Full disclosure: this meal was a total and utter freebie, hands up. I'd never heard of Soho Joe, the family-run pizza restaurant on Dean Street, but I was invited to visit their new sister restaurant Cookhouse Joe on Berwick Street, and the promise of a combination of Lebanese dishes and rotisserie chicken enticed me.
I arrived hungry, ready for a long overdue catch up with my good friend David from Bear's Landing - and it was just as well, because for the next three hours an almost constant stream of dishes appeared in front of us, washed down with two complimentary bottles of prosecco (yes, that's one each, which explains why both of us bears had sore heads the next day).
Maybe it was the extremely generous quantity of free food and bubbly talking, but we had a truly enjoyable evening. Personally we both preferred the Lebanese mezze starters to the main course of rotisserie chicken with American-style sides (which I felt you could find decent versions of at any number of reasonable pubs or streetfood markets). Having said that, all of our dishes were cooked well - our rotisserie chicken was very juicy and tender, which was a relief after reading a less-favourable review from a well-respected blogger who'd visited when the restaurant first opened.
Cookhouse Joe also offers some great bargain meal deals if you are in the mood for a quick and easy lunch, with a variety of filled wraps plus fries for only a fiver. The service was ultra friendly and enthusiastic, yet politely understated at the same time - the waiting team didn't seem to mind that we'd been hogging one of their prime upstairs tables for the entire evening! We were even presented with a shot of eye-opening limoncello to warm our bones when we eventually finished gorging ourselves and stumbled out onto the Soho pavement late at night (not that we needed any more alcohol by that stage!).
I'd gladly go back to Cookhouse Joe as a paying guest (their addictive moutabal dip is reason enough to return!) and I'd recommend their mezze to anyone in the mood for Lebanese food and wishing to avoid the giant queues for nearby Yalla Yalla. Judging by the talk on twitter about Soho Joe's pizzas, I need to pay big brother a visit next too!
Eyeing up the impressive meal deals whilst nibbling on some Mediterranean olives and pickles
As someone who loves cheeses with powerful flavours I've never been a big fan of halloumi, but its stint on the grill made this mild cheese far more palatable. On reflection, if I'd realised how much more food there was to come I would have paced myself on the warm pitta pockets!
It always surprises me how something so simple can taste so delicious - we lapped up this creamy chickpea hummus and smooth smokey puréed aubergine moutabal dip!
Chicken wings so tender that the meat fell right off the bone, served with a vampire-repelling garlic mayonnaise that won David's approval. We agreed that the skin still needed to be slightly crispier in order to fully satisfy our inner cavemen (or cavewoman in my case)
Next up came a refreshing tabbouleh salad with soft falafels as big as golf balls. This nutty tahini dressing was actually my favourite sauce of the night, so irresistible that I couldn't stop myself dunking yet more of those soft flatbreads!
Our other top dish of the night was the rich lamb kofte, packed with flavour from red chilli and parsley. In comparison, the accompanying chilli sauce wasn't full-bodied enough for our liking, but according to our attentive waiter it has proved very popular with other diners
Having had more than our fair share of mezze by this point, we were slightly stunned when half a rotisserie chicken was brought to our table! Served in Cookhouse Joe's trademark tins, the juicy chicken was paired with a portion of classic fries plus three dips (garlic mayonnaise, chilli sauce, and a cucumber and mint yoghurt)
Buttery sweet corn on the cob with extra smokey notes thanks to the char grill
In my eyes no-one can ever come close to my Dad's perfect coleslaw, but this was a pleasant mixture of crunchy vegetables and light dressing that matched the more American elements of the main course
By now the light outside had faded, and we were feeling seriously stuffed. But it would have been rude to turn down the homemade apple pie that was presented to us, especially as the stewed fruit had been heavily scented with my beloved cinnamon. Somehow we managed to polish off the whole tin - and I'm hoping to try the baklava on my next visit!