medames (£3.50).

The latter is mashed fava beans. They look a little like a blend of houmous and re-fried beans, but tasted like a silken, non-greasy dip, delicious on its own or as a complement to meaty dishes.

Friend Jane was also impressed with her choice of lamb and okra tagine (£7.)

A hefty portion of soft green okra and well-cooked chunks of lamb in a thick, tomato sauce came with a huge disk of thin Arabic bread, for only £7.

Even if we’d built the Pyramids, we wouldn’t have burnt off enough room for dessert, but a deep red traditional tea was an ideally refreshing end to the meal.

Katy Wheeler