Haar Restaurant and Rooms


Golf Place, St Andrews

We’ve eaten at Dean Banks’ Edinburgh venues several times – at The Pompadour and, more recently, at his seafood-themed bistro, Dulse. In each case, the food has been outstanding. We’ve heard good things about his signature restaurant in St Andrews, Haar, and resolve to try it out. A sunny bank holiday offers the ideal opportunity and, when we discover that we can also stay on the premises, it feels like a no-brainer. It’s not what you’d call a budget stay but, in lieu of a summer holiday, we feel we’ve earned the right to spoil ourselves.

We book the room at the very top of the building which, though not the most luxurious place we’ve stayed in, offers an enticing view of West Sands beach at the top of the road (with a handy telescope should we want a closer look). The room is clean, comfortable and quiet, though the absence of a wardrobe is puzzling. The bathroom is tiny but has a luxurious deluge shower. Customers with mobility and access issues should note that getting to the room does involve climbing several flights of stairs.

At 7.30pm, we head downstairs to dine and are initially worried that we seem to be the only people in the room, but that situation is very short-lived. Soon, the place is full and buzzing with conversation.

The five-course tasting menu looks pretty substantial, so we’re somewhat nonplussed by the suggestion that we might like to augment it with various other courses (at an additional cost) so, after brief consideration, we decide to stick with the basic menu – though ‘basic’ hardly covers the series of culinary delights we sample tonight.

We begin with the rather unprepossessingly titled ‘snacks’, for which we are invited to sit at the Chef’s Table, a kind of breakfast bar arrangement, where the chef creates three amuse bouche-style offerings, talking us through the process as he puts the dishes together. This is a nice theatrical touch that I’ve not experienced before.

First up there’s a very individualistic approach to trout pastrami, which resembles a tiny ice cream cone, small enough to eat in a single bite, but absolutely brimming with flavour. Next up, there’s an oyster apiece, drizzled with sea buckthorn (which grows wild along this part of the Scottish coast) and sprinkled with lime and fresh rhubarb. The oysters are presented in a dish of smoking dry ice, another theatrical flourish, and they are delicious – fresh and zingy. Finally, we return to our table to sample Dean Banks’ take on an Arbroath smokie, served in a round tin and accompanied by a slice of crisp bread. This is smoked fish dialled up to 11, and we both approve.

Now there’s a Dean Banks speciality: a mini cornbread loaf accompanied by two types of butter, one salted and the other infused with miso – the only tough choice here is which butter you’re going to have, but we both prefer the miso.

The next course is east coast crab served with pea and Thai broth, a meal so light and ethereal that we can almost inhale it. Can we resist dunking a slice of cornbread into that broth? No, we cannot! And why should we? Cornbread is made for dunking, right?

The seafood theme continues with a slice of perfectly cooked halibut, melt-in-the-mouth tender at its flaky heart with seared crispy edges. This is presented with a spear of crispy asparagus coated with mouthwatering black garlic and a pool of vibrant green sauce.

Some meat perhaps? How about a succulent chunk of salt baked duck, resplendent in a five-spice sauce and glaze? Out it comes and down it goes, the medium rare flesh tender enough to slice with an ordinary table knife.

We’re expecting the pudding next, but there’s a late addition to the menu in the form of a pre-dessert, a tasty little enticement of rhubarb sorbet and yoghurt.

And just when you’re thinking, ‘I won’t have room for the actual pud,’ it arrives and it’s Nana’s banoffee, an exquisite banana parfait that looks pretty enough to frame – but is far too delicious to do that with. It’s presented with a scoop of toffee ice cream, a chocolate rum ball (which bursts in the mouth like a flavour explosion), a chunk of fresh caramelised banana and an ingenious sugar tuille, in the shape of dulse seaweed. We often comment that it’s the pudding that lets down a great menu, but this is certainly not the case here.

