An email received from the brothers behind Cookhouse Joe prompted a spate of googling and questions posed to Twitter. I’d not heard of the place before, or sister restaurant and apparent Soho stalwart run by the same family; bargain pizza joint, Soho Joe. My quick laptop fumbling threw up little which just taunted my curiosity. The menu, an intriguing mixture of rotisserie chicken with Lebanese dishes, inspired further brow furrowing on my part and a hasty acceptance of the invitation to dine.
In the interim betwixt invite and visit I discovered I was not to feel smug at being singled out as I witnessed much of my portion of Twitter take their turn sampling what looked like quite the delicious feast.
On arrival, the boy and I are led towards the back of the resaurant, past plump birds speared and spinning for our enjoyment and upstairs to a room that puts me immediately in mind of Victorian naughtiness. A simple room with bare, creaking floor boards, basic, slightly wobbly tables and chairs and candle light backed up with industrial spotlights with windows flung open to allow early evening sunlight in and us a view over-looking those narrow Soho streets that prompted my vision of, admittedly rose tinted, whore house smut. Things start in the best way possible when an ice bucket and prosecco delivered to our table without prompt or question along with the menu.
Now, from where I’m sitting the menu doesn’t make for easy translation; a list of lebanese sides take the place of where I’d normally look for starters and mains are an uneasy mixture of rotisserie chicken, wraps and salads with a couple of burgers added for good measure. Luckily ordering is taken out of my hands when we’re asked if we’d like a selection of dishes brought out to us from the kitchen. Perfect. If ever asked, always let the owners choose for you.
First we’re brought a little dish of pickles. Tasty enough, we enjoy these whilst basking in the easy ambience of the room and watch for fights from the pub opposite. Next is a bowl of Moutabal, a smoky grilled aubergine puree that is creamy and pepped up with lemon juice. A wooden board delivers us halloumi, better than I’ve had before, bouncy and moist with piles of flatbreads with which to carry delicacies to mouth. As we’re swiftly filling up, chicken wings are brought, not bad, but it’s the garlic sauce I’m more interested in, neatly piped into it’s little metal serving pot, it’s translutently white, sweetly pungent and I, giving up on bread, dip everything into it.
And still the food comes. Falafels are perfect, slightly oily on the outside but delicious, moist and well spiced inside, we dunk into a tahini dip, they’re joined by an excellent tabbouleh that brings a lightness to the meal and cuts through the abundance. Lamb kofta are densely and intensely meaty, spicy and we skip more of the bread in favour of the little red onion side salad.
By the time the main event arrives we’re grateful that our server brings just a half a chicken rather than the whole the kitchen are trying to send out. We’re also brought more sides than we can handle at this stage; corn, fattoush and fries. All good but there’s no way we can do them justice, instead focussing on the centre piece. Yes, the chicken is really very good, we’re told it’s carefully sourced, I can’t remember now where from, but I get the idea they’re merry little chooks before ending up on my plate. The meat is succulent and flavoursome, plump but not flabby, with a crispy skin, it comes with more of that garlic sauce and a chilli one that’s lacking in much punch. We leave more than I’d like but that’s purely on account of previous gluttony.
It’s clear we’re not going to get away without trying the apple pie, I have my eye on the baklava as I’m not a huge pastry fan, but the look of fervour in our waiter’s eye when he explains it’s made by the boys’ Mum suggests we’d be missing out massively. I don’t like missing out. Thank god we listen to his advice as it’s the absolute star of the show. Rocking up in a very covetible mess tin I very quickly enable my sweet stomach after first bite and tuck in with gusto leaving boy to fight me if he dares; a light pastry lid shatters to reveal satisfyingly cinnamony stewed apples sitting on a chewy caremalised pastry base, vanilla ice cream melting into spicy, sticky, swirly pools. Let’s hope Mummy Joe doesn’t get fed up making this master piece!
Cookhouse Joe is an unexpectedly great little spot, serving unpretentious, cheap and cheerful rotisserie chicken backed up with lebanese plates in the heart of London – at the very top of Soho and a stones throw from Oxford Street. The managers seem very sweet and to really care what they’re doing. Well worth a visit I say.