Al Shami, Jericho
To say I was disappointed by Al Shami is an understatement. All expectations were dashed after about 10 minutes of being there.
The family run Lebanese, Al Shami, in Oxfords Jericho has been highly acclaimed by local food bloggers, National newspapers and visitors to the city. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am an avid supporter of independently owned and run restaurants. I also love Lebanese food which is why I just had to try Al Shami. I booked a table for the 29th December (quite possibly one of the quietest nights of the year) for 15 people.
A few of us arrived about 10 minutes early and were shown to our table in the elaborately decorated function room at the rear of the restaurant. After a while waiting for a drinks order to be taken, my friends went to the bar in the main restaurant where they also paid for said drinks. When they came back to the table they told me that a service charge had been added to the cost of the wine they had bought. I can understand service on the bill for a large party but not for drinks at the bar, the man who served them also told them they HAD to pay it. When politely questioned the barman got quite aggressive and argumentative and told me that we should have waited for the rest of the party to arrive before having drinks (!) and that service is compulsory (it wasn’t). I pointed out that the service note on the menu said that it was discretionary but he just ignored this and walked off. Due to having worked as a waitress in a past life, I always pay service charges and tip if the food and/or service is good. I felt so disappointed that I seriously considered leaving and going to another restaurant nearby.
The décor in Al Shami is generally very tired. The function room was very ornate with Arabic mouldings on the walls but this is hidden by the general shabbiness of the place. It’s definitely a place with a no frills policy: paper tablecloths, plastic chairs and fold up tables. This is probably because the main focus is on the lovely homemade Lebanese fair they serve there.
We decided to go for the £18 set menu which included starters, items from the grill and many vegetarian options. The food itself didn’t blow me away but it was really good, the spicy hummus, falafel and meal parcels were very favourites. The dish that will stick in our minds the most was the unprepared crudité; it was and will remain a talking point.
The saving grace
Although the meal started off on the wrong foot, Al Shami’s saving grace was the unexpected Lebanese birthday pastry they brought to me at the end of the meal. They went all out lights went off and a big Happy Birthday song played through the speakers. I have no idea how they knew it was a belated birthday gather as I do not recall telling them but I thought that that was a lovely touch.
To save face we paid most of the discretionary service charge but overall I was really disappointed by Al Shami; whilst the food was tasty it didn’t blow me away and I thought it was quite expensive (£30 per head including wine and coffee) considering the overall experience and general restaurant appearance.
I had a lovely evening with my friends but the overall experience at Al Shami was tainted by those initial few moments. I have not totally written off another visit but I believe that had my first impressions of Al Shami been different then this blog would have been too.
Al-Shami Lebanese Restaurant
25 Walton Crescent, Oxford, OX1 2JG
Telephone: 01865 310066