In review: Berber & Q


As should be apparent from a quick glance into my archives, I’m really quite keen on small plates and caring-sharing setups over the dinner table. A reflection of how our attention spans have narrowed to that of a gnat, even the way we consume food hasn’t escaped the 140-character-style morsels. It seems like a restaurant can’t open (in London anyway) without it investing heavily in side plates, tiny crockpots and mini rustic boards. Despite the slightly sneery way some regard the ‘trend’, nevertheless it’s a very sociable way to eat.

But really this is no modern invention; like tapas, mezze has been around for centuries. I remember vividly going to Turkey when I was younger (albeit not centuries ago – I’m not that old) and being amazed by the variety the bustling markets and casual eateries had to offer. It was a far cry from the meat-and-two-veg, one-plate-per-person set-up at home. I was always slightly disappointed when we’d eat out in Turkey and not go down the mezze route.

Barbecue on the other hand has become a more recent interest. While London groans under the weight of another toasted brioche bun and rare breed patty, as the capital’s number of posh burger joints swells as much as our collective waistbands, for someone who has a love-hate relationship with carbs, barbecue is a much more Ian-friendly genre.

So the advent of Berber & Q, a mezze-meets-Maillard reaction hybrid of the two down one of Haggerston’s funny cobbled streets, should be right up mine. In truth the food’s spiritual home is much closer to Turkey than Texas, the Q in the restaurant’s name referencing the huge fiery mangal all of the meat and some of the vegetables are cooked on.

While I’m normally sceptical of fusion restaurants, it’s just a tad disappointing that the mash-up between the two cultures hasn’t been explored more thoroughly. That said, the food is pretty darn good and is no worse off for its Middle Eastern bias. I had read Jay Rayner’s effusive review of Berber & Q before we went, looking for some guidance on what not to miss. While he was complimentary about most aspects of the menu, he was particularly taken by the smoked short rib (you’d hope so for £18), so the short rib we duly ordered, alongside the Mechoui hand-pulled fore-quarter of lamb as the main events among an assortment of other bits and bobs.

Strangely though, said bits-and-bobs were far from the side shows: they were the stars. Under ‘pickles’, the Moroccan carrots (£2.50) were fragrant and savoury, their sprinkling of Nigella seeds adding a satisfying crunch. Blackened aubergine from the mezzes had definitely benefitted from a scorching on the mangal. Beets with whipped feta, saffron and candied orange felt fresh yet luxurious. Meanwhile the lamb and ribs, while perfectly fine, never hit the heights of the well-seasoned, exuberantly spiced and deftly flavoured sides, odd considering the significant difference in price between meat and mezze dishes. A depth of flavour and lack of seasoning throughout the meat on this occasion meant they were definitely overshadowed.

A carafe of Georgian (country, not era) orange wine served mainly to wash things down – it lacked additional character to make it genuinely interesting and was a little too acidic for the sides we’d ordered. Mea culpa on that choice though. 

This all sounds a bit down, but I actually really enjoyed Berber & Q. The atmosphere was buzzy in a very bare-brick, loudish music, under a railway arch in East London way and the service was friendly. I’ll definitely go back, but unlike Mr Rayner, I’ll be hanging with the veggies. And that’s something I never thought I’d say.

Berber & Q
Arch 338
Acton Mews
E8 4EA

Open Tuesday to Sunday, no bookings (obvs)

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