Falafel might be a vegetarian’s favourite in England but in the Arab world it’s a time-honoured tradition.

It is thought to have begun in Egpyt as a replacement for meat during Lent.

Now every country with an Arabic population swears by the fast food, which mixes chickpeas with spices, as a cheap and quick fill.

Speak to the Arabic community in the Wadi Nisnas district in the northern Israeli city of Haifa and they’ll say the place to try the national dish is Falafel Michel.

The take-away has a secret recipe which, thanks to Michel’s sister-in-law, Amal, has finally been shared with the Western world.

“I’ve been asking for the recipe for ten years and I’ve only just got it,” says Amal, a Palestinian born in Haifa who moved to England in the 1980s and now lives in Sussex with her husband and FilFil business partner Tim Cashin.

Amal and Tim brought the former Red Veg shop in Gardner Street two years ago.

The couple have spent £100k on turning the building from a total wreck with structural damage into a cosy cafe with a Middle Eastern feel.

Tim’s brother, an architect, redesigned the space. Gone are the squatters’ sofas and graffiti on the walls. Now there are high-stools at the windows, green leather banked seating and wood-panelled décor designed by Brighton’s Wood Works.

“We began looking for a property about four years ago,” explains Amal.

“When we saw this place we knew straight away we wanted it. We brought a builder round to see it and he said we were crazy to take it on. But we had a gut feeling because the location and space were perfect.”

In return for bringing the site back to life, the owners gave the couple a rent reduction.

The only thing that remains from the old building is a giant extractor fan behind the counter. Its presence means the couple can have an A3 licence to cook fresh falafel from scratch on the premises.

The Guide visits FilFil the day after its opening, which was slightly tarnished by a flood in the basement.

Downstairs is back to normal and the high-tech meat mincer they’ve customised to mash the chickpeas has been pumping out the mixture to be deep-fried upstairs.

On the ground floor is the legendary Michel who has flown over from Haifa to celebrate the occasion and make sure the pair don’t mess up his prized recipe on its international debut.

“The secret is it’s made with love,” is all he says, his face barely moving, looking for the entire world as if he were made for poker.

Amal is the opposite. She is full of energy. She loves to host.

“When I was growing up, food was central to everything we did. I loved falafel and we would all get together to eat and it would always be a social occasion.

“The whole family would come round and it would be noisy, filled with chatter, and lots of fun.”

She wants to recreate that atmosphere at the cafe. The extended family are in and are all testing to see if Michel’s recipe has been honoured.

“We want to be welcoming, sociable and relaxed,” explains Amal, eventually clearing out the party.

“Our customers will be able to enjoy a Middle Eastern dining atmosphere.”

Amal trained as a fertility nurse and still works in London. But her father was a grocer in Haifa, so the food business is in her blood. She hopes to make FilFil, which translates from Arabic as pepper, a full-time occupation.

Speaking from behind the glass vitrine where the salads, pickled vegetables, humous, feta, halloumi, aubergine, vine leaves and avocado sit, she says the selling points are the food heritage and freshness.

“Our signature dish is the hot falafel cooked to order. It’s healthy and convenient. In the Middle East they call it fast food, but it’s very different to the fast food here.”

  • Gardner Street, Brighton. Open daily, 10am to 6pm. Call 01273 696289 or visit www.fil-fil.co.uk