Tuesday, 29 September 2009

17. Chicken Cottage

105 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 8969 5996

Gourmand writes: A foal gallops past my window towards its mother. The aromas of fresh mint and thyme linger in the air. The sun sets behind the mountains.

I'm in a caravan in the hills of northern Tuscany, and I've spent the past hour picking dates and grapes from the trees. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find a cute little abode called Chicken Cottage down one of these country lanes, or whatever Chicken Cottage is in Italian. Il Cottago Pollo? Who knows.

Unfortunately, this review of Chicken Cottage isn't a cute-as-feathers, cluck-happy idyll because Chicken Cottage is the gateway to the arse-end of Cricklewood, a selection of crappy shops by a crossroads where the only feathers are tarred and the only thing nature has to offer is Friday night's tramp's piss.

Nevertheless, Chicken Cottage, with its charming thatched roof made of drumsticks, possesses a magnetic attraction to Cricklewodians. Sure, the food's lousy, the smell's repugnant and the atmosphere's slightly foreboding, but it's often hard to get a table at this chicken-twisting fryhouse. The local lads sit in there day and night, soaking up the oily badness.

To be fair, it's not that shit for what it is. My chicken burger tasted something like chicken, although Gormless' fried plop de poulet thingy scared me. Perhaps it was reconstituted, or reimagined, or regressive, or whatever they do to it in the warehouse, but it seemed so unshapely. Gormless didn't enjoy it much, and remember, this is a man with fewer working taste buds than a vole, so that's some harsh criticism right there, folks.

It's cheap, though. And as Gormless no doubt will mention, they give you the option of Ribena instead of Coke. We love you, Chicken Cottage!

Gormless writes:
In the course of our Gullets adventure Chicken Cottage has become a symbol. It represents the transition between the two Cricklewoods, a division only the most on-message of Cricklewood unity preachers would deny. On one side of this crud cottage are restaurants, sometimes struggling, but with character and heart. On the other there is a steep decline into the tasteless gaud of McDonalds, Burger King and KFC .

After visiting Chicken Cottage, I have had to revised its symbol status. It is not so much the transition point between the two Cricklewoods as one of the lowest points brought forward; it is an abrupt descent into shit, especially following Zeytoon.

I ordered two pieces of chicken, two hot wings and a drink. The chicken tasted as though they had subjected the Colonel's special recipe to another secret stage involving grease injections and lead lining. The place was quite busy, with an exclusively gurning, grinning male cast. Once again, I would like to thank my patron, Gourmand, for taking me to nice places and making me feel out of sorts among 'my people'.

The best I can say for it is that they offer Ribena as an alternative to Coke and Tango.

Overall score: 6/20
Better than we expected. Honestly.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

16. Zeytoon

94-96 Cricklewood Broadway
020 830 7434

Gourmand writes: Now this is more like it. Zeytoon has everything I hope for from a restaurant: delightfully over-the-top decor, Iraqi wedding parties with Arabic pop music and mass female whooping, a full Persian menu with a few Afghan extras, and consistently delicious food.

Zeytoon opened its doors on a struggling Broadway at the start of a recession and I wondered how it could possibly succeed. It's a big restaurant; twice the size of rivals Noor and Persia, yet it's thriving.
The right half of the restaurant is the party zone, and to get to the toilets I had to duck and weave inbetween the aforementioned Iraqi revellers. The left side of the space attracted just about the most mixed clientele we've seen in Cricklewood. We saw Iranians and Afghans eating their native food, but also a few native Brits including a party of teenage girls indulging in calorific qabli pilau (an Afghan rice dish with lamb shanks, carrots, raisins and almonds).

We ordered five starters for £11 - paneer sabzi (feta with mint, parsley, tarragon and spring onion), hummos, spinach borani (a garlicky yoghurt dip), mirza qasemi (a northern Iranian dish of mashed grilled aubergine with garlic, egg and tomatoes - superb) and the best kashk e-bademjan on the street. We loved the hot crispy bread, which we watched them make from scratch, and moved onto an unfussy but excellent lamb chelo kebab.

My nerdy side loves the fact Zeytoon focuses on food from the Afghan-Persian border. Afghan pasta dishes such as mantu sit alongside Persian stews on the menu. I adore the chandeliers, the stained glass and the mirrors, the colourful Persian miniatures under arches of exposed brickwork.

