Right between Brighton and Hove sits a jewel of a Restaurant!
I have never been to a Lebanese restaurant, so was happy to get the opportunity to try out ALMAS on Western Road.
Yes, I have tried Hummus in Greece, Falafel wraps from sandwich shops in my lunch time breaks and I have BBQ’D Halloumi on the beach in the summer. All very lovely, but these had nothing on the food I tried at ALMAS.
On a wet and windy night, Almas is a very welcoming place. Deep red walls, exposed bricks, huge bronze tiles, a large wooden clad bar with subtle neon pink strip lighting and dark brown leather seats make it feel comfortable and cosy, (even though the restaurant actually seats quite a large number of people).
My dining partner has also never tried Lebanese cuisine and we found it quite difficult to know where to start, as the menu is extensive. Thankfully every item on the menu is accompanied by a full description. The problem with arriving at a restaurant hungry (which we both were), is that you sort of want everything!
The owner, Essam, is charming and can only be described as a proper gentleman. He advised us to go for a starter of a mixed mezze where we could try a little bit of a few different dishes. Perfect idea!
We started with some of the things I have tried before, Halloumi (tasting so much better than my own attempts at cooking this), Falafel, which are handmade in the kitchen and both tastier and chunkier than those I have tried before and Hummus which is thick and creamy and what my partner described as ‘a man’s style hummus’. This was most definitely not low fat. Nothing that tastes this good could be low fat!
Along with these came Maqaneq, miniature Lebanese sausages that are spicy and flambéed in butter and lemon, Tabbouleh, a refreshing dish of parsley, chopped up with tomatoes, mint, onions, lemon juice, olive oil and a tiny amount of cracked wheat. Essam explained, that unlike other restaurants they keep the cracked wheat in this dish to a minimum, as this expands in the stomach and too much of it can be overwhelming to tummies.
We also tried Moutabal, (we often refer to this as Baba Ganoush), which is, aubergine puree mixed with sesame paste and lemon juice. A Moussaka, aubergine baked with tomatoes, onions, chick peas and sweet peppers. This is very different to the Moussaka we are used to having at Italian restaurants….there is no cheese in the dish.
The last of our Mezze surprise was Warak Inab B’zeit, vine leaves filled with rice, tomatoes and mint, which tasted incredibly fresh. With all these dishes laid out on the table together, accompanied by the warm bread they make right there, the mezze starter is colourful, interesting, varied and delicious.
Our mains of stuffed chicken, kept moist by the marinade of garlic, lemon and spices was really good. I tend to avoid chicken as I often think it will be dry. We also tried Kafta Meshwi, a generous portion of skewered minced lamb, mixed with onions and parsley. Both dishes came with rice and salad and we were completely stuffed by the time we had finished!
Our scrumptious meal was washed down with a bottle of Lebanese wine, which was a first for both of us dinners. The wine was excellent and totally unexpected. A little more expensive, than some of the other wines on the menu, but it is definitely worth checking out.
Essam explained that he and the chef try to keep everything as fresh as possible and, of course, made on the premises. The little spicy sausages we started with, are handmade there and Essam’s mother makes the meatballs every day from her own home as, “nobody makes the meatballs better than my own mother”. The Tahini used in many of the dishes is bought from a secret source in London, as apparently, much of the Tahini we buy is made with peanut base rather than sesame (which is a bit of a cheat). The Tahini at ALMAS is made with only sesame seeds, as it should be.
I looked up the word ALMAS and it is described as ‘places in Iran, a town in Afghanistan, several rivers in Romania, a village in India’, but the best description of Almas is ‘an uncut diamond’.
So, yes, I would describe ALMAS as a jewel of a restaurant that I am glad to have finally discovered. After a mint tea to aid our digestion, we left the warm, friendly comfort of the restaurant and both my friend and I agreed, we will both return, as there is so much more to try.