And of course, this isn’t the end of the experience. The following morning, after a long bracing walk on West Sands, we’re ready for breakfast. This is quietly impressive and, as we’ve come to expect, faultlessly executed. I opt for the Scottish breakfast with poached eggs, which is perfectly done and features what might be the best bacon I’ve ever tasted – a thick crispy slab of meat with a wonderful smoked flavour. Susan’s East Neuk platter features a whole array of different foodstuffs, incorporating cured meats, fresh fruit, jam, yoghurt and a couple of fruit scones.

There’s no doubt that Banks’s culinary creations are up there with the very best. Lovers of fine dining will find plenty to enjoy at Haar.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Bar + Block Steakhouse


Princes Street, Edinburgh

Whitbread’s Bar + Block is the kind of restaurant that those of us with foodie pretensions like to dismiss: it’s a chain; it’s attached to a Premier Inn. The food is bound to be pre-packaged, we tell ourselves; it’s surely a soulless place. But even we have to admit that this Edinburgh branch, situated on Princes Street with its iconic view of the castle, is very nicely styled. It looks inviting. And, after a morning of shopping (which is absolutely our least favourite kind of morning), we find ourselves drawn to the lunch and early dinner menu advertised in the window. Three courses for £14.95? It’s hard to resist.

The menu is short, but reads well. Philip starts with Korean chicken wings, which are charcoal cooked and generously flavoured with barbecue sauce and chilli. I have the tomato bruschetta, which isn’t perhaps the most exciting choice, but I just love tomatoes, and I like the sound of the the stone-baked flatbread they come on. As expected, it tastes good, enhanced by a sweet balsamic-heavy dressing.

For his main, Philip chooses the steak sandwich with fries. This looks really attractive, and he’s pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meat, which surpasses his expectations for this price point. It’s served on more of that stone-baked flatbread, and garnished with cheese, onions, tomato and rocket. The chips aren’t great – just frozen skinny fries – but they’re piping hot, which makes them edible at least. I have the seabass fillet, which comes with a delicious Greek salad and – yes, you’ve guessed it – a piece of stone-baked flatbread. Apart from the over-reliance on that particular carb, this is a pleasant dish: the fish is well-cooked, the skin pleasingly crispy, and the salad is generously strewn with feta cheese.

Do we have room for pudding? You bet we do. I have the Eton Mess sundae, a pleasing concoction of berries, ice cream, cream and meringue, while Philip opts for a triple chocolate brownie, served warm with vanilla ice cream. Both slip down far too easily.

Add in a couple of alcohol-free drinks (a Peroni and a Rekorderlig fruit cider), and we’re feeling pretty satisfied. Okay, so our assumptions haven’t exactly been disproved: Bar + Block is exactly what we knew it would be. But the service is pleasant, we’ve had a decent lunch, and it hasn’t cost us much. I’m not sure we’ll be in a rush to return, but I’m glad we’ve given it a go.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Sichuan House


George VI Bridge, Edinburgh

There are all kinds of reasons for deciding to visit an unfamiliar restaurant. It could be a friend’s recommendation; a well-timed discount offer; an enticing smell issuing from an open doorway. In the case of Sichuan House, the main motivator is my eyes. Walking along George IV Bridge to my regular writing haunt, The National Library of Scotland, I keep passing the window of the venue where I can’t fail to notice the crowds of (predominantly Chinese) customers, enthusiastically chowing down on a succession of enticingly vibrant meals. The food looks quite different from the kind of Mandarin cuisine I’m familiar with.

So, after a long and tiring drive from North Wales to Edinburgh, on an evening when neither of us feel like cooking, I suggest we might call in there and try it out. It’s around seven thirty on a bank holiday Monday when we rock up and the place is already buzzing. A charming waiter leads us to a vacant table by the window (as far as we’re aware, you can’t book in advance) and hey presto! We’re the people chowing down as passers-by gaze enviously in.

