Staff welcomed us and took our coats, and got us settled at a table with mismatching glasses and crockery. It's a small wee place, cosy and intimate, where you feel like you're on holiday ... maybe in Lebanon, maybe in London's Greek Street.
Our party of five chose the chef's recommendation. I can't remember the Arabic word for it (hafli?), but am pretty sure it translates along the lines 'massive banquet with a bit of everything'. We got to choose a selection of cold and hot mezzes, to be followed by a mix of meats and rice and Lebanese desserts.
The mezzes were delicious: my own favourite, stuffed vine leaves, were fresh and zingy; our Moroccan friend thought the falafel was the best he'd tasted outside North Africa and the Middle East. A surprise hit was the baked okra in a rich tomatoey, oniony sauce. Something for everyone, including vegetarians and coeliacs.
Our main course (part of the set banquet) didn't sound exciting - there were far more exotic sounding things tempting me on the main menu - but this is where chef Simon's skill shone. Each of us had three skewers, chicken, lamb and beef, with various dips. Now a chef who can make chicken taste this good, and turn rice into something this delicate and aromatic (almonds?), is worth supporting with your trade!
Those who had coffee concurred it was good, and the deserts went down very well. As well as the expected baclawa, there was a delicious avocado mousse. Sarah offered me hers as the other desserts were pastry-based, but she changed her mind when she heard the rest of us make noises of appreciation - mmmmm.
Cedar gets full marks from me for its food. But the experience was as much about hospitality. Bernadette and Claudia made us feel like honoured guests with their attentive service and great chat and humour. Chef Simon joined his family toward the end of the night (sorry we really were those guests that never leave) to make sure we'd had a good time, and tell us how they came to open their restaurant in Derry.
Now, if you live in or visit the city of Culture, please go to Cedar. The pattern in Derry, too often, is that exciting new places open up and do well for a while and then shut again. But we need restaurants like Cedar to give us real variety and choice. No tobacco onions, no garlic potatoes ... so totally different to most other restaurants in town. Vive la différence!