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Often eating out with friends who have ‘restrictions’ regarding what they’ll eat can be… well, restricting. But every so often it can lead to a revelation.
On this occasion it had led us to be sitting in an unassuming restaurant we’d walked by a zillion times without a second glance; Al-Amir just off Plaza del Charco in Puerto de la Cruz
Our friend Jo, who lives on La Gomera, doesn’t eat meat. She does occasionally eat seafood; mainly only prawns. Having lived in the Canary Islands for a long time, she’s well and truly bored of opting for the few veggie dishes on Canarian and Spanish menus and isn’t keen on most of the places that actually serve vegetarian dishes. Being an excellent cook herself, they usually don’t come up to her standards.
We’d planned to eat out a couple of times with Jo during carnival week but as we’d already ticked off Italian and cheap montaditos, were struggling to come up with a restaurant that would tick all our culinary preferences.
Recently on a Moro cooking gourmet trip to Andalucia we were turned on to the flavours of diversity of North African/Middle Eastern cooking which features a lot of non-meat dishes. A couple of days before Jo arrived I’d spotted a couple of the dishes we’d learned to cook in Andalucia on the board of a Lebanese restaurant in Puerto de la Cruz so we decided to try it out.
Al-Amir isn’t the most sophisticated looking of restaurants and being just off Puerto’s main plaza, it’s not in a prime position. We descended a couple of steps from the main drag, squeezing passing a man puffing happily on a shisha, breaking only to chat with his extended family on another table. It was a lttle detail that lent the restaurant an authentic and promising vibe.
Lebanese Nosh: The Food at Al-Amir
As soon as we had a gander at Al Amir’s menu, the first thing that came into my head was ‘why haven’t we eaten here before?’
Hummus, shawarmas, kebabs, falafel, tabouleh, savoury pastries and kaftas are all the sort of dishes that we love.
As I was mentally ticking off what I wanted Jo declared: “I fancy the hummus, fattoush, batata harra, warak enab and sambousek… plus some flatbread.”
It’s not often we see Jo animated by a menu in a restaurant in Tenerife. Neither Andy nor I had managed to throw anything we fancied into the ring yet. As it happened Jo had covered what we’d have picked anyway.
Basically we ordered a selection of mezes.
When the mezes arrived they all looked freshly prepared and so appetising that there was a danger of a messy bunfight to make sure we all got our fair share. It felt like a scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as we grabbed a piece of pita and positioned ourselves around the hummus, eyes flicking from one to another to see who was going to draw first.
As it happened there was more than enough to keep everyone happy. The hummus was creamy with a balance of garlic, chickpeas, tahini, salt and lemon juice that I never seem to be able to achieve; the sambousek (little pies filled with cheese, spinach and meat) were crispy and savoury (perfect for pastry freaks like me); the batata harra did what it said on the box (spicy potatoes) and the warak ena (vine leaves stuffed with rice) seemed to taste a lot better than the Greek counterparts that I’d never quite made friends with despite many attempts on various Greek Islands.
The fattoush (a salad of lettuce, tomato, radishes, toasted pita and spices) was, for me, the biggest surprise. I rarely order salads in restaurants and I would have missed this absolute dream of a salad if it hadn’t been for Jo. Its sultry African flavours exploded in the mouth. It was so good it was all we could do to stop ourselves from giving it a round of applause.
In nearly quarter of a century of eating out with Jo in various places around the globe at various times in our lives I don’t think there was ever a situation where all three of us actually gave the thumbs up to everything placed before us.
Incredible that it would happen for the first time in an unassuming Lebanese restaurant in a Canarian town.
It helps that Al Amir is a casual, friendly place as well, we felt relaxed from the moment we entered. The food is also good value. Our selection of mezes with drinks came to around €25.
Al Amil is an ideal restaurant for relaxing and picking at a selection of interesting and diverse dishes with friends. We’ve vowed to return soon to try some of the more meatier Lebanese mezes on the menu.
Restaurant Al-Amir; Calle Puerto Viejo, 2; Puerto de la Cruz; (+34) 922 368 457; Mezes are 4/5 euros, main courses average €8. There is also a takeaway menu.
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