The first thing you should know about Kebab Queen is that there are no plates.
And yes, at a fine-dining restaurant, this might set off some alarm bells. At one that only serves a tasting menu? Double alarm bells. But remarkably, they appear to have pulled it off and created a genuinely novel, delicious, ever-so-slightly fascinating dining experience the likes of which we can almost guarantee you’ve never had before.
Here’s how your typical evening will go:
Walking into Covent Garden’s Maison Bab (which serves slightly more classical high-end kebabs), in good ol’ hidden restaurant style you’ll be led downstairs and into a seemingly empty space with a pair of what can only be described as indoor shopfronts. Behind one of them is the prep kitchen – you’ll be led through here, and enter Kebab Queen.
It’s small – just a teeny little kitchen space and a white countertop that seats around a dozen people on blue leather chairs. Hoisting yourself up into one of them, you’ll notice something rather peculiar – slapping your palms on the countertop in front of you, you’ll feel it’s actually warm. And getting warmer all the time.
Once all the diners expected for the evening have settled in (and have a glass of English sparkling in front of them) your host will introduce himself and the concept. He’ll explain that the countertop is actually custom-made from an ultra-tough material called Dekton which is “impervious to scratches, dents, stains, or basically anything”. It’s basically synthetic quartz. And being internally heated, it will act as both a plate and a stovetop during your meal.
He’ll then introduce the kitchen staff, and the head chef Manu Canales (formerly the sous at two Michelin Starred Le Gavroche). The surface in front of you will be wiped down with an edible, alcohol-based disinfectant (containing citric acid & vodka) for the first of many times during the evening, and the first batch of aniseed-scented hot hand towels will be handed out.
Course after course of food will then be artfully ‘plated’ up directly in front of you by Manu, straight onto the heated counter. Each ingredient will be explained, and each one will stand out to your tastebuds all the more for it. In this way absolutely no element to a dish gets overlooked, and the barriers between diner and chef will be almost totally eliminated in the most surprisingly satisfying way possible. And while the ‘fine dining’ element will be ever present in the sheer depth of flavour & creativity, your own hands will still be used to eat most of the dishes, giving the whole experience that cravenly visceral feeling that kebabs basically, and rightfully demand.
And the dishes? A verdant green cabbage leaf is placed in front of you and pressed flat with a scorching hot iron that’s been sitting on the grill, then loaded with hearty monkfish kebab and chicken skin crackling. You wrap the whole thing up with your hands, and dive in. A crisp disc of toasted, flavourful Persian rice is laid out with pomegranates, walnuts, and some rum-aged, spit-roasted duck. You tear into the rice and the thick cuts of duck, soaking them up with the sauces that have been artfully painted on. Barbecued foie gras is placed on a small buttermilk flatbread with white balsamic onions & golden, liquor-soaked raisins, then quickly devoured.
Dish after dish brings out classic kebab flavours in new and unexpected ways. Chef Manu will talk you through each of them, and they’re all paired with various wine, beer, and cocktails. Extra morsels of everything are handed round between courses, and you’ll wish the meal would just keep going.
Don’t worry, classic kebabs won’t be spinning in their graves or anything – but this is a very welcome addition to the scene.
NOTE: Kebab Queen is open Thursdays-Saturdays. You can find out more, and make a booking at their website right HERE.
Kebab Queen | Downstairs at Maison Bab, Mercer’s Walk, WC2H 9QE
Like top-shelf kebabs? Then make your way over to Berenjak