We start by sharing a plate of pork and chive dumplings, a deceptively simple meal, ten soft parcels stuffed with a delicious savoury filling and served with a bowl of black vinegar, into which said parcels can be dipped. To say that they’re delicious would be something of an understatement. They are among the best I’ve ever tasted, absolutely bursting with flavour.

For the main course, Susan chooses prawns with ginger, and that’s pretty much what arrives – a generous serving of large, juicy prawns in a glutinous savoury sauce, which includes lashings of slow cooked onions and crispy spring onions. As you might expect there’s a rich punch of ginger in there and once again, this is a perfectly executed dish.

The same can be said for my sizzling beef with chilli, tender chunks of meat in a rich sauce which features red and green peppers and again those wonderfully gloopy onions. As you’d expect the course is fiercely spiced, just enough to give that wonderful warmth at the back of the throat (and even to clear the sinuses), but not so severe that the effect becomes too overwhelming.

We also share a portion of egg fried rice and though this is entirely familiar, it’s been expertly prepared, with not a hint of greasiness about it.

Despite being right in the middle of Edinburgh’s tourist route, the food is very reasonably priced. Sichuan House may not be the venue for a lavish, family occasion, but for those seeking authentic Chinese cuisine at great value prices, this is a great place to look for it. We’ll be back – and next time, we’ll make sure we’ve left enough room for more.

4. 4 Stars

Philip Caveney



Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Fava has been on our radar for quite a while. We’re fans of Greek cuisine and every time we walk past their attractive premises on Morrison Street, we say, ‘We must try that place soon.’ So when I notice a My Ideals offer, which pretty much buys us a meal at half the usual price, it’s a no-brainer.

It’s 7.45pm on a Sunday evening and the place is bustling with diners. The staff are friendly and the atmosphere convivial, even if the combination of a high ceiling and the inevitable jangling bouzouki soundtrack makes conversation difficult. For starters, we choose to share a baked feta cheese and a Fava salad. The latter is delightful: handsomely presented with edible flowers, it’s a tasty mix of avocado, cucumber, leaves and pomegranate, drizzled with a honey and mustard dressing. The feta is delicious too, flavoured with oregano, tomato, peppers and chilli, but I’m rather less enthused by the presentation. The feta has been baked on a sheet of foil, which means that a lot of it adheres to the backing and proves very, VERY difficult to separate. Of course, we’ve ordered a side of pitta bread (there has to be pitta bread, right?) and this is also nicely done – salty and buttery, just as we like it.

For my main course, I’ve chosen Kleftiko – a generously-sized slow-cooked lamb joint, flavoured with lemon and rosemary, the flesh so succulently tender it comes effortlessly away from the bone with the merest touch of a knife. It’s served with subtly spiced rice (though you can opt for new potatoes, if preferred). Susan has the Kotopoulo Lemanato, a tender chicken fillet, delicately seasoned with lemon, garlic and olive oil. This is accompanied by rice and salad. Both dishes are accomplished and we make short work of them.

For the pudding, it has to be the Portokalopita – a traditional Greek honey and orange cake, which we decide to share as we’re really quite full from the main courses. Not only does does this particular sweet feature prominently in the novel I’m currently editing (so it seems like a good omen) but it’s already a long established favourite of mine. Again, it’s nicely executed, the soft sponge oozing the zesty mixture it’s been liberally doused with. A scoop of Greek yoghurt ice cream makes the perfect accompaniment.

All in all, Fava is a pleasant place to dine: it’s lively and accommodating and the food’s good too. Throw in that My Ideals offer (still available at time of writing) and it’s simply too good to miss.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Chit ‘N’ Chaat


Old Rectory Gardens, Cheadle

I am in Cheadle, visiting my daughter and her husband. For some time now they have been extolling the virtues of Chit ‘N’ Chaat, which specialises in Indian street food and, it being a rainy evening in need of a little brightness, there’s never been a better time to put their claims to the test. When we arrive, the place has a friendly and relaxed vibe. The staff are charming and very helpful when I ask about some of the items on the menu.

