It’s testament to the popularity of Arabesque that on the Saturday before pay day in January it was still pulling in hungry diners.
Little seems to have changed since I last reviewed this Egyptian-themed restaurant in 2013, but it’s clearly a formula that’s working.
Naysayers said a themed place out on a limb at the bottom end of High Street West wouldn’t work, but its fun approach to Middle Eastern dining has helped it carve out its own culinary niche.
A huge gold door leading to a bar filled with imported Moorish tables, walls featuring murals of Pharaohs and hieroglyphic scripts and lined with large sarcophagus means there’s no mistaking the theme: this is unadulterated Egyptian. Granted, it’s flamboyant and anything but the current trend for industrial chic joints, but it all helps to create a friendly, laid-back atmosphere.
Its location at this end of town means it’s also an ideal place for a pre-cinema meal, which offers much better value for money than the chain restaurants up the road. Parking-wise you’ll need to be visiting the cinema to park in the multi-storey for free, or street parking is free outside the restaurant after 6pm.
We took our seats in the gilded gold chairs to order some drinks while we checked out the menu. Drinks-wise, you can get a glass of wine for £3.95 while lagers and bitters on tap are priced at standard restaurant prices – £3.50 for a pint of Fosters.
The food menu is more adventurous with a comprehensive range of shawarma, salads, mezze, dips, charcoal grills and tagines which represent the melting pot of flavours of this North African country.
Prices are very reasonable and you can get a tagine for as little as £5.95. If you’re looking to shave off more pounds post-Christmas you can also order from the set menu between 5pm and 7pm where you can pick up two courses for £10 or three courses for £15.
Vegetarians are particularly well-catered for with traditional dishes from this corner of the globe, which are incidentally veggie such as halloumi, tabbouleh, foul medames and baba ghanoush.
I chose the chicken shawarma (£9.50) which includes salad and a choice of either Egyptian rice, chips or Arabic bread and two dips of your choice.
Not realising how huge the portions were, I also ordered a side of houmous (£3).
Our meals arrived in good time and I was presented with what seemed like a never-ending mound of tender chicken in a subtle marinade with plenty of salad and two pots of a satisfyingly creamy cucumber and yoghurt dip. It was fuss-free, filling food, which encourages you to get stuck in.
The Arabic bread, in particular, was delicious and great for tearing and dunking in the moreisly-rich and oily houmous.
Service was friendly and, despite juggling multiple covers, our wine glasses were never left empty.