I know first hand how difficult it can be indulging in particular cuisines when dining out with someone who does not consume alcohol.
My partner does not drink. Not that unusual, and power to him for getting by all these years without the lubricant so many of us feel we need in social situations. But for no reason other than I think he enjoys being a bit of a diva, he will also not eat anything that contains it.
I can’t put wine in the ragu, he’s never had tiramisu, we’ve never ‘gone for a drink’. He follows no religion, he has no allergies, there were no issues with alcohol in his upbringing. It’s just the decision he made many years ago as a child and not a drop has knowingly ever passed his lips.
I actually have little, if any problem with this. The sheer stubbornness alone has its merits and he has no issues with me drinking (and I’m rather skilled at enjoying a few glasses of wine). The only area that sometimes poses difficulties is dining out; at French, Italian and Spanish restaurants he has to check if a dish contains alcohol and request if it can be made without. Often, it’s already included and so he misses out. Indian and Middle Eastern food tend to be the safer bets.
For all of the above reasons, a French restaurant claiming to be the only in London with a fully halal menu is unique enough for me to journey to neighbourhood restaurant La Sophia in Notting Hill to investigate. I asked two friends to join me me; a big-eater Muslim along with a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, just to help up their game.
A stone’s throw from Portobello Road, the restaurant opened in the summer of 2010 and presents a Mediterranean and French menu with classics from the latter cooked with no presence of alcohol (think confit de canard and escargots de Bourgogne). Not to mention all the meat is halal (which includes what can be eaten and how it is sacrificed and prepared). Halal snails and foie gras? Who even knew there were such things.
It’s certainly the first time I’ve had a response of, “Would you like the real wine?” when asking for the wine list in a restaurant. They have non-alcoholic options sourced from Kevser Tabak and whilst I struggle with the concept of non-alcoholic wine, I wish I had tried some – they look like they know what they’re about.
Lamb shoulder croquettes with herbs and fat slices of garlic within were soft and appealing, if a touch dry. Sweet cherry tomatoes, buttery lambs lettuce and slashes of garlic aioli contrasting against the slate made for a pretty plate. Slices of grilled aubergine wrapped around golden halloumi sported a flourish of sprightly chilli and tomato salsa and a pecan and parsley pesto. The exact sort of thing you would want with a rough dry white at the tail end of a day under Mediterranean sunshine.
The poached smoked haddock main was very competent. Well cooked fish breaking off into meaty flakes topped by a perfectly poached egg lacquered in Benedict sauce, with a cascading yolk pooling around ratatouille and batons of savoury and deep red beef chorizo. Someone should get this on a brunch menu. The wild mushroom risotto with shaved artichokes and truffle oil had a good consistency and depth of earthy flavour.
Bright yellow miniature pansies brightened the plates of well-presented chocolate fondants with surfaces ready to breech at any sudden movement of the plate. They were decadent and dark, although needed a minute longer in the oven for a greater sponge-to-gooey-middle ratio.
La Sophia is a very capable local restaurant with merits beyond their unique halal-French offering. Our Friday night visit included an acoustic guitarist strumming by the entrance and a full restaurant of around 28 jubilant (if not a tad loud) diners. A la carte might seem a little pricey, but the three courses for £25 set-menu is a good deal. Whether you require a halal menu or not, it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.
If it didn’t take so long for me to get to, this would likely become a regular that the other half would also approve of.
Liked lots: beef chorizo with runny yolk
Likes less: nothing was unpleasant
Good for: those with halal requirements getting the chance to sample French food; a local regular; trying non-alcoholic wine if that takes your fancy
My rating: 3.5/5