Put aside all notions of familiar curry house dishes – this is not the place for a chicken tikka masala or pilau rice. Here, the dining experience is more akin to tapas, where the general idea is to select two or three small plates apiece and share whatever arrives. Things don’t really break down into starters and mains per se, but arrive as they become ready. It’s clear from a perusal of the menu that there’s an eclectic mix of dishes, ranging from South Indian recipes to Indo-Chinese fusion – and half of the fun here is sampling dishes I’ve never experienced before.

First to arrive is a plate of Dahi Puri – crispy spheres of savoury bread filled with a zesty mixture of potato, onions, tomato, green chutney and yoghurt. The idea is to put one whole sphere into your mouth and allow the delicious citrusy concoction to melt on your tongue. It’s zesty, exhilarating and a great way to begin.

Soon the dishes are arriving thick and fast. There’s a tava sea bass fillet, sensitively spiced and perfectly cooked, the flesh yielding easily to the knife. There’s a bowl of chilli garlic chicken, featuring succulent chunks of boneless flesh mixed with onions, bell peppers and coriander. There’s a chilli paneer, a gentle contrast to the spicier offerings, and a Kothu roti chicken, shredded meat in a moist vegetable mixture. 

And then there’s the undoubted stars of the show: two magnificent Dosas, pancakes made from rice and lentil batter, paper thin and enticingly crispy around the edges, one dosa filled with a spiced potato mixture, the other stuffed with that exquisite paneer. These are accompanied by five different sauces, into which a handful of dosa can be dipped and sampled. Half of the experience is not being quite sure what the flavour is until it’s in our mouths. We also share a bowl of chilli chips because… well, because we can’t quite resist having them there and they are rather good.

The selection offers both the delicately spiced and the challengingly fiery and, to accompany the food, we’ve all opted for a mango lassi (a beverage fondly remembered from my nights in Rusholme on Manchester’s infamous curry mile) – thick, sweet and indulgent, the perfect contrast to a mouthful of hot chilli. My only criticism is that I’d prefer the lassi served in a glass rather than a non recyclable plastic beaker, but of the food and drink itself, I have nothing but high praise. 

This is exciting fare that’s also modestly priced – a rare occurrence in these troubled times.

My daughter was right (she often is) and I leave feeling pleasantly full rather than uncomfortably bloated. Anybody in the vicinity of Cheadle who hasn’t yet experienced the wonders of Chit ‘N’ Chaat should pay it a visit at the earliest opportunity. It’s all there waiting to be experienced.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Dulse by Dean Banks


Queensferry Street, Edinburgh

We rarely return to a restaurant so soon after reviewing it for the first time, but when we saw that Dulse was offering a five course seafood tasting menu for just £35 per head, it was a no brainer. Besides, we wondered, could anybody do the concept proud at such a great value price? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes!’ Little wonder that the venue has started offering the menu on more nights of the week.

We start with some oysters – is there any better way to begin a seafood medley? There are just two apiece: fine, fleshy specimens, one doused in a citrusy sea buckthorn sauce, the other in a Bloody Mary mixture. Heads back, mouths open – they slip down perfectly, refreshing, appetising and redolent of the ocean. It’s an excellent start to the meal.

Next up there’s trout pastrami, finely-sliced slivers of smoky fish, served with whipped crème fraîche and crispy rye toast that supplies a satisfying crunch. Arranged on the plate it looks disconcertingly like a smiling clown, but that’s as far as the comedy goes, because this is seriously good, perfectly prepared and absolutely mouthwatering.

The next course is a bowl of Singapore mussels. For me it’s the standout, a rich fiery broth with that tantalising catch at the back of the throat – but then I’ve always been a pushover for those Asian flavours. This is when I’m glad we’ve opted for a side order of a miniature wholemeal loaf, which is absolutely perfect for mopping up the garlic and ginger-infused liquid at the bottom of the bowl, because you don’t want to miss any of that flavour, right?

