Carmel

A new-ish Levantine spot from the team behind Berber & Q comes Carmel in Queen’s Park, an unlikely neighbourhood somewhere in-between Maida Vale and Kilburn.  Tucked around the corner from Queen’s Park station, Lonsdale Road is one of those alluring, soulful little discoveries that London can somehow still keep under wraps: a wide cobbled mews, strung here and there with fairy lights, dotted with start-ups, and buzzing an unpretentious coolness on a Spring Sunday evening, I sense locals are keen to keep this spot on the DL.  It’s also home to Milk Beach – another spot on My List.

Carmel is named after the Hebrew word for “vineyard”.  The music sets the tone as soon as you walk in, with electronic beats that melt into the background but suit the warehouse-style exposed brick and tiles interiors down to the ground.  Carmel is small, but the team has packed as many people in as they can.  On the Sunday evening I visit, there’s not a seat to be had. 

The seating is in three parts: a small collection of tables along one edge, a long table with benches in the middle that seats 16 in a communal style and two bar areas with stools and a tiled top.  My companion and I nabbed a couple of counter stools in front of the kitchen.  Like the Palomar family of restaurants, this is where all the magic happens.  One of the chefs, who had worked in Tel Aviv for a number of years, happily guided us through the menu, gave the waitress our orders and offered us their specialty flatbread on the house!

Having opened late last year, Carmel is blossoming under the tutelage of NW6-based chef-owner Josh Katz.  The menu is one of those that you could shut your eyes, point to anything and be totally happy with what turns up.  It’s divided into snacks, sourdough flatbreads (think pizza meets pide), small plates and large plates: everything sounding utterly lush, with inspiration from North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Flavours are robust and punchy; nearly everything is liberally flame-licked.  Sitting at the kitchen counter and going with all the chef’s recommendations, first arrived the charred hispi cabbage (£9.90).  Bearing blackened leaves, this sat above a bed of tahini (a switch from labneh to make the dish vegan) and was topped with a generous scattering of chunky macadamia dukkah which brought the dish to life.

Next came the turmeric-roasted cauliflower (£10.50) with tahini, pomegrante agrodolce and walnuts.  The dish had that ideal interplay of textures and flavours:  sweet, tangy and spicy all at once.  Like almost everything at Carmel, the real flavours are in these smears, yoghurts and dressings.

But not to miss are the flatbreads: we ordered Ezme (£12), a pizzetta style sourdough topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and melt-in-the-mouth confit garlic.  Utterly divine.

Also thrown in on behalf of the kitchen was their signature Za’atar flatbread (£6).  Bubbled, fragrant and pillowy light, this was served beside a tahini and fermented chilli dip studded in smooth, smartly muzzled ferocity.

The chef also recommended the Hummus with mesabaha, ambra (£6) served with sourdough.  Like no other hummus around, this chickpea-dotted bowl reminded me of the kind of fresh hummus you’d find at an Israeli hummus bar.

To offset the smokey, grilled finish of the small plates and flatbreads, the Iberiko Tomato Salad (£11.90) featuring avocado, crutons and almonds was light, zingy and dusted with a tangy sumac.  Just like the other dishes at Carmel, one of the things that makes the mezze so effective here is the rigour that’s always lurking beneath the presentational casualness and familiarity of the plates.  

In cooking ingenuity, Carmel leaves Berber & Q way behind.  Dainty, delightful, good for both larger groups or an intimate supper for two, it’s absolutely heaven.  Breakfast / brunch is also now on offer and looks great.  For nuanced, flame-licked Levantine showstoppers, definitely head here.

Carmel, 23-25 Lonsdale Rd, London NW6 6RA

Website: http://www.carmelrestaurant.co.uk/

Rating: *****

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