Not far from Haggerston station is Acton Mews in London N1, which is a cobbled street flanked by railway arches on one side. Restaurants and bars are springing up in the vicinity, with Berber & Q helping to regenerate these previously forgotten and derelict backstreets leading off Kingsland Road. As you arrive at the restaurant there may already be a queue of people hovering in the doorway waiting for a table. To avoid any disappointment, arrive early or put your name down on the list for a table and enjoy a drink outside. Thankfully, the staff are super friendly and it will probably be the best service you’ll receive in Haggerston so do remember this when you tip at the end of the meal!
Berber & Q is a Middle Eastern and North African grill house which sets it miles apart from the Turkish restaurants lining the nearby streets of Dalston and Stoke Newington. Although having grown up in North London, Chef Katz often enjoyed cheeky kebabs on the way home from school, which has of course influenced his cooking style. Katz earned his chef’s whites at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Ottolenghi and Zest, so has some pretty tasty experience under his belt. He’s also travelled extensively and his food inspiration is a mash-up from some of his favourite places including Marrakesh, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and New York. Front of house, Bianchi previously worked at Ottolenghi as well and also with Ben Spalding.
Your meal arrives very quickly so you might want to delay this by having a drink first and then taking your time with the order. The team are happy to talk you through the menu if you need any help. With the open mangal, charcoal grill and smoker at the centre of the offering, anyone who loves meat is in for a real treat. The menu evolves over time, but for now your meat feast options include six dishes served with cumin salt, house sauces and pitta. You’ll be pleased to know that all the meat is free-range and naturally reared. The meat is dry-brined (which means salted), marinated and either smoked or finished on the open grill. Try the tender hand-pulled lamb, spicy merguez sausages which are made on the premises, smoked pork belly with pomegranate molasses and BBQ sauce, joojeh chicken thighs, harissa hot wings or smoked short rib with date syrup glaze.
Aside from the meat, you’ll find plenty of vegetarian options with the meze offering. It’s best to order a few dishes which you can share with your friends because you’ll want to taste a selection. Definitely try the cauliflower shwarma with tahini ( it was by far the best veggie dish). This comes as either a whole cauliflower, a half or a quarter. The blackened aubergine sabich had a distinct burnt and smoky flavour and is topped with a boiled egg. With tomatoes, cucumber, flat parsley plus a creamy dressing it’s certainly tasty. Beetroot lovers will enjoy the beets with whipped feta, saffron and candied orange. Grilled corn is flavoured with harissa aioli and lime. Other dishes included green beans with preserved lemon and Pangrattato, Moroccan carrot salad and red slaw. They also serve a selection of pickles, a couple of dips and usually two desserts.
Aside from the food it’s also a great place to experiment with some cocktails. Try the Guy Berber, which is vodka, orange liqueur, pomegranate, lime and raki mist or the Lebaneeza, which is saffron-infused rum with grapefruit, Demerara syrup and mint. The cocktail ingredients are quite something, with rose harissa, pistachio syrup and sumac featured. Try the beer which is in collaboration with CRATE brewery, a golden ale with za’atar, sumac, thyme and orange. They also have a few wines on offer and some interesting soft drinks.
The interiors are quite dimly lit so it has more of a bar vibe than a restaurant, with distressed, bare brick and concrete floors. The space was designed by Judith Pearson and was previously a disused taxi rank. A long, dark-wood bar stretches along one wall and there is an open kitchen so you can smell the food being cooked, which is very theatrical. There are a couple of communal tables made from reclaimed wood and additional separate tables with a row of cushioned bench-style seats. Overall, it’s industrial chic in a railway arch.
A couple of points to take into consideration is that music comes as part of the offering. The restaurant says that they are about food from the East and music from the West. It can be quite noisy so you may not be able to fully hear your friends, not the ideal place for a serious chat. Due to this noisy atmosphere, it’s probably not the best place to take children or babies, in addition to the fact that high chairs are not available. However, for an informal dinner or drinks with friends, you’ll have a great time!