Can it get any better? Well, how about a chunk of cod, meltingly soft underneath and perfectly seared on top to provide a crispy crunch, the whole thing nestled in a vivid green wild garlic sauce? Yep, once again, this is absolutely spot on.

Any pudding that can follow this needs to be light and appetising, so a deconstructed Eton mess seems the perfect answer – and so it proves to be, with a delightfully fizzy sorbet. It provides the final piece in a faultless tasting menu.

It’s hats off, once again, to Dean Banks, who gets another five star review from us. We make a mental note to visit Haar, his restaurant in St Andrews, when an opportunity arises, because that’s where he began his career and it will be interesting to see what’s on offer there. Interested parties should note that, at Dulse, there’s also the option of adding a half lobster to the selection for just £25 per head and that last orders for this menu are at 7 pm.

So don’t hang about.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Queen’s Head


Pen-Y-Bont Road, Glanwydden, Llandudno Junction

We’re in North Wales for a couple of days and my wonderful mother-in-law wants to take us out for lunch. Indeed, she’s already booked a table at The Queen’s Head in Glanwydden, a place about which we know precisely nothing, but Brenda assures us that we’re going to like it. She’s been there before. So who are we to argue?

Happily, she’s not wrong. The Queen’s Head is one of those secluded country taverns where they offer a menu that goes well beyond the kind of fare often associated with ‘pub grub’. It’s no surprise then that the place is thriving, but the pleasant staff keep everything running like clockwork – and the food is impressive. Take the starters for instance. Well, you can’t because we made very short work of them, but they are excellent examples of how to begin a meal with a flourish.

I have chosen the Aberfalls orange gin cured smoked salmon, a generous slice of fish, served with fresh dill panna cotta, sea asparagus and radish salad. It is simply inspired, handsomely presented and bursting with flavour. Susan has the miso and coriander buttered potted prawns, replete with sesame and seaweed and chunks of toasted Pagnotta bread. The seaweed in particular is a real surprise, tangy with lemon, offering a delightful contrast to those fleshy, spicy prawns. We note that Brenda skips the starters, claiming that she’s ‘saving herself’ for the main course. And then it arrives – and we see what she means.

It’s a Sunday so we’ve all gone for the roast option. Brenda has the topside of Welsh beef, thick slices of tender meat, with lashings of gravy. I dig into a roasted loin of pork which comes with apricot, mushroom and sage stuffing. Again, it’s perfectly prepared and there’s a crunchy strip of crackling for good measure. Susan opts for the sweet potato, chestnut and apricot nut roast with creamed leeks and veggie gravy. All dishes come with the full Sunday dinner accompaniment: magnificent Yorkshire puddings – cathedrals of batter with crispy peaks and meltingly soft centres. There are also superb roast potatoes, as well as mash, carrots, broccoli and red cabbage. And we order extra veg (of course we do), in the form of a sumptuous cauliflower cheese.

It may seem churlish, but the only complaint we have here is that the portions are enormous and it’s hard to know what to miss out because… well, we have to leave room for puddings, right? It would be rude not to.

Brenda goes for the vanilla panna cotta with raspberry coulis, which is quite the prettiest dish on the table and comes with strawberry ice cream, biscuit crumb and shortbread. I cannot resist the lemon posset, which is creamy and luxurious, served with a zesty orange sorbet and delicate meringue disks. Susan orders the treacle tart – sweet, crumbly, softer than expected and served with a delicious scoop of coconut ice cream.

We emerge from the feast feeling pleasantly sated and determined to spread the word. The Queen’s Head is the perfect venue for an indulgent dining experience and it’s available to everyone within walking or driving distance of Glanwydden.

Brenda, on the other hand, is all ours. Hands off!

