I like food – in fact I love food. I love absolutely everything about food: the smells, the tastes, the colours the way it makes people happy. Since I was little it has always been the same. I ate so much so that my mum used to hide food because otherwise it would be gone!
I learned about the joys of food from my mum, Zohra. She is my biggest inspiration, my motivation in everything I do and my biggest influence. Food is an integral part of my roots; food is everything because you give it and share it and you make it with love.
I started earning my own money at a young age. We lived across the street from of the Premier League football ground. I would get up early to buy tickets for a match and sell them later to visitors from out of town at a slightly inflated price. My mum would help me make lemonade or merguez sandwiches, which I’d sell on the street.
As I grew older, my desire to see and experience took me further afield. At 15 I used my savings to visit Tunisia, at 16 adventure to Spain and at 17, it was France. Every year I worked a little harder, saved a little more and travelled a little further. I had just turned 18 with my friend Nasser and I decided to travel to London. I arrived with £70 in my pocket (£50 of which was borrowed for my uncle).
For the next two years I worked two full-time jobs every day in pubs, bars and restaurants from 6 a.m. until late. I was working in a restaurant on Wigmore Street when one day I turned up to find it closed. The rent hasn’t been paid and the landlord had taken back the property. This was my chance. I had enough money in the bank for a deposit and a few months rent.
It was agreed that I could take on the restaurant. I signed the contract and today, some 25 years later, I still have that restaurant on Wigmore Street.
I want you to fall in love with the Middle East and its bold flavours and welcoming, generous traditions. As Middle Eastern food grows in popularity, ingredients that were once hard to source are now readily available. I’ve always wanted everyone to be able to cook these amazing recipes at home, which is why I set up the souk shops within our restaurants.
I feel fortunate to be able to do this wonderful job for a living. I am now working with The Admirable Crichton to create a new catering company that will bring the best food and hospitality of the Middle East and North Africa to events, product launches, award ceremonies and private parties. Together we will deliver the bold flavours of the Middle East to homes and venues across the UK and Europe.
My restaurants are everything to me: my memories, my life, my culture, my family, my children. The people who dine with us aren’t customers but guests in our home and you are all very welcome.
Sahtein (simply, ‘Enjoy your food’)