Norwich: Threeways Lebanese
Middle Eastern cuisine is not just evocative of the region but healthy too. SARAH BREALEY visits a long-established Lebanese restaurant in Norwich.
I was in a supermarket in the north of England recently when my eye was caught by a potato and butter pie. To be precise, a family-sized potato and butter pie, which described itself as 'potatoes and onions in a butter sauce encased in shortcrust pastry'.
My first thought was that I have never seen anything so seemingly calculated to cause a heart attack, so short of nutritional qualities except for fat and starch.
I have since discovered that this dish is a speciality of Lancashire — but really, we English as a nation do stodge like no-one else, don't we? It awoke a craving for vegetables and protein, for big flavours and no stodge. And so I alighted at the city centre stalwart Threeways Lebanese.
We tried two of the special soups, a Lebanese pumpkin soup and a mixed bean soup. The bean soup was my favourite, spicy with Middle Eastern flavours like cinnamon and the hotter edge of chilli. The pumpkin soup was good too, its subtle spicing balancing the sweetness of the pumpkin. They are served with warm thin flatbread.
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There are lots of main courses which are broadly divided into grilled meat or fish dishes. On the meat side this covers barbecued lamb cutlets, chicken kebabs, and fillet steak, while the wide range of fish dishes covers mackerel, red snapper and sea bass to name a few. But in my view Lebanese cuisine is all about the mezze, so we got a mezze plate to share.
The mezze was a good illustration of the overlap between Lebanese food and that of Turkey, Greece and Syria. There were favourites found across the Middle East like humous and falafal, plus the Lebanese salad fattoush, a mixed salad topped with crispy pieces of bread. There were sambusik, little pastries filled with spinach and pine nuts or feta and parsley. And there were green beans served at room temperature in tomato, garlic and olive oil, which I particularly enjoyed. Chick peas in a tomato sauce were good too.
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Humous was much like humous usually is, with the slightly bitter background note of tahini. A slight criticism was that the baba ghanoush, a smoky aubergine dip which I usually love, seemed oddly lacking in aubergine and high in tahini, so not only was it the same colour and texture as the humous, it was rather too similar in flavour too.
We also had an extra mezze dish of deep-fried sprats. These little fish are served similarly to whitebait but are a bit bigger and with a stronger flavour, more like a sardine.
Squares of flatbread had been deep-fried with the fish – I suppose you could think of it as the Lebanese equivalent of poppadoms, though it didn't do much for me.
There was a creamy tahini dip for the fish to be plunged into.
There is a reasonably-priced wine list, including Lebanese reds and whites, and a couple of English real ales in bottles, of which the Real Ale Drinker had the Golden Glory.
There is a choice of lagers, and I tried the Lebanese version, called Almaza if memory serves me right, which was not noticeably different to lager from any other country.
For those of you on special diets, there are plenty of vegetarian options, and a large number of vegan ones too. Gluten-free options are not labelled, but you should be able to find several choices - they cook nearly everything from scratch so can explain what's in it if you ask.
We didn't need desserts, but there are baklava, which are syrup-soaked pastries, and halva, which is a sweetmeat made from sesame seeds, or a milk pudding called mohalabia.
None of these would quite have counted as stodge, but I wanted to avoid anything with the merest whiff of it, on this stodge-free night – with not a potato and butter pie in sight.
Brigg Street (above Thomas Cook)
Open: Tues-Fri12pm-2.30pm/6pm-11pm, Sat12pm-11pm
Prices: Mezze dishes from �4.50, mains from �11.90
Vegetarian options: Numerous
Wheelchair access: Restaurant is on the first floor up a flight of stairs.