Aya Is A Perfect Taste Of Lebanon

You'll find another world on the Merton Road

I don't think there's any other restaurant in Wimbledon where you really feel like you're stepping into another world. But that's just the case when you walk into Aya in Merton Road.

This Lebanese restaurant really has gone out of its way to make you believe South Wimbledon is at least 1,000 miles away.

The walls are adorned with Lebanese artefacts and mosaics, there's also arches and fabulous furniture. See the picture below showing the rear of the restaurant.

Of course, we were there for the food and the menu certainly awakens the senses as well. There's a huge choice on offer - from Lebanese main meat and fish main courses, to skewers from the charcoal grill, burgers and wraps. There are also various 'sharing' menus, which would be good for parties.

The cold and hot starters list was impressive, with around 40 choices costing £4.25 or so - and many suitable for vegetarians. I was spoilt for choice between Warak Ineb (vine leaves filled with rice, tomato and onion), Makdous (baby aubergines stuffed with walnuts, spices and garlic) and Cheese Rakat (deep fried thin pastry filled with cheese). But in the end I opted for Hummos Beruity (£4.25) - a garlicy version of the staple dip. My friend went for Halloumi Cheese (£4.25).

We were promptly served and our starters were accomanpanied by a generous bowl of pitta bread - actually a thinner version than the type I'm more familiar with. The hummos portion was huge, so we shared it with the pitta. It was delicious and halloumi is always irresistable, so we'd made a good start to our meal.

For my main course, I went for Samaka Harra - sea bass topped with a spicy tahina sauce and rice (I could have picked a tomato sauce and chips instead of rice) for £13.95. It was a striking-looking plate (see right).

The sauce was spicy, with a creamy constituency. There was plenty of it across the large sea bass. The fish was also tasty, with just a couple of tiny bones.

My friend picked Shawarma - thin slices of roast lamb or chicken, or a mixed portion (£10.95). She also opted for rice. She said the meat was really tender and her plate was also too big for her to clear it! We also shared some Fattoush (£4.50) - a mixed salad tossed with a fresh-tasting lemon and olive oil dressing.

I'd enjoyed a fresh mango juice with my meal and we'd also shared a large bottle of mineral water. It's a bring your own alcohol restaurant.

We were too full for a sweet, but there's a choice of ice creams and sorbets as well as homemade chocolate cake and Lebanese baklava and muhalabiew.

We rounded off our meal with an expresso and a mint tea. There was loads of fresh mint in the tea mug, with a tea bag on the side. It was quite a picture. Our pleasant waitress was obviously not happy with our reluctance to try a dessert, so she kindly placed a tiny plate of baklava between us. Somehow we were each able to manage a tiny taste of the ever-so-sweet delicacy.

Our final bill, including service charge, came to £52.80. As we were there at lunchtime, we were given a 15% discount taking it to a reasonable £44.88. There were also various 'meal deals' offered for lunchtime - which would be especially good if you didn't have much time to kill.

I certainly think Aya would be much more fun in a large group, sharing a selection of their tempting-sounding starters. Their mezze meal for two, offering 12 dishes, coffee and dessert for £29.95 would also give a real flavour of the Lebanon - why not give it a try?

Do you agree with our review? What's your top Wimbledon restaurant/pub? Why not comment on our forum?

Sue Choularton

October 11, 2012