4. 8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Bonham: “Boozy Snoozy Lunch”


Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh

Six years ago and still fairly new to life in Edinburgh, we took advantage of a special offer we found online and booked ourselves a ‘boozy snoozy dinner’ at the Bonham Hotel. We were blown away by the venue, the quality of the food and the great value. So when, more recently, we spotted a Black Friday deal at the same hotel, this time for a ‘boozy snoozy lunch’, we decided it was an offer we couldn’t pass up.

As we take our seats in the dining room, we reflect on everything that’s happened since we were last here. Edinburgh now feels like our home and, over those intervening years, we’ve survived some turbulent events – the pandemic being just one of them. The Bonham is exactly as we remember it: a warm, welcoming haven in a central (but surprisingly quiet) neighbourhood. The walls are hung with the same original oil paintings, there’s a soft murmur of conversation, and the staff are still as polite and efficient as ever.

First for the boozy bit – a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc, which we make a start on while perusing the menu. For starters, Susan has the heritage carrot panna cotta, quite the prettiest dish you could ask for and absolutely bursting with flavour. It’s accompanied by pink pickled ginger, salted baked carrots and puffed black rice. I opt for the Simpson game venison carpaccio, succulent slivers of ‘melt in the mouth’ meat adorned with beetroot. leek ash, pickled shimeji mushrooms and red vein sorrel. We’re afraid that the current national shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables might have a negative effect, but these fears are quickly assuaged. This is an inspired beginning.

For the main course, Susan samples the stone bass, a generous slice of perfectly cooked fish, presented on a laksa broth and topped with seaweed tapioca. The laksa would be better if it were more robustly spiced, but that’s really our only criticism. I keep things traditional and choose the Ayrshire pork, a mouthwatering chunk of belly meat with a gratifyingly crispy layer of crackling on the top. It comes with ham hock, kohlrabi, spiced compressed apple and hispi cabbage. The apple in particular is an inspired touch, the sharp flavour cutting through the meatiness with ease.

We also share a side order of hand cut chips sprinkled with rosemary scented blackthorn salt. ‘Ah,’ you may say, ‘chips are just chips,’ but these are perfection – crispy exteriors, soft, buttery insides, and completely irresistible.

For pudding, Susan enjoys a delicious chocolate fondant, which is rich and indulgent, accompanied by crispy honeycomb and zesty orange sorbet. I cannot resist the glazed lemon tart, again as pretty as a picture, and served with Scottish raspberries and Normandy créme fraiche. Both puddings are utterly delectable.

Other things may have changed in six years but this is still a perfectly executed menu. Even at the full price of £35 per head, it represents extraordinary value for money and, on the Black Friday deal we’ve booked, it’s an absolute steal. I can think of many venues in the city centre charging twice as much with half the flair of what’s on offer here. I’d heartily recommend The Bonham to anyone in search of somewhere to enjoy a special meal.

Here’s to the next time!

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Ship on the Shore


The Shore, Leith

It’s a Saturday night and friends have invited us to dine with them at The Ship on the Shore, a bustling, friendly venue in Leith which describes itself as a ‘seafood restaurant and champagne bar.’ I don’t have anything in particular to celebrate, so I eschew the champagne and settle for a couple of pints of Peroni, but seafood? Hell, yes – lead me to it!

As you might expect, the place is packed but the team here are friendly and efficient so ordering and receiving our food is no bother. We make our selections and settle down for a convivial chat, which – let’s face it – is an important element in most meals.

 For starters, I opt for the salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes. There’s something so innately comforting about fishcakes, isn’t there? And these are splendid examples of their kind, large, perfectly cooked and full of flavour, served with a mixture of mushy peas and tartare sauce. Susan opts for steamed Shetland mussels, another generous portion, nestled in a golden broth of cider, garlic and herbs. As ever, we sample a mouthful of each other’s food. We’re also impressed by the hot and cold Scottish smoked salmon, ordered by one of our companions – so much so that we decide to use a photo of it, because it’s much more photogenic than my main course!

