OK, let’s be upfront: by any reasonable measure, Arabica is a restaurant. A very laid back, casual restaurant but a restaurant nonetheless. If you happened to be in London Bridge, and your mate said, “I know a great little bar around here”, and they took you to Arabica, you would be pleased, because Arabica is a very nice place to be taken to, but you would also question your mate’s definition of a bar because, as mentioned, Arabica is more of a restaurant.
However the restaurant has a proper bar in it, a bar you can sit at, and its full name is Arabica Bar + Kitchen (it also has a kitchen), and quite frankly that’s good enough for us. If Arabica wants to be thought of as a bar (and kitchen) then a bar it shall be. Once we get around to writing the Restaurant Necessities – or the Kitchen Necessities for that matter – then maybe we’ll reconsider its classification but for now, bully for you, Arabica, you’re a bar. And a kitchen. And really a restaurant but let’s overlook that one.
What’s the story?
Arabica started life as a trader in Borough Market in the early Noughties; the subsequent years have proved quite the success. The Borough Market stall has been joined by the Borough Market Bar + Kitchen; there is a second Arabica in Kings Cross, plus two more traders in Real Food and Southwark Markets, plus a counter at Selfridges. If you’re in the centre of town, you’re probably near some form of Arabica, and that can only be a good thing. (It’s not linked to the coffee brand: that’s a whole other Arabica.)
What to drink?
Cocktails! Order cocktails while sat at the bar! Arabica has an interesting list, offering Middle Eastern variations of the classics. Pick from the Arabica Old Fashioned (Rittenhouse rye, Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, Crème de Cacao, mandarin syrup, chocolate bitters, smoked star anise); the Beeka Butterfly (Beefeater gin, Arak Brun, elderflower liqueur, grapes, lemon syrup, basil, mint); and the Turkish Coffee Martini (Vodka, coffee liqueur, Creme de Cacao, Turkish coffee infusion, cardamom bitters). That last one will certainly have you leaving with a spring in your step.
How’s the food?
Look: you could come to Arabica, knock back a couple of drinks and then sod off, but you’d be missing out – the food is very much the selling point. And from the first order of dips – served with bread in little paper bag, so warm it scalds your fingers – you know basically anything on the menu will be a safe bet.
Spread the order around as many sharing plates as the table can handle (and then maybe add a couple of sides, why not?). Standout dishes include Mushroom & Truffle Man’ousheh (a flatbread that goes down like a healthy pizza); the Lamb Adana Kebab (mmm: meatballs); and the Batata Harra (fried potatoes with sautéed peppers and spices: obscenely moreish).
However even the less showy offerings such as the Grilled Halloumi and Salt & Pepper Squid will have you nodding in appreciation, torn between savouring each mouthful and ensuring somebody else doesn’t nan the last piece.
It should be noted, the Kings Cross site has an almost entirely different menu so it's definitely worth you while checking both of them out. (Maybe not in the same evening: you'll probably explode.)
Will it bankrupt me?
The cocktails cluster around the £10 mark, give or take a couple of quid either way. As for the food, individual plates are fairly cheap – again, most are under £10 – but you will want to order quite a few of them. You could easily break £50 each without really noticing – “Hummus with spice lamb? Go on then…” – but three figures would be a stretch (assuming you’re splitting the bill).
Anything else to note?
Arabica is also a thriving online retailer: its website offers everything from hampers to cooking ingredients to cookery classes. Oh, and gift vouchers, if you’re lacking Christmas inspiration…
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For more info, see arabicalondon.com