Habas has been inspired by chef patron Simon Shaw’s love of Middle Eastern food which started when, as a young chef, he would enjoy Middle Eastern food like chicken shawarma and Persian dishes after finishing late night restaurant shifts.
Simon said: “I was probably into Middle Eastern food before Spanish if I’m honest. It was back in ‘98 when I was living in London that I first became interested in it. Going for a shawarma late at night was our thing.
“We’d go to these incredible places on Edgeware Road or in Bayswater after work, or even after we’d been out, it was quite a social thing. I remember thinking wow, what a great style of food this is; it’s amazing, so fresh and vibrant.
“I knew then that I wanted to open a modern Middle Eastern restaurant; this isn’t a new thing. I’ve directed some of that influence into dishes at El Gato Negro as there’s so much overlap in styles and ingredients, but it’s really exciting to focus on this diverse region’s many cuisines with Habas.”
The restaurant has been a long time coming, as the team has actually had the building on Brown Street for four years but, due to various reasons and most recently due to the pandemic, the restaurant has only just been able to open.
Walking down the stairs into the Grade II listed building, diners are greeted by a neon logo as they descend the steps towards the bar area. The space comprises a large dining area with an open kitchen; a bar serving signature and classic Middle Eastern cocktails, wines, beers and spirits; a lounge area where there will be live music performances; and a private dining area.
Some of the original features of the building has been restored, like exposed brickwork and original terracotta floor tiles. The space has a cosy feel, filled with wooden, leather and velvet furniture and dotted with Middle Eastern furnishings like Persian rugs and woven cushions. There are also some pieces that Simon has collected over the years like a neon bee sign, a retro fruit machine and a Manchester-themed mosaic.
Speaking about the space Simon said: “I always knew we’d acquired a great space. It’s everything I like about buildings, it’s old, it’s quirky, it’s got lots of different facets to it. When it was empty it was amazing but once we started to put the furniture in, and the bits I’ve been collecting these last four or five years, it ticked every box. It’s reminiscent of some of the influences from Tel Aviv that I saw. It’s everything I expected and more.”
The menu is split into six sections: mezze, seafood, meat, vegetables and grains, desserts, and sweets.
The mezze platter (£9.50) includes Habas hummus, whipped labneh, mixed spiced nuts, baba ganoush; olives and pickles, toasted lavosh bread and homemade pitta bread. Among the other dishes on the mezze menu are filo cigars with feta,, spinach and tomato with a red pepper sauce (£8.50), a Levant style chicken liver pate (£7).
Seafood dishes include prawn and crab fritters (£7), chargrilled octopus with smokey aubergine and crispy shallots (£13) and chargrilled monkfish with tamarind sauce and tahini dressing (£13.50).
Signature dishes on the meat menu include spicy lamb ‘jackets’ which are fried potato skins filled with lamb and minted yoghurt (£8.50) and a crispy fried chicken schnitzel with chilli and lime butter (£11).
For sides, the list features bulgar wheat salad with cauliflower and pomegranate (£5.50), wilted spinach with peanuts and chilli (£5.50), Syrian lentils with zhug (£6) and Lebanese batata harra – spiced fried potatoes with dill sour cream (£5).
To finish there is a range of desserts like chocolate babka with coconut ice cream, Turkish delight cheesecake and Medjool date and orange cake, pistachio ice cream (all £6.50), alongside traditional sweets like baklava and homemade Turkish delight.
Touching on the menu Shaw added: “I’m very happy with the menu, it’s six months hard work, it feels well balanced and completely different to everything else that I’ve done. There are a couple of old El Gato favourites in there, which as I’ve said before, were always waiting in the wings, but they sit really well with the style of this food. I’m really happy with it.”
Diners can enjoy a lunch deal from 12 to 5pm Monday to Friday which is £15 per person and includes a selection of small plates, bread, hummus, zhug and sour cream, and can a drink can be added (Beirut beer, house wine or soft drink) for an extra £2.50.
Habas is located at 43a Brown Street and is open from Wednesday to Sunday with last food orders at 10pm. To book a table visit: www.habas.co.uk.