There aren’t a lot of places in central London you can get a bellydance every night of the week but Kenza is one of them. No sooner had I stepped into this cavernous restaurant under Devonshire Square and started sipping on a delicious Amira cocktail (gin and chambered muddled with raspberries and strawberries and mixed with ginger beer, £9.95) than the lights dimmed. My friend and I looked at each other, somewhat stunned as Middle Eastern disco blared from speakers and dancer after bejewelled dancer snaked around the restaurant inviting diners onto the floor. This is where you have a choice; you can smile sweetly, sip your drink and politely decline (the London way). Or you can say ‘why the hell not?’, take a big gulp of your cocktail and shake your lanky body around like the lovechild of Peter Crouch and Teresa May. One of those options will be a lot more fun.
Devonshire Square began life in 1768 as the East India Company’s warehouses for storing silk and textiles from Bengal, and its international past has carried on into an international future with the recent redevelopment. Now you’ll find brilliant independent restaurants such as Bengal Warehouse, Mac & Wild and the Devonshire Club here, all in quaint brick buildings linked by courtyards. There’s also a lot of competition, and Kenza takes some work to find. I went past it twice before finding a tiny hidden corridor with a sign outside, and candles lighting stone steps that lead down into an orantely decorated basement. There are low-slung booths with patterned cushions and cut-out lanterns casting intricate shadows on the ruby red walls. It feels like being transported into a Moroccan riad a million miles from the City.
We chose two feast menus – one fish (£38.95pp) and the other meat (£35.95pp). What turned up in front of us could have fed us both twice over. It’s a great way to try loads of dishes, especially if eating in a group. First were the pillowy, warm breads piled high and served with an assortment of dips including creamy hummus, zesty tabbouleh, baba ghannouj, and tahini. This was followed by half a dozen starter plates which including minced lamb and pine nut kibbé, pastries filled with chicken and caramelised onions, and crispy sautéed potatoes with garlic and chilli. It’s safe to say that at this point we were well and truly full and our main courses hadn’t even arrived.
The meat platter arrived with lamb kofta, lamb and chicken shish, mountains of rice and fresh salad, while the fish came in the form of sea bass, glazed salmon with pomegranate and tiger prawns, with salad and citrus rice – all the meats had been cooked over a charcoal grill. The service is also worth a mention. Everyone who comes to serve us is warm, helpful and quick to chat to us and explain the menu. Even the manager takes the time to personally check all tables are happy.
Desert appears on a four-tiered cake stand, with everything from sugar-dusted Turkish delight to syrupy baklava and nougat, served with sweetened mint tea which is expertly poured from on high out of a large silver teapot. I end up asking to take everything home in a doggy bag – always a good indicator of a great restaurant.
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Granted, the decor at Kenza might not be to everyone’s taste – but the food certainly should be. The whole experience is a bit of fun and I fantasised about coming here for a birthday, or on a work evening out. Any London restaurant that serves stellar food, doesn’t rip you off and doesn’t take itself too seriously is a winner in my book. Us Londoners could do with a bit of bellydancing to loosen up after all.