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Hide and souk

Mick Middles goes bizarre bazaar

Published on October 31st 2007.

Hide and souk

Bridge Street, Warrington, is not one of the classic gastro-strips of Cheshire. Not even of Warrington, being largely a rather squalid domain peopled by aficionados of the kebab and, later into the night, flocks of bullish Chav gulls gorging themselves on discarded burgers and pittas.

As such, it seemed rather incongruous for Ali Alfakih to open Andalucia, late in 2006, where eastern Mediterranean cuisine would be served within an unlikely capsule of sumptuous exotica.

I never tire of the
thrill of stepping over that threshold, where the spice of holiday prevails and you can trip into a state of divine disorientation. The only downside being that Warrington lurks darkly outside, like a deadening, inevitable reality

A place of velvet cushions and Syrian brass light-shades, of cabinets filled with authentic ancient artefacts and lush oak tables shipped from the far reaches, The questions were many and valid. Why here of ALL places? Why not Knutsford? After all, his previous establishment had nestled neatly in Knightsbridge.

“Warrington people deserve quality cuisine,” he stated grandly, and many of us remained somewhat unconvinced.

One year later, Andalucia remains beautifully intact and, if it hasn’t exactly been clutched to the hearts of those who frequent the nearby “Panama Jacks Ultimate Party Experience”, it has certainly built a steady and regular fan base…a body of folk who include yours truly. Indeed, I never tire of the thrill of stepping over that threshold, seemingly into a different world, where the spice of holiday prevails and you can trip into a state of divine disorientation. The only downside being that Warrington lurks darkly outside like a deadening, inevitable reality.

However, all the finest restaurants offer a step into the delightfully surreal. This is certainly true here.

“What is this place…. a café? A bar? A restaurant?”, a somewhat vulgar and bullish imbiber quizzed loudly upon entry. Although stated inelegantly, their question proved valid. For Andalucia is all these things: Café and coffee bar downstairs – and what coffee, dense, syrupy and mind blowingly powerful – restaurant up the creakingly sublime staircase, and two chill-out rooms, adorned with Syrian blankets and even, should the fancy take you, hubbabubba pipes.

I always adore a restaurant that takes a relatively simple cuisine from a largely poor area, and serves it with freshness and panache. Such is the case here. Lebanese cuisine sits close to the finest elements of Greek. All part of the chickpea circle, where hummus remains king (although one might say the same of Sainsbury’s).

The hummus (£3.50) of Andalucia is pure, fine, addictive and attacks your senses from the first second. No room here for lemony or olive gimmicks. This is the real deal, piped, adorned with coriander and served in terracotta.

It is found within the ‘Cold Mezza’ section, and the dishes which share this entry-level aspect of the menu are equally simplistic and delightfully so. The mixed Mediterranean pickles knowm as Kabis (£2.00) being another example. These were sweetly accompanied by a Tabbouleh (£3.50), being a parsley salad with tomato, mint and onion, cracked wheat, lemon juice and olive oil.

My partner in crime here, herself wholly addicted to the sharp blends of flavours, noted that such simplicity is indicative of village cuisine where the locals fully understand just how powerful a salad can be –as opposed to the watery concoctions that tend to be created on steamy afternoons in Mablethorpe – and the cleansing properties are immense.

I immediately fell for this line and ordered the vast and variable Andalucia Salad, a tumble of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. mint, onion, radish and fine Lebanese spices (£3.50) to accompany something called Fatayer B’Sabaneckh (£2.90), a Lebanese pastry filled with spinach, onion, lemon olive oil and pine kernels.

By contrast, my partner’s severely non-vegetarian ‘Tawayeh Lahem’ (£9.00) saw the veal arrive in cubic forms and spectacularly arranged around simmering rice, whole clouds of garlic air rising from our midst and powerful enough to create a ripple of interest at the next table.

By this time, shards of sunlight had burst into the dark room. This may seem like something of a side issue, but it certainly increased the illusion that, outside, cattle would be milling dustily through some overcrowded marketplace where purple-clad women bartered for stone necklaces. The truth, a knot of semi-naked scallies clustered around a “pumping” Honda Type R, proved somewhat grounding.

Both wishing the dream to continue, we retired with pots of green tea and a (free) selection of crafted Lebanese pastries, clustered with nuts and syrup, settling us into a state of mild somnolence.

Of course it couldn’t last, but the illusion is there to be used. At some point, an ungracious exit to Bridge Street awaits and, once beyond that exotic arch, leaden skies await and the spice fades.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining restaurants against the best fine dining restaurants, pizzerias against the best pizzerias and so on.

Rating: 17/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
5/5 Ambience
Address: Andalucia Lebanese and Mediterranean Cuisine
Bridge Street
01925 654165

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GordoOctober 31st 2007.

thats a big fat score for a Lebenese restaurant, nudging a Michelin bib or maybe star....

John Moston ManchesterOctober 31st 2007.

Paul M! Of course Warrington is so envious of the sleepy little cheshire village of widnes, I'm sure this place is a trial run for bigger and better in widnes..with chips and burgers on the menu of course to cater for your developed taste ;)

Amy HynesOctober 31st 2007.

Adulucia is fantastic....whether you want a full evening meal or just a few drinks and a platter of delights to share with friends in the lounge area! Pizza's are great too!!

John Lennon AirportOctober 31st 2007.

Did you say Lebanese? I thought he said it was a lesbian restaurant. Bugger!

Paul MOctober 31st 2007.

"The only downside being that Warrington lurks darkly outside like a deadening, inevitable reality."Howls of laughter from this Widnes lad!

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