When I compare Steak’s university life to my own, I can’t help but feel a little bit envious. Whilst I live in a constant state of sleep deprivation and spend more time at dental school than I do inside my own home, Steak’s trips to university seem to come around less frequently than a lunar eclipse. This in itself wouldn’t be a big problem, but when Steak also insists that we hold off visiting any restaurants in North London for when she is on campus – (i.e never), it turns into nothing more than a bitter game of patience.
Last week however, the planets began to align, the full moon rose to the sky and the atmospheric conditions on Earth became just right, and Steak headed over to her mythical land of further education. This was of course, a momentous occasion, and to mark it, we headed over to Mem and Laz Brasserie – a casual Mediterranean eatery in Islington.
Note: The chicken and the lamb are certified halal. Alcohol is served on the premises.
A quick glance through the relatively lengthy menu will reveal that Mem and Laz takes the bulk of its inspiration from the kitchens of Turkey and Italy, and you’d certainly be well within your right to wonder whether the chef was experiencing something of an identity crisis. The variety does however, generate a certain allure, and Steak and I began our meal with a peculiar combination of bruschetta and chicken wings.
The soft, yet crusty bread of the bruschetta was of a reasonable quality, and the assortment of tomatoes, olives, basil and cheese did well to create a bright set of flavours. However, whilst the cheese was reasonably soft, I felt that it could’ve done with a little more time in the oven.
The chicken wings on the other hand, seemed to have spent a little too much time on the grill – or rather, been exposed to a particularly harsh one. Though soft and tender with a pleasant, crispy skin, they possessed a fairly excessive essence of charcoal that was compounded by mute flavours and a lack of sufficient seasoning. I also struggled to understand why the wings had been served with a random side of rice, although, if the internet is anything to go by, I’d guess that the chef accidentally dropped them in water.
“Put it in rice”. Chicken wings.
For mains, I opted for a plate of oregano lamb fillet. Despite being thin cut and cooked to well-done, the fillet remained reasonably tender, and possessed a sufficient amount of flavour to appease the palate. However, the essence of oregano failed to come through with the lamb, and the accompanying rice proved to be somewhat dull and uninspiring. Personally, I think a rich and buttery helping of oregano-infused potato puree would have made for a more successful pairing.
Lamb with oregano
Whilst I adhered to my usual meaty protocol, Steak announced that she would be ordering a vegetarian plate of “Mem’s pasta”. A brutal interrogation ensued, and after receiving some reassurance that she wasn’t turning into a vegetarian, I eased my grip on the vial of IV antibiotics in my bag. Little did I know however, that it would be me who would be catching the veggie-bug. As Steak reached her full and passed her plate over to me, I was greeted by a wonderous aroma of pesto and parmesan. The rich and creamy pesto sauce covered every inch of the soft but slightly al-dente spaghetti, and the exquisite, musky flavour it emitted was simply divine. I didn’t so much as eat it, as I did engorge it, and before I knew it, I had blurted out that this meat-free dish was better than my lamb fillet.
Mem’s pesto pasta
Mortified by this outburst, I promptly ordered a creme brulee to rinse my blasphemous mouth out with sugar. As we broke through the perfectly crisp and crystallised caramel top, we were greeted by a thick and smooth custard pudding. The combined efforts of the sticky, crunchy caramel, the rich, sweet custard and the refreshing topping of fruit provided a satisfying gustatory experience – and one that hopefully cleansed my tastebuds of any remaining vegetarian affection.
Fruit creme brulee
Value For Money: 3.5/5
If ordering from the a la carte menu, the chicken wings and bruschetta will cost you £3.95 and £4.45 respectively, whilst the lamb fillet and pesto pasta would come in at £10.95 and £7.75 respectively. Steak and I however, had ordered from the lunch menu, and thus, received slightly smaller portions at £11 each for three courses. Across the rest of the a la carte menu, you’ll find that starters cost around £3-£5, main courses range from £7 to £15, and desserts cost around £5, making Mem and Laz a fairly inexpensive eatery. Undoubtedly, certain elements of the menu require a fair bit of improvement in execution, but for the most part, Mem and Laz does well to provide a frivolity-free meal that is easy on the wallet.
You can also expect to receive a thoroughly warm welcome, as the staff members are as friendly as they are efficient.
Decor / Ambience: 3/5
The decor on the other hand, seems a little more brash and brazen. Whilst the love and intricacy invested into it is perfectly admirable, the homely wooden interior is somewhat spoilt by the excessive array of random objects, ornaments, and posters that lie scattered across its walls and surfaces. This inevitably results in a bit of visual noise, and the eyes quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decoration. The restaurant is however, rather large, and other areas within it are a little more tame and refined in their presentation, making it suitable for large group gatherings and special occasions. The restaurant can be found a quick ten minute walk away from Angel station, and parking spaces may be difficult to come by in the local area.
(Image taken from www.memlaz.co.uk)
As experience has proven time and time again, dabbling with multiple cuisines is a sure-fire way to lead a restaurant into a bitter downfall. In the case of Mem and Laz however, this may not hold quite so true. Here, the success lies in the fact that Mem and Laz have managed to marry up the similar aspects of two vastly differing cuisines, and have done so in a manner that is not entirely disrespectful of their respective individualities. And whilst there is certainly a lot of room for improvement, the fact remains that at Mem and Laz, I enjoyed a vegetarian dish more than I enjoyed a fillet of lamb, and as I sit in bewilderment and have an identity crisis of my own, I would say that the pesto pasta alone is worth trying out.
Mem and Laz Brasserie
Address: 8 Theberton Street, Islington, London N1 0QX
Telephone: 0207 704 90 89