REVIEW: Arabesque, High Street West, Sunderland

Have you visited Arabesque?
Have you visited Arabesque?
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It’s been a couple of years since I last visited the city’s only Egyptian restaurant, and it’s still as shiny as its sarcophagus.

Though the venue is a little out of the way, on the far end of High Street West, it’s managed to carve a niche for itself with its authentic offering of North African dishes.

Chicken shawarma

Chicken shawarma

So much so, it can get chock-a-block. I tried to visit on a Saturday night as a walk in, but it was fully booked.

Tuesday night proved quieter, though it still enjoyed a steady stream of people through its grandiose gold door.

The bar area which greets you is actually my favourite part of this restaurant. The owners sourced the interiors from Egypt, and it shows in the intricate details of the heavily-patterned cushions you just want to sink into, the large friezes depicting pharaohs and hieroglyphics and the exotic curiosities which pepper the walls. The main area is a little less grand, but it still offers a warm welcome.

Of course, it isn’t just richly-detailed decor for which Egypt is famed – there’s also its hearty take on food: a melting pot of flavours inspired by the many different civilisations that have populated the country.

One of the grill dishes

One of the grill dishes

This menu boasts additions you’ll be hard pushed to find elsewhere in the city, such as foul medames (£3.50), an Egyptian staple of mashed fava beans that can be traced back to the time of the pharaohs.

It features in the mezze section which offers ‘picky’ foods, such as falafel (£3.50) and halloumi (£3.90) for those after a light bite on its own or a substantial side dish.

We got stuck straight into the mains options. Though there’s a fairly large range of vegetarian options, including kosahiri, an Egyptian risotto for £7.50, this is predominantly a Middle East meat feast, with sections devoted to shawarma (a traditional Arabic form of meat preparation), authentic grilled meats and tagines.

I chose the chicken shawarma, which comes in at £9.50. You get plenty for your pounds – marinated chicken with salad, served with a choice of Egyptian Rice, chips or Arabic bread and two dips of your choice.

I’m not usually a chicken lover – dare I say it, but I often find it a boring option – but here it’s packed with flavour. It’s cooked on a spit and roasted on a charcoal grill which steps it up a level compared to a bland breast.

There’s a hint of smokiness thanks to the grill, plus a light marinade which makes it tasty enough to eat on its own. But it doesn’t come on its own - there’s plenty of other ingredients to fill you up.

I chose the Arabic bread option, a wafer thin round that’s made for folding, tearing and dunking. It was the perfect way to devour my accompanying dips choice of houmous and zabadee.

While the houmous was dense and rich, the zabadee offered a lighter, yoghurt and cucumber blend which works well with the meaty star of the show too. Other dips options include tahini, baba ghanoush, chilli and garlic.

For those really wanting to ramp up the Egyptian experience, there’s belly dance evenings on the last Thursday of every month where performers whirl around you whilst you eat. No wonder this venue, on a site which had previously struggled for custom, is doing well.

Next time, I must take my mummy, she’ll sphinx it’s great.