We turn up at Aladino’s home on the curve of Kensington Church Street to find a sleek black and glass frontage, looking smooth and freshly-minted.
Only recently opened, and billed as London’s first Alexandrian restaurant, Aladino’s W8 tenure is just the tip of the pyramid. Because this is the descendent of owner Aladin Bakarat’s beachfront restaurant of the same name in Egypt. And while the sand and the scale – Aladino’s Alexandria was a 500-cover powerhouse – might be missing from its London counterpart, the menu and hype both claim a thoroughly Egyptian influence.
Aubergine, okra and almonds all feature heavily, meaning my date’s half-smitten even before we order. Despite that it’s far from hardline traditional – the less common duck liver, pork belly and ravioli also crop up – and very little on the menu escapes without a twist of some kind.
With a slightly different menu my date and I wouldn’t have locked horns over the starters list – all of them sounding appealing, and most of them equally so – but there’s one clear frontrunner here. It’s the foie parfait, an ethical – unfattened – duck liver pâté, half of it Egyptian-spiced, half French.
And so begins a complex negotiation. In maneuvering worthy of Westminster, and eased quite a lot with the house red – a very heavy and pretty amazing Cotes-du-Rhone Vignobles Gonnet – we establish a running order which gives my date the foie parfait to start, with a substantial-sharing clause attached to that. In return I order the goats’ curd and beetroot ravioli to start, which would, to be fair, be my first choice from a lot of menus, and get first choice of the main courses. Baked okra, lamb and saffron rice. No contest.
Well, maybe a small contest, because I’m only human, and the combination of pork belly with pickled cucumber, pork crisp and za’atar almonds is hard to just dismiss. Fortunately – and this is where a year of, you know, romantic entanglement and learning each others’ desires and gazing into each others’ souls will really pay dividends – I’m 80% sure my date will order that for himself. And 20% sure I can persuade him to if I’m wrong, using my charm, wiles, or more likely a non-controlling interest in my side order of pickled aubergine and peppers salad.
This is how it plays out, exactly according to plan. And though readers will find this hard to believe, it almost feels like the prolonged negotiations and tactical thinking were a bit over the top.
Because everything is good. Very good. So good that it’s very hard to be struck by food envy for your lover’s babaganoush – hard, though not impossible – or the almond puree that comes with the pork belly, when my own orders are proving so brilliant themselves.
I still stand up for equal pâté and pitta access. We don’t want to create any dangerous precedents here. But the truth is, the ravioli are oddly sharp and spectacular, the okra and lamb dish is an incredibly simple stew with ridiculously rich ingredients, like comfort food for sultans. And we’re both so united in contentment that we just order pistachio ice cream and Valrhona chocolate delice for dessert without even negotiating in advance, like saints or something.
After a meal that expansive and rich it takes something really impressive to make you wish you’d managed to cover even more ground on the menu. But that’s precisely what happens in the downstairs bar, where we transfer for a Rusty Nail and a Campari and soda. Maybe those drinks are responsible for the way we’re so readily talked into a post-dinner tiny spoonful of chef Daniel Robinson’s hickory-smoked mashed potatoes.
Mashed potato as digestivo is a new one for both of us. But, like everything else, Aladino’s somehow makes it work.
Aladino’s, 38C, Kensington Church Street, London, W8 4BX. Tel: 0207 9372244. Website.