I can't wait to go back to Zeytoon. Apart from handing us the wrong bill, which the waiter at fault apologised immediately for, they got everything right. This is a seriously good restaurant.

Gormless writes: This restaurant opened around the same time we started this blog. I was not sure it would survive long enough for us to eat in it. Even in prosperous times, Cricklewood is hardly a good place to launch an upper-middle market restaurant with two rooms.

A quick walk down the Broadway at dinner time shows that its neighbours are in competition to attract the nightly turnout of a couple and a lonely man. How would Zeytoon survive? I needn't have worried. If the night we attended was typical then there are plenty of wedding receptions to justify a second room. The lively toasts and music from the party created an atmosphere that pushed Zeytoon ahead of its rivals Persia and Noor from the start.

Not only this, but midway through our meal, a group of attractive female students entered. Quite what such an incongruous bunch were doing bringing light to the Cricklewood gloom I can only speculate. The only college Cricklewood is fit to host is one that would teach students how to run a faltering electical wholesale shop half-heartedly. Their presence certainly enlivened the waiting staff, but the minds of the Gullets lads were on one thing: this blog!

We decided to replicate our Noor and Persia experiences as much as we could so that this sub-battle would be fairly fought. To this end we ordered, as we did at Persia, the mezze special, and ate these dishes with the kind of made-as-you-wait bread we enjoyed at Noor. To say that it was the best of both meals would be, um, true. The kebab we ordered was less memorable than the one we had at Persia but that was probably because what came before it was so good. I had water. It was served in a glass.

Overall score: 16.5/20
We have a new name at the top of the scoreboard!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

15. Broadway Bagel Bakery

92 Cricklewood Broadway
020 7723 4481

Gourmand writes: I know bagels. I've eaten them my whole life. I grew up in Temple Fortune and Golders Green where Daniels and Carmelli respectively rule the bagel roost. I've eaten bagels in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. I get smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels from the Brick Lane Beigel Bake all the time. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have bagels in their blood.

There's nothing special or unique about Cricklewood's bagel bakery, but I'm glad it's there. Not only because I'm stupidly heartened by Jewish eateries sitting side-by-side with Iranian restaurants, but because it's sometimes nice when things don't change. Cricklewood is no longer a hive of Jewish activity, but a road as multiculutral as the Broadway without a bagel bakery just wouldn't be right.

They've changed the signage so it's no longer called Braodway Bagel Bakery, and therefore I'm more inclined to take it seriously. But it's no contender. The bagels may taste wonderful when freshly baked in the morning, but at 7pm they're a bit dull and chewy. I had mine stuffed with chopped herring and it paled in comparison with its Brick Lane counterpart. A day's worth of refridgeration had made it tough and tasteless. Gormless boldly went for the falafel, which was utterly lifeless. We also shared some bread pudding, which was preternaturally sweet and made me feel a bit dizzy.

So, not particularly good then. But I'm happy to have it around.

Gormless writes: Gullets purists may be shocked to hear I no longer live in the Cricklewood area. I have moved into central London and now only return to add to this blog.

This bakery is in many ways the transition point between the two Cricklewoods. We have been spoilt, so far, by proper restaurants with chefs and cutlery. The bagel akery retains a welcoming small business veneer, but is not geared towards on-site consumption. Indeed, we took the only table in the place and were clearly lower priority than bread-buying customers.

I had a falafel. It was not that good and took an age to prepare. The falafels were quite rough on the roof of my mouth and the salad was nothing special. I had a Coke and a Coke is the same everywhere and makes everywhere the same.

Most of the Gullets stops after this are either Net Cafes or various forms of Chicken Shack. Surely our winner must come soon if it hasn't already. This was a fitting choice as we prepare to enter the 'other' Cricklewood.

Overall score: 9/10
There's more than one hole in this bagel...

Saturday, 23 May 2009

14. Vali's Four Seasons

73 Cricklewood Broadway,
020 8621 4755

Gourmand writes: As far as I can tell, this Polish-run Cricklewood caff has nothing to do with Frankie Valli (note correct spelling) and his group the Four Seasons. There's nothing relating to 60s pop music on any of the walls. Perhaps it's just a coincidence; an owner called Vali naming his cafe after a famous international hotel chain.

Apart from it's complete unrelatedness to 60s pop music, there's little else to say about this friendly cafe. They screened the BBC's Watchdog on a overhead TV screen, a feature Gormless particularly appreciated, and there appeared to be a family playing in the garden at the back, prompting speculation that people lived in the kitchen.

