Layla, Esher, Surrey KT10 9QL - restaurant review

Keen to take a break from all the craziness of Christmas, JOHN HUGHES sneaked into the Lebanese restaurant Layla in Esher, where he enjoyed a mouthwatering meal

Read our 2013 review of Layla, here

***

Sometimes, it's rather refreshing to go against the grain during the festive season, in the way some people like to jet off somewhere hot and sunny for Christmas. If you apply this to dining out, I can't recommend anywhere more highly than Layla, a Lebanese restaurant in the middle of Esher where you can certainly have fun and be festive, but without the traditional Christmas trimmings (in fact, you're more likely to encounter a belly dancer than Santa Claus).

The restaurant is attractive and tasteful with a relaxing lounge bar at the front and cosy dining area beyond, which includes several alcoves offering privacy for couples or larger groups. Best of all, the lighting is perfect - subtle and warm and a model that other restaurants could learn from. I went along on a quiet Monday evening but at weekends it's heaving by all accounts. Photographer Helen and I had a guest with us on this occasion, Mary Ann, so we sampled more dishes than usual, starting with a selection of cold and hot mezzes - sort of Lebanese tapas dishes and ideal for sharing. Our choice consisted of muhamara - a crunchy dip of lightly pureed nuts; cheese sambusak - pastry parcels filled with cheese; roast asparagus with Parma ham - fresh asparagus individually wrapped in Parma ham and baked in olive oil and Arabic spices; plus a complementary taboulet - a delightfully refreshing traditional Lebanese salad of parsley, tomato, spring onions and crushed wheat, which turned out to be the star of the bunch. Helen chose moussaka as a main course, prepared in Lebanese style with sliced potato to make it different from its Greek counterpart. I went for the Layla seafood surprise - marinated prawns and scallops with fresh herbs and lime wrapped in trout fillets, baked in a lobster sauce and garnished with more asparagus - as utterly mouthwatering as it sounds. Meanwhile, Mary Ann followed the chef's recommendation, one of his specialities - lamb shank served with rice and roasted vegetables. This, too, was quite outstanding, and to appreciate both as much as possible, we swapped dishes halfway through! Culinary delights Remarkably, we all had room for desserts, or perhaps not so remarkable for such well-balanced dishes. Between us we polished off karabeej halabi - pistachio filled shortcrust pastries served with meringue cream; baklawa - layered pastries with almonds, pistachios and pine kernels; and the richest dark chocolate ice cream imaginable. Sadly, I rushed into choosing a bottle of Italian Collio Pinot Noir, which was fine in itself but drew me away from the chance of sampling one of Layla's Lebanese wines. Next time, perhaps. We rounded the meal off with Arabic coffee, a little too strong and heavy on the sediment for me, but after such culinary delights, frankly, it didn't matter.

What we ate Starters (Cold and Hot Mezzes) Muhamara �5.50 Cheese sambusak �6.50 Roast asparagus with Parma ham �7.95 Taboulet �4.50 Main Courses Layla seafood surprise �17.50 Lamb shank �16.50 Moussaka �13.95 Desserts Karabeej halabi �4.95 Baklawa �6.95 Dark chocolate ice cream �4.90 Drinks Collio Pinot Grigio �24 Arabic coffee �2.50 Verdict Food and drink 9 Service 9 Venue 9

3 other Middle Eastern restaurants to try... Saffron 5 The Square, Richmond Tel: 020 8940 1138 Persian artwork lines the walls as the Middle Eastern cuisine takes you off to distant shores. Meejana Food & Wine Boutique 49 Church Street, Weybridge Tel: 01932 830444 This bijou restaurant in Weybridge serves traditional Lebanese food with half of the menu vegetarian. Cedar Restaurant 144 Merton High Street, Wimbledon Tel: 020 8543 4520 A fine selection of Lebanese wine is available to complement the fine food at this popular restaurant.

Reviewed in Surrey Life magazine December 2008 Reviewed: Layla Restaurant 110 High Street, Esher, Surrey KT10 9QL Tel: 01372 462333 Keen to take a break from all the craziness of Christmas, JOHN HUGHES sneaked into the Lebanese restaurant Layla in Esher, where he enjoyed a mouthwatering meal

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