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Abbey's Lebanese Restaurant (Camberley, Surrey)
Member Name: grahamt
Abbey's Lebanese Restaurant (Camberley, Surrey)
Date: 30/03/12, updated on 30/03/12 (333 review reads)
Advantages: Good food, and lots of it ; very friendly service
Disadvantages: Out of town ; uninspiring decor ; shortage of "local" wine
There are several things against Abbey's: location - it's a fair distance out of the centre of Camberley, on the A30, close to the corner of Frimley Road, where a number of other restaurants can be found, some of which have had a mixed experience of success; the name - Abbey's is probably not the first name you would think of when looking for a Lebanese restaurant; lack of parking - although there is a pay-and-display car park around the corner just off Frimley Road, behind some offices, which is free-of-charge after 6.00pm and at weekends.
I found Abbey's purely by accident: I was in town and need to go down to The Meadows to the Tesco hypermarket, and decided to take a spot of exercise by walking the mile or more rather than jump on a bus. As I passed Abbey's I noticed the word Lebanese and stopped in my tracks. It was a weekday lunchtime but it appeared that the place was not open. The restaurant section has a takeaway next door and it appears that this doubles as the kitchen when the restaurant is open, which it wasn't.
Apparently the restaurant only opens in the evening and, more recently, at lunchtime at weekends only. As it happened, whilst I was standing there, my face against the glass of the door, trying to spot some signs of life, a young lad appeared, clearly sorting out things in preparation for business. He saw me but couldn't find the keys to open the door. So, we had the bizarre situation of the two of us conversing through the letterbox, following which he posted out to me a copy of the takeaway menu.
Having the need to organise a table for a family gathering, my wife, who has eaten Lebanese before, suggested we should try the place out to see if it would be suitable. And so it was that on a Saturday lunchtime we found ourselves outside Abbey's, trying to get in! The main doors weren't open but the one to the takeaway was, so we entered there and then on into the main restaurant via the archway in the wall between the two; we were the only guests!
Now, one thing is for certain, Abbey's would win no prizes for décor! The walls are largely unadorned and what pictures there are do not conjure up visions of The Lebanon. The ceiling is partly obscured by several long strips of gauze-like material. The seating is in rows and consists of tables for four people sat two, face-to-face. Along one wall is a series of fixed booth-like tables. Early in March, the place was a little chilly and seems to be heated largely with portable electric convector heaters, which didn't actually appear to be on.
So, an unpromising start, but would the food be OK?
We opted for the Hot & Cold Mezze Platter to share, as we really weren't looking a large meal. To go with this my wife wanted a glass of dry white wine but there didn't appear to be a per glass option. Nevertheless, they were happy to serve a glass alone. I had a Becks on draught.
The food was excellent and very enjoyable. The plate consisted of all the usual suspects, including those which are also familiar from other cuisines, such as Greek and Turkish, to which it is closely related. There was Hummous, Warak Inab (like dolmades), Sambousak (cheese filled pastry parcels), Kibbeh Maklieh (meatballs) and so on. There was more than enough for two people and, to be honest, I couldn't have eaten any more if I'd tried although we did manage a couple of Balawa offered free-of-charge by the manager.
Whilst we were there, only a couple of other groups came in to eat as well so, maybe the word hasn't yet got around much that Abbey's is open weekend lunchtimes. However, our experience was pleasant enough for us to come back the following weekend for an evening meal with our family. This time there were five of us.
As we entered the restaurant, this time we weren't the only customers: a couple of other tables were already occupied though that was all. Now, maybe it was because it was St Patrick's Day; maybe it was because the following day was Mothers' Day? Anyway, we didn't have any trouble picking a table!
We decided to have the Sharing Menu for four or more people, but only for four rather than five. This consisted of a selection of hot and cold Mezzes followed by Sayadieh (a fish dish), Farooj Chicken (boned baby chicken), served with rice and roasted vegetables. However we did choose in addition a Jawaneh Meshiwiyeh (Grilled Chicken Wings in a Garlic Sauce) starter and Mixed Grill main dish. This turned out to be a mistake: it was clear as soon as it arrived that the menu for four could have fed the five thousand!
To go with this I chose a McGuigan Shiraz from Australia but was told that they didn't have any in stock. An alternative was offered, which turned out to be a very decent drop of wine. However, when, half-way through the meal, we asked for another bottle, it turned out that this had been the only bottle! We were offered yet another alternative, "on the house", which was very generous of them. It too, proved to be a nice drop of wine.
We finally had to call it a day when no one could eat another morsel. We were embarrassed by the amount of food remaining and asked for a "doggy bag" which, as they are also a take-away, they were happy to provide.
Once again we were tempted by the offer of Baklawas and managed, somehow, to find a tiny space for one or two.
The bill for the five of use came to just under £165, remarkable value for the five of us, bearing in mind how much food we had either eaten or taken away. Service throughout had been attentive, polite and very friendly, from both our waiter and also from the manager, who came personally to apologise for the wine fiasco.
So, would we return? Probably. The food was excellent, as was the service, only the uninspiring surroundings and the seemingly poor stock management of the wine cellar detracting from the overall experience. Maybe other potential customers are more picky about these things. In my opinion they are losing out on a good culinary experience if this is the case.
I must admit that it would take very little to improve the appearance of the restaurant: a paint job would help; some more appropriate pictures on the walls would do likewise; laying out the tables in a less regimented way would be a big improvement. Otherwise, an enjoyable visit.
Abridged version of this review on Tripadvisor.
Summary: Camberley's only Lebanese restaurant, offering good food and decent prices