I took a punt at a Polish off-menu order and was rewarded with a delicious pork escalope. It felt and tasted wholesomely meaty and came with a generous portion of mashed potato and a Polish salad (everything pickled). Gormless' jacket potato looked a bit rubbish.

Gormless writes: I often refer to the Beaten Docket immigration debates on this blog. You would be wrong to think they are all petty racism and gloomy sniping. Frequent tribute is paid to Eastern Europeans who come over here with a good set of tools and a work ethic.

A trip to Four Seasons proves that Poles can run a restaurant as well as build things. The café is across the road from Cafe Nur and will provide counter evidence come the next B.D.I.D meet. Indeed, you might say the proprietors have gone too far and effaced their national identity. Gourmand had to make a special request for Polish food as the menu only offered stateless café fodder.

The prominent TV was showing Watchdog, that fine bastion of British petty-mindedness, mock outrage and "no nonsense". I ordered a jacket potato with beans and cheese. It was a good meal and I can only blame myself for not trying to push the operation to see what it could deliver. Gourmand's pork escalope was tasty.

So, in lieu of much else to say here are four reasons why you could be forgiven for choosing Four Seasons. Firstly, there is a big TV and you might not have a TV. Secondly, there is a bar. Thirdly, they have a secret menu that can only be accessed by the select few, like Gourmand. Since the collapse of Communism the Eastern hordes' propensity to espionage has had to be channeled into such outlets. Fourth is the beautiful, spacious garden you can glimpse out the back of the building. Truly, Four Seasons supports a happy home life.

Overall score: 13.5/10
A solid performance by Vali's Four Seasons. We recommend going Polish here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

13. Cafe Nur

70 Cricklewood Broadway

Gourmand writes:
they conquered the broadway, stuffed their gullets
in old man pubs while men with mullets
argued the ins and outs of immigration
food goes in, won't come out - such wretched constipation!

straight from the freezer, direct from the can
the deep-fried slop of mr chan
bolo's spicy sauce, a flame from nigeria
cricklewood pizza topped with bacteria

but we'd need the diplomatic skills
of boutros-boutros ghali
to pry a single samosa
from the hands of a somali

we came in search of food
they rudely sent us packing
we have no choice but to conclude
café nor was totally lacking

Gormless writes: One thing guaranteed to ignite The Beaten Docket immigration debate is racism against whites. We are far from racist: I won't post transcripts, but frequent tribute is paid to helpful foreigners who make us food or build our houses. I've said it once and I'll say it again: curry is our national dish. However, when they come over here, shut themselves off in unfriendly enclaves and tap into our football (football that we have to pay for!) then… well, anything goes.

We tried to dine at Nur Café, a new venture on the Broadway that appears to be run by members of the Somali community. We approached with trepidation. From a distance it is clear that this is a closed shop and probably the site of many dodgy deals. One of those gathered even had a tea towel on his head in lieu of his tribal what-not: THIS IS NOT A RACIST CHARACTURE.

Gourmand, never one to be cowed by uppity foreigners, took the lead and stepped through the door with confidence. The possibility of food was quickly and aggressively denied, despite the presence of fridges well-stocked with samousas. So where does this leave us? Forsaken on our own high street, unable to order the goods we want, when we want?

As I hinted in the Noor review, I am all for playful subversion of the free market…but not by them. Plus, they were watching football (our football…the kind of game you have to pay a satellite service to access) on the biggest screen on the Broadway. Wrong.

Overall score: 0/10
By refusing to let us into a cafe that was clearly open for business, Café Nor gets a barely deserved zero. Losers.

Monday, 4 May 2009

12. Top Wok

74 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8452 9988

Gourmand writes: I expected nothing less than the toppermost of the wokkermost on the Broadway. Considering Top Wok's only Chinese competition is Mr Chan, whose sweet and sour dishes are marginally less appealing than eating the scabs off the face of a badly-burned war orphan, my expectations weren't exactly sky-high.

Needless to say, Top Wok slided past the greasy opposition with ease by cooking serviceable, fuss-free Chinese chow. The crispy duck pancakes we shared as a starter may have been cooked from frozen, but they were full of flavour; and the crispy seaweed - while also requiring approximately zero talent on the chef's part - was crispily moreish. The squid in ginger sauce was slightly on the tough side, while a generous portion of pork in black bean sauce tasted like something out of a jar, but at this price we had no complaints. Service is friendly enough, and the non-existent decor is, well, exactly what you'd expect at these prices. In a word: functional.

