Sarona in Clerkenwell: Simple Middle Eastern cuisine using the best of the summer’s produce
Situated on the Clerkenwell Road, Sarona is a modern Middle Eastern bar and restaurant serving up fusion food from the likes of Palestine, Turkey, Greece, Israel and beyond. The aim is simple: to deliver seasonal, fresh dishes in a thoughtful and considered way, so that every ingredient on the plate serves a purpose.
The interior is simply decorated, with exposed brick walls, beams and pipework. Low-hanging light bulbs decorate the bar, which is the centrepiece of the venue. Upstairs, a large room provides the perfect function space, with couches decked in colourful cushions making for an inviting spot for a drink.
Sarona’s new summer menu offers up small plates made for sharing, a typical staple of the region. The emphasis is on high-quality produce that doesn’t need much interference. Instead, the elements speak clearly for themselves.
This is showcased in an eye-catching salad of organic tomatoes of all colours, served with grated unpasteurised Akawi cheese, typically found in Palestinian and Levantine households. Fresh oregano and a sprinkling of za’atar add wonderfully fragrant notes to the dish while showing that a simple ripe tomato is sometimes all you need. Cauliflower, Tahini and Sumac is another standout starter, florets of the vegetable fried until lightly crispy. They’re a handy tool to mop up the tahini underneath, and the sumac offers a lemony finish.
Next up, the Beetroot, Orange and Feta Salad is a humble dish. Emphasis is again on the seasonality of the produce, with the sweetness of the root vegetable and the citrus offset by the saltiness of the cheese.
Sabanech, Labneh and Pine Nuts is garlicky and tart, with a tangy yoghurt topped with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, the latter of which add a lovely buttery feel to the dish – and some welcome bite. And of course, a mezze-style meal wouldn’t be complete without hummus, which in this instance is served topped with chickpeas and a lemony dressing. It’s heavy on the tahini and has a smoother, more authentic finish than the usual offering in many establishments.
For mains, we opt for charred prawn kebabs. Coated in a spicy marinade, the sweetness of the delicate crustacean is complemented with a punchy harissa-topped mayonnaise which adds a hum of heat to the plate. We also try a dish of burnt aubergine, the delicate flavour of the soft flesh livened with hints of bitterness from the charred skin of the aubergine. Served atop a tahini and yoghurt sauce and tomato concasse, there is a sweetness from a date syrup which is a nice variation from the expected pomegranate molasses that often finds itself in Middle Eastern dishes.
Looking around us, we also see a few patrons enjoying the chicken Schnitzel, a clear nod to the history of Israel and the Jewish influence from Europe. The meal is made with chicken marinated in mustard and served with a butter mash on the side, and is definitely one to come for if you’re after some comfort food.
To finish, we enjoy the Tahini Ice Cream with a caramel sauce, which is reminiscent of halva. The caramel, cooled by the ice cream, solidifies and becomes chewy, making this dessert indulgent and moreish.
We get the chance to speak to executive chef Aviv Lavi, who talks of his love for Levantine and North African cuisine. With Libyan heritage and roots in Israel, it’s easy to see from where he gets his inspiration.
The restauranteur promises Syrian and Iraqi-inspired seasonal menus come the autumn and winter, filled with kibbeh (meat, pine nut and bulgur wheat parcels) and hearty soups. If these offerings pay homage to the food of the region in the same honest way as Sarona’s summer menu, then we’ll definitely be back.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Sarona, 27 Clerkenwell Road Clerkenwell London EC1M 5RN, call 0203 9700490 or visit their website here.