Yasmeen Restaurant & Café (Lebanese) – St. Johns Wood
Yasmeen Restaurant & Cafe is an “Authentic Lebanese Cuisine in the Heart of St. John’s Wood” which has picked up a number of accolades since opening in 2015.
In its very first year, the 55-cover eatery was not only awarded the FSB Highly Commended Restaurant of The Year award and Time Out’s Love London Award before winning it again a year later, but also a Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor in 2016 and 2017.
With an outdoor terrace that offers seating for 15, along with two large canopies and four heaters, the restaurant’s exterior certainly creates quite an impression in the affluent district of St. John’s Wood.
In fact, since Yasmeen’s owner is originally from Syria, the restaurant’s website has this to say of said flower’s significance: “[Jasmine] Is a flower of moral value, a symbol to Syrians in general and Damascus in particular, being related to Al-Sham history and spread in its gardens and fused within balconies and walls of all Damascus houses.”
As such, you’ll find wall pictures of life in Damascus, including images of floral gardens of old in Aleppo City, decorating the back of the venue, where there’s also a cosy, semi-secluded section with a large mirror and a table for three.
These were an attractive duo of drinks. The intriguing non-alcoholic Champagne turned out to be a lychee-dominated one, and the Yasmeen Spice a gentle pomegrante-based one, with a hint of citrus.
Now, while we recognise the tradition of real champagne appropriately being served in a champagne glass, what we found difficult to grasp is how a £6 price tag could be justified for such a small glass of mocktail whose only connection with actual champagne was nomenclatorial. Be that as it may, what we were certain of was that this so-called Champagne was the superior of the two beverages.
COLD HORS D’OEUVRES
This was a tremendous Hummus, and one that easily rivals Maroush Bakehouse’s served to us last year in Earl’s Court.
The consistency of this was just as silky smooth as that; and that’s where the comparison between the two eateries ends!
The only difference was that whilst that hummus stood tall on the basis of its natural taste, this one had a perfectly citrusy after taste on account of the addition of lemon.
The naan provided was also good – soft and fluffy.
This time, however, we were left slack-jawed and stunned into bewilderment.
How could vine leaves be so good? In fact, the best we’ve ever revieved. And it was all down to the balance the chef had achieved here.
In short, the tangy freshness of the grape vine leaves gave way to the delightful meaty texture of the soft, mellow interior.
This Moutabel was, in its own right, just as delicious as the previous two.
Admittedly not the most attractive Moutabel we’ve had; but when you have the soothing smokiness of this creamy mezze coming through so well, looks really don’t matter.
As one Lion put it: “The balance; solid consistency… damn!”
This Tabouleh was slightly underwhelming. Yes, it was fresh and simply made, with a touch of the lemon, but nothing special.
HOT HORS D’OEUVRES
Dubbed a “Lebanese pizza”, they had a crispy-cum-crunchy exterior.
The inside was made up of a soft layer of doner-like kebab meat and topped with some melted cheese.
It was passable and altogether quite mild in taste.
Cooked to a dark golden colour, they were crunchy on the outside, with a glistening sheen to them.
In contrast, the inside consisted of a delicately soft and granular chick pea mixture, with a delicate spiciness to it.
A nice and fragrant hot mezze that we all enjoyed.
Again deep fried, the pastry was fairly light and flaky, and just thick enough to make these a satisfying little snack.
But it was, of course, on the inside where the party was really happening.
The parity achieved between the cumin and the anaseed went a long way towards marrying so well against the textured cheese, whose mild strength came through in the background.
With an attractive, dark golden casing, these had a crispy-cum-crunchy texture to them.
In terms of taste, then they had a fragrant interior, with a herbiness that was quite satsifying.
The meat and onion mixture itself was soft and succulent, and addictive.
Very well cooked Halloumi cheese here. Actually, they were so well cooked that they had an almost velvety smoothness to them which many other restaurants fail in achieving.
The chef judged these to near perfection. Often, what we find is that these end up being overcooked, thus resulting in them turning out chewy. Not here; these were beautifully cooked!
While four, large, ultra-charred, ugly whole onions and an unattractively large tomato left a lot to the imagination, the taste of the chicken and lamb cubes, along with the skewer of minced lamb kofta, compensated somewhat for this Mixed Grill’s presentation, or lack thereof.
While the chicken was soft and succulent, the lamb juicy with a supple firmness to it, and the lamb kofta kebab on the right side of tender, all three had that deliciously meaty-sweet flavour that was offset by said smokiness.
The two sauces – chilli and garlic – were good accompaniments. The former providing a subtle chilli-sweetness with a watery consistency; the latter, with its thick yoghurty texture, having a good kick of garlic to it.
The thin, salty broth was a fresh tomato-based one infused with the flavours of the red and green peppers, soft onions, and not much more.
As for the meatballs, then these were firm to the bite, yet tender and juicy on the inside.
The dish was served with fragrant rice decorated with what appeared to be dark strands of vermicelli.
Overall? Decent enough without being anything spectacular.
Now, a Mouhalabia is a milk pudding made with orange blossom or rose water, and garnished with either almonds or pistachio, or both.
Yasmeen’s is slightly different in that it’s a deconstructed version where the rose water is served separately and meant to be poured over the set milk pudding.
Following our wobble-test, which revealed it to be perfectly set and not overly firm, we proceeded to pour the entire contents of the rose water over the pudding before diving straight in.
What we encountered was absolutely sublime! The ambrosial Mouhalabia was decadently light, silky smooth in texture, with the aromatic sweetness of the flowery water lending that familiarly gentle perfume to the entire dish.
This was a pudding we’d never really had before; and one we won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
Given its firmness, this Yasmeen Crème wasn’t so much a crème as it was an ice cream.
It had a thin, dark orange layer at the bottom, which could have been cinammon-based, albeit very subtle. As for the topping, then it was relatively tasteless.
Overall, and in comparison to the above, an unmemorable dessert that had barely a hint of pleasant sweetness to it.
- YES/ NO
- CHILD SEATING
- UBER EATS
We're confident in saying that the Hummus, Vine Leaves and Moutabel were some of the best we've had. However, while the starters were, on the whole, impressive, the two mains didn't quite maintain the high standards, despite the Mixed Grill of kebabs being thoroughly enjoyed.
And though one of the two desserts will have us cooing for some time to come, overall, we concluded that this Lebanese restaurant serves above average dishes, with a few outstanding ones, in an elegant setting.
Apparently, the restaurant also does a Kunafa that takes 24-hours to freshly prepare, and, we were assured, would beat any Kunafa out there. Sadly, we only learned of this half way through and, thus, didn't get a chance to test the claim.
There's a discretionary service charge of 12.5% added to the bill. Yasmeen Restaurant & Cafe also offers a full catering service.
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