Ignore the untidy jackets on the back of the chair and my bike seen through the window, leaning against the Oxford University Admissions Office but admire this composition of a copper coffee jug – covered to conserve the heat- the delicate barely sweet sesame biscuit, two flowered cups, a copper coloured spoon and a frosted glass of delicious rose flavoured water. It’s a fine illustration of the art of anticipating and meeting the customer’s gustatory and aesthetic needs and an example of why Elham’s Lebanese Deli is special. More often than not Lebanese cafes lack style and quickly degenerate into serving tired looking tired tasting food. But when I entered Elham’s, on the off-chance of finding picnic food, I was immediately taken with the cheerful sparkling interior and smiley, friendly people behind the counter.
Sara’s mother is Lebanese and she is on her feet all day cooking in their kitchen at home in Marston. She makes staples like labneh, moussaka, kibbeh with different fillings, variations on tabbouleh, aubergine dishes like babaganoush, salads and possibly the best falafel I’ve ever had since Damascus.
This dish of falafel, labneh with a swirl of olive oil, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves is £7.
There is a choice of baklava- Egyptian as well as Lebanese- both filled with rich nutty mixtures covered with filo and sugar syrup; Elham’s recipe has a chewy yielding interior balanced by crisp pastry.
Sara went to Headington Girl’s School and then went on to do Business Studies at Brookes. Her stepfather, Mohamed, was an engineer with many years experience in Senegal and the Middle East. He sighs, “My wife and I just wanted a nice relaxing little business after I retired. This has turned out to be exhausting!”
Sara says her mother is a perfectionist. She does everything from scratch herself, with just two helpers in her kitchen, which accounts for the high standard of cooking and presentation. All the ingredients are bought fresh every day.
Elham’s is a bright buzzy place, good for lunch and early dinner and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
You can also stop for a delicious cardamom flavoured coffee and barazac (sesame seed biscuit).
Oxford is so short on family run restaurants which serve authentic tasting food and this one certainly deserves to do well.