posted by Alex Blackie
A night out that’s frugal but fun
For our date night, we knew we were going to see a film at the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill; the rest was up for grabs. After 12 years together, we’ve discovered that the ingredients to our perfect night out are one-half good food, one-quarter spontaneity and one-quarter not feeling pressured to have a great time because the total babysitter-meal-drinks-transport bill is too high.
At £3.50 a ticket on Tuesday nights, the Coronet ticks one box. Watching the first film on ticks a second. Hopefully, the discovery of a new cafe in Notting Hill will tick the third.
Then—how could she—the babysitter cancelled. Undeterred, I called a friend who likes babysitting swapping. Incredibly, she was free after her kids were in bed and her husband home. And she needed a babysitter the following week—perfect.
With our child in tow for an extra few hours, the Notting Hill cafe was not in the cards. Instead we went out for a meal en famille to Shepherds Bush Abu Zaad’s on the corner of Uxbridge Road and Lime Grove. An old-time favourite, we haven’t been since its competitor opened nearby, Ayam Zaman.
As soon as we stepped into Abu Zaad’s, we felt transported to a different country despite spending most of our waking hours on Uxbridge Road. The staff’s warm welcome of children has always compensated for their sometimes brusque manner with us adult folk. The waiters beamed at our daughter and treated her like an Arabian princess.
We were sat in the big back room, a disappointment for me being away from the front windows. However, my husband and daughter love that area’s extravagant gold decor and the ambiance from large tables of friends and family noisily devouring colourful plates of salads, tagines and meats.
We tried something new for our first course, Arayes (£3.50), grilled pitta bread with minced veal, onion, cheese, pepper and pine nuts. We all loved it despite our different palates and were only disappointed we didn’t have more.
For his main, husband went off-piste from his usual tagine to try the Makloba (£7.50). An unexpectedly modern structure of yellow rice with lamb bricks and aubergine pillars, he found it delicious. The lamb was tender, the aubergines nicely grilled and, unusually for this rice-eating machine, the rice portion large enough. The dish was let down by a limp iceberg side-salad, but he would have probably left it uneaten anyway.
With my vegetarian tendencies, I had my usual selection of three cold appetizers (£6.50). Warak Inab, a variation on traditional stuffed vine leaves with a zing of tomato and lemon; the Abu Zaad salad, a new and disappointing small portion of rocket with diced haloumi; and Makdous, scrumptious baby aubergines stuffed with crunchy walnuts.
Our daughter had a haloumi cheese wrap (£3) which she is still talking about as her favourite meal ever. Filled with lots of cheese, its different salads and tahini sauce kept my nutrient count happy.
The dessert choices were running low and we were steered towards the Konafa (£2.50), a moreish mix of melted cheese and syrup. A must for cheese fans, it tastes much nicer than it sounds.
My dodgy tendency towards nostalgia complained that Abu Zaad’s was not how it used to be. One of my salads was not great and I am unsure about the revamped menu with organic olive oil and mouth-watering aubergines. However, I stand corrected by my family: Abu Zaad’s is as good as ever. For under £25, we had a large, healthy, tasty family meal.
And back to date night. We dropped our child back home with our friend and set off for the 94 to the Coronet. The film was not great (what was is it again?), a risk we take in exchange for no planning. And actually, sitting on old red velvet seats hand-in-hand, not feeling like we’re contained in a Vue surround-sound box, was treat enough.
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About the Author:
Alex Blackie is a Shepherd’s Bush writer, mother and big fan of the portfolio career. She’s published in the broadsheets, has a weekly column on Anglo-Australian family life in London, her own blog and loves working at Kite Studios. She spends most of her spare time writing stories and playing word games with her daughter. Photograph by Clara Molden.