Norwich: Baba Ghanoush

Sam WilliamsCheap and simple can be a recipe for fast food disaster, but not at Baba Ghanoush where they get the most from fresh ingredients to produce exotic delights. SAM WILLIAMS paid a visit.Sam Williams

Cheap and simple can be a recipe for fast food disaster, but not at Baba Ghanoush where they get the most from fresh ingredients to produce exotic delights. SAM WILLIAMS paid a visit.

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Baba Ghanoush is situated in the heart of the city, nestled above the Green Party headquarters on Dove Street. but with just a door at ground level to advertise it is easy to miss.

It is in the former premises of the Tree House, which until its unexpected closure had been a fixture on the Norwich restaurant scene for decades peddling simple vegetarian food.

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It's replacement is no longer solely vegetarian, though meat-free dishes still feature heavily. The menu is largely inspired by Middle Eastern and North African cuisine.

The great thing about eating in countries like Lebanon, Egypt or Jordan is that you get cheap simple, yet fragrantly fresh food, often in bustling street side cafes or stalls. It's fast food in the very best sense. And it is that essence that Baba Ghanoush sets out to capture, albeit in a more formal restaurant setting.

With wooden chairs and tables and a planked floor, the small restaurant is simply furnished, giving it a rustic but elegant look.

And with windows overlooking the nearby streets and gentle lighting, it is also a romantic setting.

With a selection of wines by the glass, all priced at �3.50 for small and �4.75 for large, I choose the Tempranillo and my partner the cabernet sauvignon.

The menu is in the style of tapas or mezze, with a selection of about 15 small dishes, all priced around �5, which can be shared in a communal meal. We choose two each, plus an order of bread, baked on site.

The Persian chicken with pomegranate comprises two decent size pieces of chicken in an aromatic sauce, with walnuts, cinnamon and preserved lemon flavours coming through.

The sauce is delicious and plentiful, if a little thin, and great mopped up with the bread.

The Moroccan lamb meatballs are well proportioned, with four large balls in a simple tomato sauce.

Browned nicely on the outside, on the inside they also contain apricot and pistachio, giving them a distinctive North African sweetness and fragrance.

There is also a good selection of vegetarian dishes on the menu. The grilled aubergine, halloumi and tomato rolls come with cherry tomatoes, lightly cooked with fresh basil.The salty halloumi cheese, sweet and sharp tomatoes and aromatics of the herbs are a great combination, along with soft aubergine, which is not overly oily.

Delicious, although to my taste it could do with a little more seasoning.

The mejaradah - a dish of fragrant rice cooked with puy lentils and sweet fried onion - does not disappoint, offering some welcome starch and spice.

With the generous portion of bread, two dishes each is ample, although those with bigger appetites may want to opt for three, or choose from the selection of dips to start.

About five desserts are available on the day we visit, and we choose to share a rhubarb crumble (�5.50).

The rhubarb is perfectly cooked, with the sweetness and sharpness well balanced, and topped with a satisfying crunchy and nutty crumble, reminiscent of hobnob biscuits.

It is served with a delicious cr�me anglais, which along with all the food on sale is prepared from scratch on site.

With friendly service, a pleasant atmosphere and a good range of tasty dishes, Baba Ghanoush may be easy to miss, but is arguably a hidden gem.

t Baba Ghanoush, 14 Dove Street, Norwich, 01603 766777,

t Prices: Main mezze-style dishes priced around �5

t Wheelchair access: No (upstairs)

t Vegetarian option: Plenty.


Service: ****

Food: ****

Atmosphere: ****

Family: ***