Gormless writes: If you click on some of the dates over on the right and navigate around this blog you can return to our first ‘Oriental in Cricklewood’ experience. True Gullets fans can recite this foundational text from memory. For many, it is what hooked them in the first place. Here, the erudite toff (“To expect a satisfactory dining experience at a restaurant with either of the words "Mr" or "Chan" in its name would be naïve…”) meets his clueless (“what value”) companion.

Looking back I feel ashamed at my extreme culinary gormlessness. Mr Chan’s delivered the worst meal we have endured, yet I gave it five out of ten. Top Wok would not have to do much to take the barely contested title of Best Chinese on the Broadway. It was quickly apparent that we were dealing with a higher class of Chinese. There were tables, menus and an attentive skeleton staff. It was all reasonably priced and we went for seaweed and crispy duck as a starter with pork in black bean sauce and squid with ginger as main courses.

The crispy duck wasn’t fresh but it tasted fine, although we could have done with a few more pancakes. The main dishes were tasty and I wolfed my share down quickly. Too quickly. Soon after the meal I started feeling sick. I attribute this more to my extreme eagerness to stuff my face than to the food itself.

Top Wok is a pleasant place to spend an hour and has some of the endearing flaws that mark the best places on the Broadway. There is a side table in the restaurant that has a plant pot and a yellow pages on it, like a bed and breakfast reception might.

Overall score: 13/20
A big fat 'meh' for Top Wok, then

Sunday, 19 April 2009

11. Noor

67 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8830 6688

Gourmand writes: For some inexplicable reason, I once took a date to Noor. For reasons I wouldn't dream of going into on this public forum, it ended badly. My second visit to Noor - cue nasty flashbacks - ended even more disastrously, but at least on this occasion I didn't have a tablemate I wanted to kiss.

"Gormless," I said, pointing conspiratorially at the menu. "They charge for bread." I tutted loudly. Persia Restaurant doesn't charge for bread. But my tuts were premature because the bread, cooked from scratch in a clay oven by the window, is absolutely wonderful. We used it to mop up a faultless kashk o-bademjan (mashed aubergine with curdled milk) and a great borani (spinach and yoghurt).

The main courses were even better. The chelo lamb kebab melted in the mouth and the chelo khoresht fesenjan was even better, a stew with chopped walnuts, pomegranate sauce, chicken and saffron rice. It was, I asserted, the best food we'd had on the Broadway. But there was absolutely no atmosphere to speak of inside its exposed brickwork walls. The service was a bit grumpy, too.

The meal ended with a black bug, about an inch-and-a-half long, jumping onto my head, then onto my shoulder, and then crawling down my back. I can't rule out the possibility Gormless bought it from a Socialist Worker at the G20 protests and threw it on my head as payback for my spectacular April fool, in which I said I was quitting Gullets. There may have been some other perfectly logical explanation, but the black bug took the gloss off an otherwise excellent performance.

Gormless writes: I am assured by some of my anarchist friends that this week's G20 protests represented "a significant reversal of unilateral dictats, issued arbitarily by our capitalist overlords". On April Fool's Day my personal representative of the "system", Gourmand, cruelly joked that he was going to remove one of the few joys that brings light to my browbeaten days: this blog. I fell for it, to his great mirth, and confirmed him in his low opinion of the working man: a gullible beast, fit only for contempt. Little did he know that I had payback plans, a stunt rich in symbolism, one that asked "who is the real parasite here?"

I put it into action at Noor on Friday night. Of course, the food is what you are interested in and I can report that it is good. Indeed, I would say Noor is up there with Abyssinia in producing tasty and diverting dishes. The chicken stew was far from the dish I make under this name; it was much more like a curry. The lamb kebabs were perfectly cooked and the rice plentiful and light. The bread was cooked in front of us and was well worth the pound or so it cost. The interior brick work reminded me of the inelegant murals in my childhood swimming pool.

Although low on customers, atmosphere and engaging staff, it was an enjoyable meal...although the best was still to come! As the meal came to an end I released a bug Wazzo sourced from the ditch round the back of his house, by the shops. It climbed up Gourmand's jumper and caused him discomfort comparable to that expereinced by the working man under the hegemonic parasitism of him and his class. Forget the G20 or the RBD: classy Noor saw real class war.

