When Yalla Yalla restaurant first opened in Soho it created a lot of buzz in the foodies quarters and it became an instant hit with the über crowd (I am so sorry for using that word but the option was the equally annoying in crowd). It had all the right ingredients to create a buzz; trendy location, no booking policy leading to long queue at lunch hour, small menu, communal tables and wooden benches, and the list goes on.
Despite wanting to go, mainly to try their pomegranate molasses chicken livers, I never got around to do it until last week. I had an hour or so to kill between work and a colleague leaving drinks. I was really in the mood for Shawerma so I was delighted when I discovered they have a pop-up branch in Shoreditch. A short bus ride from where I was.
I got there around five thirty in the evening to a fairly empty mini food court in what appears to be a converted building site. The place was cleverly designed to fit in with the trendy nature of Shoreditch. Food is prepared and served from what looks like a converted burger van topped with an over sized sign with theatre style lights. It wasn't particularly peak time so there was me and three Shoreditch-arty-type couples complete with the compulsory Pete Doherty hats.
I hesitated for a second when I ordered as I wanted to try their supposedly excellent mezze however I couldn't see chicken liver on the menu so I went for a lamb shawerma wrap and a Coke.
On the van display there were stacks of ready made Arabic bread wraps ready to be reheated in a sandwich press. I assumed these were the chicken shish and kafta sandwiches they have on the menu. All pre prepared since there was no sign of a charcoal grill or smoke indicating freshly grilled meat.
P.S. I absolutely hate this recent trend of serving Lebanese food. Whoever popularised this style needs to be banned from the restaurant trade (see the equally mediocre Comptoir Libanais).
I felt sorry for the poor soles, knowing no better, who would end up eating pre-cooked reheated sandwiches. I, however, will enjoy a freshly made delicious Shawerma sandwich. After all the shawerma was being cooked on site. The meat looked nice a crispy on the rotating spit.
Or that what I thought!
Not in a million year I would have imagined somebody would actually pre-prepare shawerma sandwiches and stack them on the display to be heated and served to paying costumers.
One of the best things about shawerma is the contrast between the meat and the other component of the sandwich. Crispy meat with smoky over caramelised edges against the cool tahini sauce and sharp pickles. Needless to say this was completely lost in Yalla Yalla crime against shawerma. meat was stodgy with uniform bland texture. Tomatoes were completely cooked. And to top it all up, cucumber pickles were hotter, much hotter, than the meat.
For the life of me I can't understand why they decided to serve shawerma this way. There is no excuse apart from laziness to explain it. The meat was there cooked and ready to go, the chef was hanging around doing something or the other, and I ended up eating such an awful sandwich made from meat cooked the morning or a week earlier. Who knows!
To give credit when credit is due, the Toum sauce served with the shawerma was great. Absulotely spot on.
For a place that describes itself as achingly hip (double cringe) it needs to do a lot better. London has some of the best street food in the world. Yalla Yalla doesn't need to look so far for clues. The fantastic Big Apple Hot Dogs is just up the street. Or may be pay a visit to White Cross Street market to see how its done. Hundreds of people descends on the food market at lunch hour. All happily fed freshly made food despite the queues going around the corner.
Yalla Yalla Shoreditch pop up restaurant doesn't belong to the vibrant London street food scene. It belongs to food court at Lakeside shopping centre.