Amazing food, unfailing hospitality and a passion for quality are the three ways in which I would sum up my visit to King Soloman's Lebanese eatery on the Uxbridge Road on Saturday. Owner Mohammed Hamid, originally from Egypt but a Shepherd's Bush resident since the mid 1970s, is himself a chef and clearly has a forensic eye for detail. Which is kind of tough on the chefs he now employs. The dish I was served, pictured above, tasted as good as it looks and Mr Hamid was careful to point out the origin of every ingredient.
On offer are a wide range of Lebanese dishes, including fresh falafel and even some special dishes which can be prepared on demand. These include Kosharey, which is a vegetarian dish from Syria, for example.
He has been here in W12 since 1975, (the year before I was born!) so you would expect him to have seen changes in the area since then, but he talks animatedly about the sweeping changes to the Bush since King Soloman's itself openned in 1997. Since then the population has gone from being dominated by Irish and West Indian folk, to taking on a more Arabic nuance, the Islamic influence bolstered recently by the influx of people from Somalia. The restaurant itself is next to a mosque and they are frequently his customers, but then so are QPR fans and people from across the community.
As we were talking numerous people, from all backgrounds, kept popping their heads in just to say hello and swap the time of day. Mr Hamid knows most by name, and all by their eating tastes. Which brings me to this joint's main selling point: quality.
The point about King Soloman's is that they refuse to buy frozen produce, which is lesser quality. All the meat used is fresh, as are the vegetables despite the fact that their prices are continually higher. He points out that many of his customers would spot the use of second rate ingredients instantly, and soon cease to be his customers. He calls them "professional eaters" and says they keep him on his toes.
I asked about the boom in eating choices up and down the Uxbridge Road and elsewhere in the Bush, and he was quick to pay tribute to the other high quality restaurants around. In fact he said one of the more positive things to have changed since the 70s is that you no longer have to go into the centre of town to find cuisine from all over the world; it's all right here on our doorstep. But he also spoke about the growth in cheap fried chicken shops which seem now to dominate much of our area, and others that sell pizzas for 99p. Not only are those ingredients the opposite of healthy, he points out that they are continually trying to undercut quality outlets like his own with ridiculous cut-throat prices. He simply asked me to reflect on the possible origins of a 99p pizza's ingredients. Eek.
As a family run business, and one with such local pedigree, his customer base seems to stretch from QPR supporters on their way to and from Loftus Road through to the mosque faithful and those coming out of the bars and clubs in the early hours (his doors stay open till 2am on thursdays, fridays and saturdays).
Mr Hamid has obviously been here for a long time, and his customers would want to see that continue. But as he has continued to serve up what I can testify to be truly first class food, the Bush has changed around him. And there is no guarantee that he'll be here in the future unless more people know about what's on offer.
One of the biggest changes in Shepherd's Bush since this restaurant has been here has been the increase in people just living in the area for one or two years and then moving on - with little or no time to find the best eateries around. So the purpose of this review is to add King Soloman's to that list, for however long you're going to be here.
So there are lots of reasons to visit - starting with the food, and also the fact that you'll be partaking in a piece of vintage Shepherd's Bush history. But just looking at that dish above - you've got to think it's more than worth a try...and if you're lucky enough to meet Mr Hamid when you do - say hi from me.
Look out for more in a series of local reviews I'll be writing on local businesses in the Bush throughout 2011 - and if you have any suggestions get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Twitter @chris_underwood