The Black Lion: Roaring for More
Inspired by London’s East End, a historic district that was once the home of the city’s working class, and thus the site of many a pub, The Black Lion is brimming with old world charm. Sitting on one end of the H Hotel, The Black Lion feels very much like the kind of bar you might find in a small neighborhood, where the owners would know all their customers by name. Dark wood with deep red accents including an intriguing red door set into the back wall create a sense of warmth and intimacy in the setting.
The menu, which has recently been revamped, is composed of some typical East London fare along with some international dishes that are popular in Britain. The vegetarian selection is not too extensive, but looks pretty good, so I order some of the most recommended dishes. I’m there on a late Tuesday afternoon, and Tuesdays happen to be Curry Night at The Black Lion, so the chef offers to whip up one of the vegetable curries that will be on offer later that evening!
For starters there’s Cay Tre Spring Rolls, Pumpkin Samosas and one of The Black Lion’s signature dishes, Crack’n Cheese Bites.
The spring rolls are normally made with fish sauce, but the chef gladly makes a substitution on request. A mixture of finely shredded vegetables including zucchini and carrots are marinated in soy sauce and then flash-fried after being wrapped in dough. Other than that, there’s no actually cooking of the vegetables, giving them a little crunch that marries well with the crispiness of the outer pastry.
The samosas are, quite simply, a treat. Pumpkin is perfect for any kind of comfort food, and combines so well with a classic Indian street food dish. Light and crisp on the outside with a sweet and mildly spiced filling, this appetizer is simply irresistible. In fact, given the recent weather, this would be just the right dish for a rainy day. And of course, the one dish that cannot be missed is the Crack’n Cheese, The Black Lion’s famous mac n’ cheese balls with a rich, delightfully cheesy filling and a good amount of macaroni to balance out the creaminess.
Next up is the Mushroom and Tofu Hot Pot with bok choy and noodles. The menu lists oyster sauce as a main ingredient, though I am assured that it’s an oyster-flavored sauce that is completely vegetarian. The hot pot has a nice salty flavor to it with small hints of sweetness that are supported by the earthy mushrooms.
The curries of the day come in three varieties. There’s the mild and creamy korma, the spicy vindaloo and rogan josh, which is moderately spiced. While I would have normally opted for the spicier options, the mild korma seems to fit better with the other dishes. It’s an eggplant curry that has some coconut in the sauce to give it a fresh, sweeter taste. The korma is served on a bed of rice, accompanied by a roti (Indian flat bread), papadums, mango chutney and lime-chili pickle. Both of the condiments are made in-house, and are quite delicious. The dish is, as expected, more of a British take on curry than something you’d find at an Indian restaurant, but it’s satisfying nonetheless and would no doubt go well with a beverage of choice.
I finish up with one of The Black Lion’s most popular desserts, Salted Caramel Cheesecake. The cheesecake is creamy without being too dense, with caramel sauce drizzled over it. Additionally, it is topped off with what I can only describe as ‘croutons’ of salted caramel that add a great contrasting texture as well as a lovely, slightly salty flavor.
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised of late at how veggie-friendly bars and pubs seem to have gotten, a far cry from the standard mozzarella sticks and onion rings you might expect. While The Black Lion has a stronger appetizer selection (mainly thanks to the amazing mac n’cheese), the combination of charming atmosphere and warm, comforting flavors are enough reason to come back.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: X
Pros: Intimate setting, fantastic mac n’ cheese, great service
Cons: Could use more veggie main courses
Price: $$ (50 - 200 AED)
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