I like to set a little challenge for these restaurants we review.

And, oh boy, was the one set for Arabian Nights this week an absolute doozy: Keep this tired-looking man, worn out after a long day at work on his 50th birthday as happy as you can while his dining companion travels from a points failure a few miles outside Swindon back to Bristol Parkway, up to Gloucester and thence to Swindon from there and he celebrates being officially old on his own, thinking quite hard about his life choices. Oh, and he’ll be driving home, so, you know, no dulling the pain with booze.

Best of luck.

As it turned out Great Western got my dining companion (DC) to the Victoria Road restaurant just 30 or so minutes after we were meant to be sitting down – and the Lebanese restaurant does have a wine list but it’s short and frankly nothing special (I thought I’d be regretting not being able to have even a little bit of some wonderful full-bodied Beqaa Valley red – but Arabian Nights doesn’t have any of that, so fresh orange juice was fine).

While I Billy No-matesd it, the manager (I’m pretty sure) was very kind - talking me through the menu. He recommended the special meal for two – but I had to inform him that the DC doesn’t eat meat.

“Oh, that’s no problem,” he said. “We’ll sort you out.”

So, well, fair enough, we’ll have that.

First up was a mixed mezze starter: all veggie.

It’s not unfamiliar: a blob of hummus, another one of baba ganoush – a mushed aubergine dip, a couple of hot falafel, some little pastries which I can best describe as a middle-eastern vegetable samosa, grilled halloumi and a chopped tomato, cucumber and lettuce salad, pickles and the obligatory pink pickled turnip batons.

(It’s a thing – I seem to get them in every eastern Med restaurant I’ve ever been too. I quite like it, it’s not obligatory. But turnip is not a thing you associate with Lebanese food, is it?)

Reader, we ate it all. Hummus was fine, the baba ganoush wasn’t as smoky as I’d have liked it, but more than half decent, the salad was great, the halloumi lovely.

And the falafel was some of the nicest I’ve had in a long while. They’re shaped a bit like an old-fashioned flying saucer, rather than a pellet, and were hot, crispy on the outside and extremely light and fluffy on the inside. Minced chickpeas deep fried can go claggy. Not these. Recommended.

Checking the menu, the ‘samosas’ are sambousek – and they also come in lamb and chicken versions.

Scoffing the lot had consequences come the second course.

Mine was three brochettes: spiced chicken, cubes of lamb and a minced lamb sausage affair. With rice and salad, on a flatbread.

And we awaited my DC’s off-the-menu main with interest. Then puzzlement.

First to arrive was a flatbread spread with a layer of chopped sauteed spinach and onion.

The DC is a big fan of spinach, and actually it was decent. Then came another flatbread spread with zatar, which is a mixture of toasted sesame, marjoram, oregano and other stuff. And salt. It’s a very savoury kick. For me, one segment was enough. It was very Zatar. This was the Zatar McZatarface of dishes. A little went a long way.

So it did for my DC, although that was also because after eating the first course neither of us had enough room for all our main. Especially as a basket of chips was also brought out.

But, slightly odd though the veggie things were, they were good enough for us to ask to take them home.

We had to do that with the two portions of baklava included in the price. They went into the take-out bag as well.

My DC and I shared them the next morning, ahem, for breakfast. In bed.

For those of you who can’t claim on exes: With one beer and soft drinks it all came to £56.

The Lebanese coffee was served, as it was made, in a copper pan, and was, as it should be, sweet as sugar, black as night and hot as hell.

Despite the efforts of our national rail infrastructure, and our weird food preferences, the evening was totally rescued for this tired 50 year old, not least by the skill of the kitchen staff and the forbearance of the waiters and manager.

I might recommend checking what’s coming, if you go off piste, slightly more carefully than we did.

But actually, it was great. And I got a good intro out of it.

Arabian Nights,
94 Victoria Road
01793 333000
info@ arabian-nights.co.uk

Opening hours
Monday-Thursday 4pm-midnight
Friday-Sunday: 4pm-1am

Parking: Public car parks nearby
Disabled access: yes

Our Ratings
Food: 8/10
Service: 9/10
Ambience: 8/10

Trip Advisor rating: 4/5