A Taste of L'Oriental

Our reviewer warms herself in Lebanese restaurant

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94 Churchfield Road

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I've been told off several times - justifiably so - for not reviewing L'Oriental which has been a fixture on Churchfield Road for as long as I can remember. So as our place was less hospitable than usual this week (ambient temperature 52 degrees) for boring boiler reasons, we decided it was time to head for the orange glow of somewhere we could eat something warm and nourishing.

A warm orange glow is definitely what you get when you set foot in this small but inviting Lebanese Restaurant. The décor, with its amber pine walls and orange highlights, is so seventies it must be long-overdue for a make-over or full of retro charm, whichever way you see it. But it seems clean and welcoming with the kitchen on view - always a plus for me. This definitely has the ambience more of a café than an evening destination and lunches at L'Oriental are, at least for us, the big draw.

On arrival we were given a dish of delicious salty peanuts with their skins and an assortment of green olives, chopped raw carrot and that strangely salty purple stuff which I think is turnip.

We started with a portion of Motabal (smoked aubergine dip with tahineh and lemon juice). This comes with two pieces of Pitta bread - unrecognisably puffed up and delicious after a spell in what looks like an open sort of flaming pizza oven. The Motabal is creamy and piquant.

Others had chunky chips which came with a portion of ketchup and garlic sauce. I wasn't allowed to taste these so I assume they were as satisfyingly crisp and oily as they looked.

For my main course I chose one of the specials: salmon, cooked with a tahini sauce, French beans, carrots and rice. I wasn't convinced by the salmon and it was completely smothered by the sauce. Quite why I chose it, I'm not sure. As my other half said to me afterwards: "I've never liked tahini and if you order fish with a tahini sauce then that's exactly what you'll get." So that serves me right, then. On the other hand, the beans were truly delicious - topped with slivers of fried onion and a generous amount of mint, they made up for the disappointing tahini and fish combo. There's something lovely about finding a portion of vegetables cooked with as much care and flair as this.

My other half had chicken tagine which was very turmeric-flavoured with a light sauce and came served with some of their wonderful rice. Others ordered Chicken Taouk - grilled chicken breast with tomato, mushrooms and French fries and one Chicken Taouk wrap which was deemed 'good'. Everything is very 'home-cooked' at L'Oriental. We drank San Miguel beers with our meal.

There were a few visits to pick up take-aways while we were there and one other table was occupied. The industrious activity in the kitchen means that you feel you are a guest being entertained in someone's home. This possibly isn't somewhere you'd go for a treat evening out, but for good, filling food at reasonable (though not bargain basement) prices - our meal came to £51 - it's a much-valued destination on Churchfield Road.

Clare Gittins

February 13, 2009