It might not look much, but my seafood pie ‘Royale is perfectly delicious. Some so-called ‘pies’ can comprise a few scraps of fish hiding in mounds of mashed potato, but, happily, this is not the case here. Beneath that crisp, buttery surface there are chunks of smoked haddock and salmon, there are king scallops and big, juicy prawns. Susan’s seafood chowder is also a bit of a wonder: thick, creamy and featuring all the usual suspects plus some less obvious ones. Added to the salmon, smoked haddock and queen scallops and prawns, there are also mussels and squid. It’s like an aquarium in there!

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after such a feast, we wouldn’t be able to face up to pudding? But here’s the thing. I’ve deliberately eaten barely anything all day in preparation for this. Plus, there’s a sticky toffee pudding on the menu and I don’t know what it is about me, some kind of inbuilt reflex, but whenever those words appear on a menu, I nearly always have to try it (though, in this case, I do manage to negotiate replacing the vanilla ice cream accompaniment with a scoop of salted caramel, because… why not?) Suffice to say, that I take the dish on and utterly vanquish it, which is, I think, a testament to my determination. Susan’s berry cheesecake is also pretty sumptuous – and so rich she can’t quite finish it, but we’ll let her away with that one.

Anybody who relishes good seafood will be glad they visited this cheery, welcoming restaurant – and those who ‘don’t do seafood’ should bear in mind that The Ship on the Shore also offers a rib eye steak, and, for the vegetarians, there’s a butternut squash risotto with blue cheese and toasted pine nuts. Seafood fans, though, will have an absolute field day.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney



Wilmslow Road, Cheadle

We’ve popped down to Greater Manchester for the night and – of course – we need to eat. We’re visiting family who have recently moved house, and now they’re near Cheadle, giving us a whole new (to us) raft of neighbourhood restaurants to explore. The area is lively and vibrant, and there’s a lot of choice – but our hosts have been to Yara before, and assure us that the hummus alone is worth the trip.

Yara is a Lebanese and Syrian restaurant. It’s big, but it runs like clockwork, the young staff friendly and efficient and clearly well trained. They do sell booze, but you can also BYO, which we do – simply because it’s cheaper, and so why wouldn’t we? We’re provided with an ice bucket and glasses, and left to peruse the menu.

We order separately, but actually share everything. This works well for the starters. We have the hummus dip, of course, which comes with pitta, and decide to try the labneh too. This concentrated yoghurt dip is a creamy, herby delight. We have broad beans and tomatoes in the form of a full-flavoured ful madamas, and a generous portion grilled halloumi, cooked to perfection – nicely charred on the outside and soft in the middle.

Given that we’ve decided to share, we really ought to pay more attention to what the others around us are ordering for mains, but we don’t, and so end up with four lamb dishes. They’re different, of course, but I wish we’d opted for a chicken and a veggie dish as part of the mix. Never mind. Between us we have a lamb shawarma, a lamb sharhat, a bamieh and a muklabeh c.y. salad. Three of the dishes come with rice, and we’ve also ordered a Greek salad (the feta cheese is particularly delicious). They’re all good, but the standout is probably the muklabeh, despite it being one of the ugliest dishes I’ve ever seen. Its unprepossessing appearance conceals something very special: the aubergines have been slow-cooked so that they’re almost caramelised, and melt in the mouth before giving way to the succulent lamb and rice beneath.

The first two courses are a hit, so naturally we want to see if the puddings can compete. They can. We share some ballorieh knafeh (pastry stuffed with pistachio nuts, butter and honey), a piece of walnut honey cake, a portion of muhalabieh, which tastes like a cross between panna cotta and cheesecake, and – best of all – a selection of different flavoured chunks of Turkish delight.

So yes, we’ve had a lovely time. Sated, we venture out into the icy air, and head home, still smiling, for more drinks and some long overdue family time. A palpable hit.

4.4 stars.

Susan Singfield