This is the first time I've written a restaurant review on here, although it won't be the last! At the weekend we rather naively turned up at Mandalay without a reservation: don't even think about it. Another time we'll be more organised. Anyhow, Edgware Road is hardly short of places to eat...the question was WHERE without just defaulting to one of the Maroush/Ranoush chain (which seems like half the street). Don't get me wrong, the shawarma from Ranoush Juice (under £4) is as good as you'll get, but it feels like a bit of a cop-out to go there every time. The only other place I'd heard of, Patogh, a Persian place on one of the side streets, was also rammed (Saturday evening at primetime!) so we were forced to go offpiste and just plump for somewhere on spec.
We were tempted by a large Iraqi place (on one of the main corners, with neon lights, can't remember the name) as it had an interesting looking menu and was packed out with Arabic-looking people (a cliched way of choosing somewhere, but I always swear by it). It was slightly pricier than other places. One to check for the future.
In the end though, we went for a place called Abu Zaad (the website only mentions a Shepherd's Bush branch, but it's undoubtedly the same chain). It describes itself as being "Damascene" cooking, in other words Syrian. It was very busy and looked promising, so we gave it a go.
It was just my kind of place. Bright lights, plastic tables, groups of (mostly) Middle Eastern men speaking Arabic, Middle Eastern football on the telly, no alcohol baby! Between the two of us we opted for three mezze - hummous (a little bit rich for my taste, I perfer a little bit more zing and texture), some kofta-style meatballs (I always forget what the name of them is) and some moutabal - a very typical Middle Eastern dish - pureed aubergine with a hint of sesame and lemon juice, with the completely liquidised texture that us so typical of that cuisine. All were good.. My freshly squeezed apple juice was excellent (bits of peel in it were a bit offputting!). I then had Sheikh Almehshi: courgettes stuffed with mincemeat, all cooked in yogurt. I had half expected this would mean it was in a creamy yogurt sauce, like a mild curry - I was slightly taken aback when I saw several baby courgettes swimming around in sour, watery yogurt. It was very nice, admittedly slightly too much of the sourness of the yogurt for my taste, but well done nonetheless. Rachel's mixed grill was solid.
It's interesting to note the (far more professional) review of Bellaphon, who seems to go regularly and drew similar conclusions to me. Overall, I was very happy with the choice - exactly what I was hoping for in terms of experience, less sterile than Maroush/Ranoush and while the food might not have been quite as slick, for me it was a much more interesting & enjoyable. Food 7/10, atmosphere 10/10, overall: recommended, and a good one to have in the armoury if you're standing lost on the Edgware Road.