“ North African / Address: 1a Short's Gardens / WC2H 9AT London / Tel: 0207 240 1796 „
Souk Medina is a North African restaurant/bar/tea room in the heart of London, situated a few minutes away from Covent Garden and Leicester Square underground stations.
When you approach Souk Medina from the outside it seems like a really small place but once you go inside it's actually a fairly large venue.
WHY DID WE GO THERE?
We had booked a table for 9 of us for dinner as part of a hen weekend. Six of us arrived at the restaurant at the same time by taxi from our hotel and the other 3 joined us shortly afterwards. The hen in question is fond of North African food and themes which is why this restaurant was chosen.
SEATING AND DRINKING
Our booking was for 9pm and we arrived promptly, the maitre d advised us it would be a few minutes before our table was ready and we weren't kept waiting very long before we were escorted to the lower level of the restaurant. We were shown to a semi enclosed area and I was a bit dismayed to see how low the seats were. I'm over 5'7 and tried sitting at one of the 3 low chairs provided and just couldn't get comfortable and certainly couldn't fit my knees under the table, I then moved to the low sofa seats which looked comfortable but they weren't. The dining area was very dark and it was next to impossible to read the drinks menu or the food menu (although we had all seen the food menu prior to arriving as the friend who organised the booking had had the forethought to email this info to us in advance).
We were left sat at the table with no offer of drinks or anything, maybe the staff thought we wanted to wait for the rest of the group to arrive before we ordered our drinks but we didn't know how long it would take them to arrive so after 10 minutes or so we grabbed a waiter's attention and ordered a jug of Thirsty Camel (cocktail) which cost around £30 and I was pleased to see the jug size was quite large - on tasting it I was pleased to note that they certainly didn't skimp on the vodka part of the this delicious cocktail, although it was very sweet with the mango juice part of it!
EATING AND MEETING
Once everyone had arrived we took a few minutes to greet each other before getting the waiter's attention to bring over the starters - we had gone for the set meal which was £19.95 per head which consisted of three courses.
The starters were a mixture of humous, warm pitta bread, merguez with batata harra (mini lamb sausages with sautéed potatoes), vine leaves. Of the starters I didn't dislike any of it but didn't overly enjoy any of the items either. They didn't skimp on the portions and asked us if we wanted more but we declined as we didn't want to be too full up to enjoy the main course (which I regretted later).
The main courses were assorted dishes including tagine of lamb with prunes and roasted almonds, this dish barely had any lamb in it, mostly prunes and apricots and the lamb was so overcooked that we were barely able to lift it on a fork! There was tagine of chicken with saffron and herbs which was somewhat better than the lamb, tagine of spinach, fetta cheese and roast onion (I hated this dish), tagine of chick peas, cumin and harissa sauce (which tasted just like boiled chick peas) and couscous with root vegetables - the couscous was so over-cooked that it was almost like mashed potatoes. You can imagine why I wished I'd eaten more humous and pitta bread for my starters...
For dessert we were given several plates with a selection of baklava which is a sickly sweet concoction of Turkish origin (as far as I know). I don't mind baklava personally but after having many main course dishes laced with fruit I didn't need any more sweet stuff to send my sugar levels any higher!
After the sweet dish we were given some fresh mint tea which I would normally have declined (not being a tea or coffee drinker generally) but thought I'd try it anyway. I was glad that I tried it as I really enjoyed it and ended up drinking someone else's cup as well that didn't want theirs.
As we ordered 3 bottles of wine with our meal we took advantage of the deal of £30 for meal plus a bottle of wine rather than paying a minimum of £15.95 for the cheapest bottle of wine.
I have to add here that the food given was in small bowls and spread around the table and the staff did come over regularly to see if we needed refills (which we didn't). Around half the food was left over at the end of our meal.
BILLING AND PAYING
At the end of the meal we were advised that we could move upstairs with the rest of our drinks (at this stage consisting of a few glasses of wine, half a bottle of wine) and baklava and were presented with the bill which came to £300 including service of around 12% for 9 of us. Some members of our group were happy to leave a few extra pounds on top of the bill for service but the rest of us paid the exact amount.
Partway through our main course a belly dancer made her rounds of the tables. Personally I don't enjoy watching belly dancers in the least so it was rather off-putting having someone jiggling their belly whilst I was trying to eat so I was glad that she just hovered by our table for 2 or 3 minutes.
The music in general during dinner was way too loud for my liking and really not conducive for dinner conversation. I found myself giving up on trying to have any kind of conversation as I didn't want to lose my voice from shouting.
The upper level where we moved with our drinks after dinner was better lit although the chairs and tables were all very low up here too and we didn't hang around for too long as we were all pretty stuffed and wanted to get back to our hotel and sleep!
I found it very strange that on the basement level where we had our meal there was only 1 ladies toilet. With no males in our group, we didn't know if there was more than 1 male toilet. On the upper floor/street level there were 3 or 4 ladies toilets. I thought they could do with having these checked more regularly as at least 2 of these were out of toilet paper by 11pm.
The restaurant does not seem to be disabled friendly - well definitely not for wheelchair users anyway as the tables and seating arrangements are all very close together.
WOULD I GO BACK?
Definitely not; Souk Medina certainly wasn't worth the cost to me. Special occasion or not, if someone suggests this restaurant to me again, it will be a big no. That's not to say that others who like North African cuisine and music won't enjoy it, it just wasn't for me. For me, Souk Medina is only worth 2 out of 5 stars BUT saying that, I wouldn't say I won't recommend it as the food wasn't to my personal taste but could be to others who enjoy this type of food.
Souk Medina is located at 1a Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9AT, tel: 020 7240 1796.
The restaurant is located 2 minutes walk from Covent Garden or Leicester Square tube stations and they take bookings for private areas with no extra charge.
Opening hours Mon - Sat 12:00 - 00:30 and Sun 12:00 - 23:30.
NB: one of our group left her camera at the restaurant and the staff were kind enough to keep it safe for us to collect the next day