Manu Canales, previously sous chef of Le Gavroche, has finally launched his ten-seater Kebab Queen project in Covent Garden alongside partners Stephen Tozer and Ed Brunet. The trio has previously explored modern, European-influenced kebabs with Kingly Court’s Le Bab and Covent Garden’s Maison Bab. Now, after four years of development, the team has launched its most ambitious opening. At Kebab Queen, the kitchen encourages an uninhibited approach to dining: guests are invited to rip, tear and eat with their hands in a ritual that pays homage to late-night kebabs. Here, dripping all over the table is actively encouraged – you’re even given some homemade bread to mop up the mess – and there’s no cutlery.
Kebab Queen is located on the lower ground-floor of Maison Bab. Behind the illuminated facade of a classic British kebab shop, guests are invited to ring the doorbell and sneak through the prep kitchen to the chef’s table. Here, diners take their place at front-row seats around the kitchen, perched on one of ten cobalt blue, leather-clad stools. Classic kebab shop-style stainless-steel walls (which conceal a cloakroom, abundance of cured meats and chilled wine) are accentuated by pastel pink curtains and a pink-tiled concrete floor.
As we take our seats, we’re encouraged to act as though we’re in a real kebab shop. In lieu of plates, Canales serves each of the six courses directly onto a bespoke, heated Dekton countertop for guests to eat with their hands. Don’t let this put you off: harder than granite, the surface is non-absorbent and is cleaned with edible disinfectant between courses. And between dishes, we’re given heated towels to ensure everything we eat is done so with clean hands.
Served in pairs down the line, we begin with a moreish bite: smoked butter hummus served on a puffed poppadum. Of the six set dishes, we kick things off with ‘Secreto & Couscous’ – a slither of fatty pork taken from the rib of an acorn-eating pig in Spain. Marbled like wagyu, this is rolled in crunchy couscous, glazed with pork juice, dusted with jalapeno powder and topped with pickled lardo. Another two-bite wonder includes the ‘Foie Gras Kebabito’: a miniature kebab of BBQ’d foie gras, served with potato cubes cooked in duck fat, raisins soaked in Gran Marnier and date puree.
Our hit of the night has to be third course the ‘Doner Risotto’: an intense lamb jus risotto finished with classic garnishes such as chilli sauce, garlic ‘mayo’ and shavings of cured lamb tongue. Served between two, you’ll have to move quick to beat your dining partner for the most spoonfuls (this is the one dish where you’re permitted cutlery).
This is followed by chargrilled shish kebab of monkfish, cured monkfish liver and crispy chicken skin plated onto a charred cabbage leaf. Once we’ve finished, Brunet comes around to offer diners more of the moreish chicken skin, as he does with the charred bits of secreto and the crisp skin of our next course, rum-aged spit-roasted ‘Fesenjan Duck’. Inspired by Iranian stew, slices of crisp duck are served with a crust of crunchy persian rice – intended to be pulled apart with the fingers – walnut puree and leaves tossed in a caramel dressing.
When it comes to dessert, we delve into ‘Got Milk?’, a freshly baked sticky milk bun filled with caramelised cream and topped with homogenised milk and crème fraiche sorbet. An ode to Canales’ childhood, this is nostalgia on a plate. This is paired with a cream soda cocktail, made with Grey Goose vodka.
Take our advice: you need to opt for the paired drinks. Available for £45pp, the menu includes a glass on fizz on arrival; a grand cru riesling with the secreto; a 1994 port with the rich kebabito (a match made in heaven); an orange wine which stands up to the heat of the risotto; ‘Hazy Daze’ IPA by the London Beer Factory alongside the meaty monkfish; a traditional cabinet sauvignon with the duck; and the aforementioned cream soda cocktail to accompany the milk buns. Common advice dictates that you should never mix your drinks, but here – much like the food – subverting the norm pays off and offers a series of matches that really work.
We’d already tried Le Bab and Maison Bab and loved both experiences, but this is something else. For a start, the warm hospitality really shines through in a more intimate setting, and each dish and drink is explained in detail and on a one-on-one basis, so you really get a feel for what you’re eating.
We also recommend you allow time to make an event of it. Starting at 7:30pm, the one sitting of the night lasts around three-and-a-half hours and is filled with Michelin-worthy dishes, sneaky morsels and, most of all, fun. Trust us, this is no ordinary late-night grub experience.
4 Mercer Walk, Covent Garden, WC2H 9FA; open Thursdays-Saturdays, dinner starts at 7:30pm
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