Operation: Falafel London review: a fresh taste of home

The restaurant's namesake dish is one of the best in the city

UAE favourite Operation: Falafel has opened in London. Photo: Operation: Falafel
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London isn't showing the best version of itself as I hurry along Camden's Chalk Farm Road on a blustery day. Rain is bucketing down, soaking those caught unaware, but a yellow oasis is calling, the recently opened Operation: Falafel.

The Dubai export has so far spread its wings to Riyadh and New York, and recently added London to its portfolio of delivery and dine-in venues.

The setting isn't exactly cosy, with more of an industrial vibe designed to provide a quick place to scoff down your meal before heading out to the busy streets of North London. But with food served in less than five minutes, it doesn't need to be glamorous, just clean ― and it's gleaming.

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Londoners are familiar with the likes of hummus and falafel – but they seek originality and authenticity
Manhal Naser, group chief executive and co-founder, AWJ Investments

The clientele meet the O:F slogan that "street food is for everyone". A man and his son devour pitas as a stuffed iguana — the boy's toy — watches on, and two men on their way to Camden's Roundhouse events space order takeaway. But the bulk of the restaurant's patrons will never meet the chefs, because they order online.

It's a shame, because the team are friendly and accommodating, assuring me that everything is made fresh to order.

Now, I've eaten at the original O:F in the UAE, so my expectations were high. On days when office life was too busy for a lunch break, I would order a chicken or falafel pita to eat at my desk.

So how does it compare to its older sibling?

It's in the name, but the stand-out item on the menu is the falafel. Diners can experience it in a variety of ways: in pitas, salad bowls or just glorious nuggets of goodness served with nothing but a to-die-for tahini dip or a choice of other sauces.

Nothing beats the crunch of freshly fried falafel. Photo: Operation: Falafel

Many falafel joints in London and the rest of the UK cook their falafel earlier in the day and heat it up for customer orders. But at O:F the herby green balls of crushed chickpeas are moulded and fried to order, and it really shows.

Smooth and soft in the middle, with that unmistakable crispy crunch on the outside, they were magnificent. Served in portions of four, eight or 12 with a variety of sauces (my favourite being the classic tahini dip), they were so moreish I had to order some to take as a gift for a friend.

For the more adventurous, there are also stuffed falafel, topped with sesame seeds with onions and sumac inside.

With a nod to those wishing for something a little healthier than garlic sauce and bread, O:F also provides salad bowls, a popular lunchtime choice in the UAE starting to gain traction in the UK.

I was not in such a pious mood, so added sujuk fries to my order of chicken shawarma pita and falafels. They were just the sort of thing I imagine eating at 2am after a night on the tiles, but didn't bring the expected lethargy that fries with cheese and a meaty topping should.

The chicken pita was tasty enough, but lacked the punch and warmth of the shawarma served in other areas of the capital and, indeed, back in the UAE. There is also less on the menu in London, with favourites like manaeesh missing and a smaller selection of dips.

Staff say the first three months since opening have gone well, and there are plans to operate a "dark kitchen", with no front of house, in the west of the capital.

Manhal Naser, group chief executive and co-founder of AWJ Investments, Operation: Falafel's parent company, says London was an obvious choice for the brand to expand after the UAE, Riyadh and the US.

"Operation: Falafel is a brand based on a mission to share the real taste of Middle Eastern street food with the wider world, therefore we always have had a global goal, and this will continue," he says. "We know London has a thriving [food and beverage] market with a great acceptance and demand for Middle Eastern cuisine.

"Moreover, Londoners are familiar with the likes of hummus and falafel ― but they seek originality and authenticity, which we strive to provide."

Updated: November 11, 2022, 6:02 PM
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