Overall score: 14/20
Noor will be bugged - ha! - they're not competing near the top of the table

Friday, 27 March 2009

10. Khana

68 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8452 2789

Gourmand writes: Rumours of this blog's death are greatly exaggerated. After selling his soul to science, Gormless has cobbled together enough coppers to purchase a bowl of curry and half a peshwari at "north-west London's number one Indian restaurant" (their words, not ours). I downed a celebratory lassi, salty not sweet; toasted Gormless´ renewed solvency, and was overcome with emotion thinking about London's most obscure food blog stumbling sheepishly into double figures.

A week later and here I am in Portugal, trying to find the comma button on a demented keyboard, looking longingly at the beautiful River Douro, drinking ludicriously cheap tawny port, and trying hard not to think about the drab interior of 68 Cricklewood Broadway. But as the humble, hideaway comma slowly reveals itself with the help of the mysterious Alt Gr key, and lunch's cream-topped bacalhau and green wine distributes its calorific charms to rosy cheeks and a fresh bump of Portuguese port-belly, I regretably recall a table of lads furiously debating the merits of Tottenham Hotspur's new left-back. Yes, it's all coming back to me. I remember reading the menu, seeing they served curry-flavoured curry, and wanting to punch the waiter.

I recall my surprise that we ate decent, perfectly acceptable post-Beaten Docket Anglo-Indian grub, although, as a Briton, I was only claiming my birthright and reasserting my national identity. The chicken jalfrezi was predictably low on the green chillies; the Pakistani lamb was surprisingly mild for something made with "the chef's special blend of 12 spices" (maybe they all cancelled each other out?), and the peshwari nan was exceptionally sweet, like it had been melded together with marzipan. Yum, kind of.

Portugal has nothing on the Cricklewood Broadway. I yearn for the flavours of home.

Gormless writes: Sorry, readers, but the Gullets hiatus was caused by my lack of money. Gourmand, always keen to combat the "fecklessness of the working class", has invested my Giro in gold bullion. He assures me that this will bring a return of two Gullets trips a month, for life.

The first of these trips took place last Friday. It was an Indian, which means another of those popular Gullets sub-battles: Pink Rupee versus Khana. Unloved Pink Rupee drew heavily on its Indian/Nepalese heritage; Khana is very much an English Indian. Not only did they play beer and cheer indie anthems, but the customers were either lads sharing football insight or dining families. I've always said that "curry is our national dish" (ref: Beaten Docket Immigration Debates, 1992-present) and places like Khana are set up to make the most of this. I am not saying this is right or wrong. It is just the way it is.

We ate three curries and their usual accompaniments. Apart from the spinach and cottage cheese dish it was pretty predictable fare. It was all tasty, everything ran smoothly and it passed without incident. A nice meal, then, but Khana's professionalism, efficiency and ambition (their aim is to be the best Indian restaurant in north-west London) does not fit comfortably onto Cricklewood Broadway and some character has been sacrificed.


Overall score: 14/20
Khana cruises into third place

Monday, 2 February 2009

09. Lihiniya

66 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8208 2658

Gourmand writes: With no staff in sight, we edged towards the back of the restaurant. Surely somebody worked at Lihiniya? Eventually, a confused-looking woman emerged from the kitchen.

"Can I help you?" she asked.
"We'd like to order food, please."
"Khana Indian restaurant is next door."

It's never a good sign when a restaurateur assumes you've gone to the wrong place.

"No, we don't want Indian food. We want Sri Lankan food."
"Not now. We're about to go out"

It was 7pm on a Saturday. There was a pause.

"What food do you want?"
"Hoppers, string hoppers," I replied.
"OK, no problem," she said, gesturing towards a table.

I hope I'm not making our host sound unpleasant. She was polite and sweet, but it still felt like we'd unwittingly stumbled into her private residence. Unopened envelopes and crumpled napkins sat on the tables and at the back of the restaurant there were a couple of chairs, a computer and a load of videos. This was their living room.

Twenty minutes later a large tray of food arrived. String hoppers (rice noodle pancakes), egg hoppers (bowl-shaped rice flour pancakes cooked with an egg), coconut and seeni (sweet onion) sambols, and lamb and chicken curries. The meat wasn't fantastic, but for £5 each it was a bargain.

