Well where to start, we read online reviews of this place from a historic Guardian article which seemed to state that it was a pleasant Lebanese restaurant.... Me and my wife were in Oxford visiting the city from London and thought on the basis of the Guardian review to give them a call to book a meal. So here goes....
I rang the restaurant at 4.20pm on the Saturday to book a table for two later that evening. I was shocked when speaking with the person who takes bookings on the other line that 'You need to book weeks in advance for Al -Shami' and that 'one cannot simply ring up on the day to book a table'; a very condescending and unprofessional approach to say the least. However...when I stated that I was only looking for a table for two he quickly backtracked and said that they could accommodate me and my wife. Against my better judgement I still decided to proceed after this weird and unprofessional telephone booking.
And so we arrived at the restaurant. We were greeted by a slow service and saw that this place did seem to be quirky in the fact that there were 5 - 6 waiters standing around and having their own conversations quite loudly near to the entrance. The hygiene of the restaurant at this point could have been questioned by simply looking at the waiters' 'white' shirts. It is apparent that they most likely employed a 3 wear and wash policy.
Nonetheless, we received a complimentary dish of raw veg which other reviews have commented on, and then ordered taboullah and hummus. The naan that arrived was cold and the taboullah was simply chopped parsley, and no hint of onion, garlic etc. It looked like it had been spooned out a large taboullah container as the bottom of the dish was full of water. The humus was not too bad and I cannot complain about this.
For mains we ordered a lamb and chicken dish and were surprised to find out that the dishes come without any rice or naans or salad. The lamb was well cooked, however the chicken dish that was ordered seemed to be lukewarm and I questioned whether this had simply been microwaved rather than cooked on a grill. However I continued to eat the meal and paid the bill and grumbled all the way home to my wife.
A few hours later the stomach cramps began, then the diarrhea. This happened to both me and my wife and we had both shared the chicken. I rang the restaurant at 10.30pm to let them know that they should check/ or stop serving the chicken due to these reactions. The person answering the phone was about to put the phone down without taking my details, I insisted that this should be passed onto the manager. I assumed that the owner/manager would want to talk to me and follow this up.
The next day came and I had heard very little, however my wife and I were keen to see Oxford on this last day. We entered the town and passed the restaurant to speak to the manager face to face. After some time waiting for the manager, a chap appeared and he stated that he was not the manager (he never clarified who he was) but took notes of the meals we ate and our feedback. I expressed my discontent and view that I was not impressed with not having received a callback only to be met by comments that this kind of thing had not happened in 20 plus years at the restaurant. I ended the conversation when the chap begun to question what I had been eating earlier in the day etc and attempted to divert the attention from the poor meal. I did get quite annoyed when he was trying to blame the sickness on things that me and my wife had eaten previously. Regardless, my comments I believe were going upto the boss/owner, but having heard very little soon after the incident has prompted me to write this review now.
I will say that this restaurant the attitude of the staff is poor and I would ask the question if the Guardian reviewers saw the 'real Al Shami'.
I was told that nothing like this had happened in 20 + years but then I found that the place was in the press in 2010 for poor hygiene.
All in all this is one of the worst places I have ever been to in the last few years. I rarely review on Tripadvisor but this is my only outlet of explaining how poor the service and food is.
I completely agree with the other poor reviews and can only suggest that Al Shami personnel are writing their own reviews to ensure that this place is 'seen' as 4/5 stars.