Behind a frosted window on the busy St John’s Road in Edinburgh, a new restaurant is slowly taking shape.
The owner of this venture is 35-year-old Ahmed Saadi, and it will offer his speciality - Lebanese street food.
Although we have plenty of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants in the capital, Saadi has almost cornered the market for this specific genre.
The addition of this branch means he’ll have opened three restaurants during lockdown. As he says, “It has been incredibly hard and stressful, but I love a challenge”.
The first - Sofia’s Lounge - is at The Salisbury Boutique Hotel in Newington and launched back in July, only to have to switch to a delivery and collection service.
Despite this, he says; “We had an influx of amazing reviews and diners in Edinburgh were raving about our food. All the comments kept us going”.
For the brief period in 2020 when we were allowed to visit restaurants, this venue was fully booked.
Their second branch is located within the Hampton by Hilton Hotel at Fountainbridge, and the third Corstorphine branch was due to open in mid-January, though plans have been delayed. They’re now aiming for the end of February, if builders are allowed to resume non-essential work and restrictions are lifted.
Saadi has more than 15 years experience in the hospitality business and, in 2010, opened his first restaurant, Beirut, in Newington – the other, more student-y, end of town.
“It was the first Lebanese restaurant in Edinburgh,” he says. “I sold Beirut in 2018 and that’s when I started working on the new brand, Sofia’s. It’s named after my first-born daughter, which seemed like the perfect fit”.
The restaurants all serve traditional Lebanese dishes with a twist.
“Our handmade sujuk burger is a must try,” says Saadi. “Sujuk is a traditional spicy sausage. We have imported the spice blend from the north of Lebanon and used it to create our burger, which is made with the best cuts of lamb. I’ve been told they are one of the best burgers in Edinburgh”.
There’s also mezze including baba ghanouj, as well as tagines, spiced rotisserie chicken, falafel stuffed with onions, and desserts including kunafa bel-ashta, which is drizzled with a rose-water scented syrup.
At a time when customers are getting bored of takeaway pizzas and fish and chips, these restaurants offer a healthier and more interesting alternative. They also use 90 per cent recyclable and biodegradable packaging, only using plastic when there’s no alternatives. That’s possibly what’s kept this enterprise afloat, and looking at further expansion.
“I believe we have a unique and amazing brand and we are hoping to take over Scotland by the end of next year, with plans to open multiple branches in Glasgow and Fife,” says Saadi. “As a business owner I have to look past covid and hope to be back to normality soon. Our journey has just started and we are in talks to add another two locations in Edinburgh this year”.
Sofia’s, 44 St John’s Road, Edinburgh www.sofiaslounge.co.uk