It's on the same road as the River Cafe – another Hammersmith dining institution – but this tiny, one-room neighbourhood restaurant couldn’t be more different. The food is Lebanese in origin but the interior is best described as a fabulously kitsch cultural clash.
Mes Amis is a one-man show that survives on the absolute dedication of its mustachioed owner James, chef and designer, and has remained practically unchanged since it first opened for dinner in 1993.
Unassuming from the outside, the interior is a visual cacophony of chinoiserie, chintz and stringed instruments.
Mardi Gras beads drip from overhead lights, the ceiling is festooned with paper umbrellas, tablecloths drape to the floor and candlesticks have the accumulated wax from a generation of romantic dinners à deux.
Every available surface is crammed with porcelain figurines, but the main show is the host himself. James’s kitchen occupies pride of place in the room and consists of a gas burner, a deep fat fryer, two sinks (no dishwasher) and a narrow counter piled high with vegetables. It puts anyone who complains of the constraints of small city kitchens to shame.
He cooks everything from scratch, to order (with very little prep), while diners chat nearby, leaving two charming waitresses to man the floor.
Most diners choose the set mixed meze of sparklingly fresh tabouleh, houmous and roasted aubergine dips with warm pitta.
The large version includes crisp ‘spring rolls’ filled with tangy cheese and mint, lemony fried cauliflower, and ‘samosas’ packed with lamb mince and peas. Griddled whole king prawns come slathered in pungent garlic and parsley.
Mains are more in keeping with the decor. Whatever you order, each main course looks fairly similar, and is garnished to the hilt. Chicken or lamb skewers, Lebanese chicken, or salmon: all are plated on huge plates, atop wheat or rice and bathed in a lemon wine sauce.
The brief drinks list includes several Lebanese wines, including Chateau Musar and Heritage. Tiny wedges of baklava, tea and sweet boiled Lebanese coffee serve as the only desserts.
With only 20 seats, Mes Amis has the intimate feeling of a friend’s living room, albeit one with a predilection for OTT interiors and dinner tables. In a city of modern and modish eateries, this is one dining experience that sticks out.