Open Mon-Fri 12pm–11pm, Sat 11am–11pm Sun 11.am–10pm

The blurb

The scents and spices of the Levant waft from the doors of CERU on Bute Street in South Kensington, just a shout away from the District Line tube, and close to the Royal Albert Hall, the area’s major museums, as well as the shops of Chelsea and Knightsbridge.What goes in to the array of dishes on our menu? – nearly 100 ingredients with more than 20 spices, including some that may be new to you, as well as a generous handful of nuts, and – most important of all – the humble lemon, zested, sliced or juiced, a little yellow nugget of culinary sunshine that is the powerhouse behind our kitchen.

The style

A modern interpretation of an otherwise typically Middle-Eastern aesthetic, Ceru is light and airy with just the right amount of gilded furniture, mosaic tiling and heavy, distressed doors. Juxtaposed perfectly with clean textile and light wood, booths and tables are lined around the kitchen to give diners a relaxed ‘watch while you eat’ setting. I personally love an open kitchen, not least because I’m an avid people watcher, but who doesn’t want to see how and where their food is prepared?

The crowd

It was relatively quiet when we arrived at 11.30am (fair enough), but by midday we saw a mix of everyone from a group of American ladies – I’d like to think the type that lunch (wine was definitely on the agenda), Middle-Eastern people – myself included – which is a good sign in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Young couples coming in for their weekend brunch and young families who appeared to have stumbled across Ceru on their potter around South Ken.

The food

We ordered from the brunch menu as well as the all day one. It would have been sacrilege to tend a Levantine table and not order shakshuka – the Kahvalti Merguez sausage shakshuka (£12) – Merguez sausages, grilled Halloumi and baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce served with freshly baked pita bread) was a generous portion of flavoursome, hearty deliciousness. Washed down with a freshly pressed carrot, apple and ginger juice (£4), it was time to move on to the all day menu – a varied and well thought out choice of dishes from across the Levantine region.

We began with a selection of three dips (£5.5), which consisted of Fadi – roasted zucchini, garlic, lemon and tahini, Hammara – tangy red pepper dip with walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and a dollop of houmous, too. All very tasty, but the Fadi was the unanimous favourite. And although we didn’t want to fill up on bread – the freshly baked goodness that comes alongside the dips is dangerously moreish – it was no mean feat to resist ordering more. To complement the dips was the dish that was probably the main highlight for me; a crisp apple, mint & pomegranate salad with pea shoots, roasted pine nuts and green chilli (£6). Sure, it’s a salad but the balance of flavours was something special. It was abundant in fresh ingredients and cleverly put together to allow every single element to be appreciated and savoured on the palette.

From the meat section we ordered the lamb shoulder – slow roasted for 5 hours in a secret blend of 12 shawarma spices, with a pomegranate, fresh mint and pistachio sauce (£15). While the meat itself was superbly tender, the flavours were quite fragrant and needed a bit of getting used to. That said, it was a very well executed lamb dish and a generous one at that.

We finished everything off with a coffee and portion of baklava (£3.5). The baklava was one of the best I’ve tried. Needless to say, I asked for another piece (or two).

For the tipple, the drinks list catered for everyone from champagne coiffures to those of a cocktail persuasion. My partner was tempted by the Almaza Lebanese Pilsner beer (£5) and found it super refreshing (especially with the meaty dishes). All in all, you won’t be hard-pushed to find a refresher of your liking on the Ceru drinks list.

Service was prompt, pleasant and laid-back enough so we didn’t feel bombarded. We had a knowledgeable waitress who seemed very confident in her advice – something I personally appreciate when it comes to good service.

In a nutshell

An affordable and clever selection of some of the best flavours and ingredients that celebrate the Levantine region.

The details

7–9 Bute Street, South Kensington, London, SW7 3EY 02031953001; www.cerurestaurants.com

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