Tucked just off the High Street and set slightly back, you could walk right past Al-Bader, but take yourself down a little alleyway and step inside to somewhere that does a pretty good job of transporting you away from Coventry and to somewhere much more reminiscent of the Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine it offers with a traditional interior and rare, but authentic, lack of alcohol on the menu.
Instead, while you’re deciding which Middle Eastern dishes to go for, you can try one of their fruit juices, millkshakes or mocktails. A sacrifice for some, but for anyone who has been to Marrakesh or similar destinations, this cultural difference from our cocktail-craving, wine quaffing vibe feels all the more authentic to the cuisine on offer.
We start with a mixed mezze platter – a heaving plate of several choices from the starter menu. Two different types of houmous, one slightly spicy, and a smoky, smooth baba ghanoush that I could happily have eaten a bucketload of, scooped up with the pillowy flatbread piled high in a basket.
Falafel were a far cry from the dense bullets you buy from a supermarket, crispy on the outside but lighter inside and packed with flavour including a hint of sesame, while vine leaves were filled with rice laced with herbs, tomatoes and onions with the grassy notes of olive oil and a zing of lemon. The final piece of the puzzle was Tabbouleh, a fragrant, fresh delight of parsley, tomatoes and onions with more of that simple but winning combination of lemon juice and olive oil.
The main course menu at Al-Bader includes everything from dishes cooked on their charcoal grill to Shawarmas and Tagines, as well as steaks and their own signature mains. We enlisted the help of Taahira, who looked after us brilliantly all night, to decide and ended up with a hearty feast of three dishes between two of us.
Mixed grill was a combination of lamb kebab, chicken kebab and lamb kofta, served with simple rice, more of that dreamy flatbread and salad, plus a chunk of fried flatbread just in case we didn’t have enough carbs on the plate. If you love grilled meat, you’ll love this – simply done, cooked right with that smoky char from the charcoal grill, with a nice variety of textures and flavour between the lamb, chicken and minced lamb on the kofta.
We left, unsurprisingly, with a doggie bag of all the rice, meat and salad we couldn’t manage to finish, and couldn’t face any sweets despite the temptation of some rather naughty-looking baklava. Our meal was complimentary but a quick look at the menu and you’ll see main courses are closer to £10 than £20, making a slap-up meal a bit of a bargain.
Al-Bader to me sums up the Coventry dining scene – often overlooked, quietly doing good stuff, and full of the authenticity we all crave in this weird world of imitation an Insta-nonsense.
[Disclosure: We were invited for a complimentary meal at Al Bader for the purposes of this blog]