Streatham is one of London’s hidden gems – it bustles with diversity from Bangladeshi, Indian and Polish grocery stores to Portuguese cafes, Middle Eastern bakeries and African organic shops. Alas, its range of restaurants are less interesting – there are quite a few bog standard Italians, some wannabe gastropubs and a smattering of curry houses, but nothing outstanding. Therefore it is not somewhere I would normally go for dinner, but a chance meeting of some Streathamites at a wedding led to a lift into town and a recommendation for dinner at Ilili.
Ilili is a Lebanese restaurant nestled in the centre of Streatham Hill, close to Streatham Hill station. The menu is mostly mezze with all the standards like hommous, tablouleh, yoghurty things, kebabs etc. There are some more unusual entries though – Lebanese pickle, a chicken liver dish and a Middle Eastern broadbean salad. It’s a small place with a handful of tables and an open kitchen – the fact that it is BYOB obviously attracts a lot of the clientele and everyone around us seemed to be tanking the booze. The mix of clientele displays the diversity of Streatham, from a bunch of be-shirted middle class yobs with red faces, to handsome young Spanish students and impeccably dressed black families, to Germaine Greer lookalikes in African patterned trousers, all spheres of humanity were there.
The food was simple but excellent, and very reasonably priced. As we were in a rush we didn’t have any main courses, but they offer a whole seabass for £13.95 which seems like absolutely fantastic value. We started with decent hommous (£3.95) which had a nice texture with a hint of lemon sharpness and a decent stab of tahini. Next, we had sambosa (essentially a samosa shaped like a spring roll) (£4.25) which was stuffed with melt in the mouth lamb and a smattering of pine nuts. Baked aubergine with chickpeas and tomatoes (£4.10) was very uncomplicated; the aubergines were good quality and had been properly salted before cooking so they were really soft and sweet. This was all shovelled down with thin flatbread which was the only disappointment of the meal – it was lacking flavour (not enough salt in the dough maybe) and when it cooled down it quickly turned to cardboard. Finally, we had spicy fried sausages (£4.50) which were rugged and flavoursome, fantastic with a squeeze of lemon over them.
Verdict: great for a hearty and wallet-friendly meal.