"I thought you had the wrong restaurant," our hostess chuckled as we settled the meagre bill.
"No, we like Sri Lankan food," I replied, hoping Gormless wouldn't reveal we had to visit Lihiniya as it was the next restaurant on the street.

Oh, Lihiniya. Insecure, confused Lihiniya. Here's some advice from the Gullets lads. Design a menu. Put up a new sign or two. Don't be so scared of customers. Have some self-belief. Look deep inside yourself and you'll find an real-life restaurant just bursting to get out. You can do it. We know you can.

Gormless writes: I'm sorry to demystify the Gullets process, but this was not our first visit to Lihiniya. We called into the restaurant a couple of weeks ago to see when the advertised Hopper Night took place. In the course of our conversation it became apparent that Lihiniya staged a nightly paradox: every evening is Hopper Night, yet Hopper Night never occurs. There are never any customers to make it happen. On Saturday night we turned years of on-standby hopper readiness into a real, existing meal situation.

I have been to a Hopper Night once before. It was a high concept mishmash of Easy Rider (starring Dennis Hopper), space hoppers and pogo sticks. This one was all about the pancake or noodle-style bases we were invited to combine with curry and other dishes into a layered meal. I enjoyed ripping fragments from my egg hopper and pinching chicken bits with them.

We sat on the lower of two levels. The eating area was dressed to host a Christmas wedding. The higher level featured a neglected beach bar. The whole place is like an installation designed to illustrate themes of abandonment, neglect, potential… that sort of thing. Yet, we roused this dormant operation and it delivered. Fine Sri Lankan music filtered through the PA, the bewildered staff turned chatty and the food was very good and very cheap. Truly, this is the kind of eventual eating the Gullets team thrives upon.

Overall score: 13.5/20
The Sri Lankans enter joint third place with Mango Grills

Saturday, 31 January 2009

08. Mango Grills

Mango Grills
58 Cricklewood Broadway
020 8450 9999

Gourmand writes: It may surprise you to learn that I, Gourmand, have my detractors. These critics allege I'm not the food expert my pen name suggests. On a handful of obscure sub-Saharan cookery techniques these jealous fools may have a point, but challenge me on my command of the Arabic kitchen and I'll point to numerous case studies demonstrating my commitment to my research. I've eaten whole sheep's heads, raw livers, sheep's testicles and enough raw lamb to red carpet next month's Academy Awards. Having eaten at hundreds of Lebanese restaurants, including the best places in Beirut, I can confirm that Mango Grills is, well, a little above average.

Sadly for me, there are no adventurous dishes on the menu (what, no bollocks?), and the two dishes I really wanted (muhammara and fried kebbeh) weren't available. The unavailability of the former is understandable - it's a Syrian dish - but no fried kibbeh? Not good.

But apart from a soggy, microwaved lamb sambousek, the food we ordered was very good. Sorry to harp on about my impeccable credentials, but I've eaten more hommus than Terry Waite and am confident that Mango Grills' creamy, tangy 'Beiruty' version, with hot peppers and parsley, belongs up there with the best of them. The warak inab (stuffed vine leaves) were perky, fresh and sweet, the fattoush bristled with mint, onion and sumac, and the beef sujok (spicy sausages) were delicious too.

As with finished the meal with gloriously good baklava, I looked round the empty restaurant and wished Mango Grills had more customers. It's a clean, if rather bare, place with friendly service and reasonable pricing - we paid £15 for two. Just don't expect any (nasty) surprises.

Gormless writes:
How Gourmand has changed my life, Part #2567. On the morning of the day that would conclude with this meal I woke up in a gay art house. Before I started collaborating on this blog I would be more likely to target such an establishment with stones and spray paint than sleep in it.
I mention this for two reasons. First: I nursed a giant hangover throughout the day, which may prejudice this review. Second: Well, waking up in a gay art house and eating dinner in a Lebanese restaurant is some sort of bohemian dream, isn't it? In fact, I think you can buy it as one of those 'experience' days in Debenhams. Fuck that, ladies and gentleman. Here I am, living it!

On closer examination, however, my narrative collapses. There was only one gay in the house and the art was at best mediocre and at worst articles cut out of Metro. The Lebanese restaurant was called Mango Grills and had no atmosphere, nor customers to speak of. Indeed, in terms of restaurants we have visited so far it was most reminiscent of Mr Chan's - never a glowing comparison - because it functioned largely as a takeaway.

So geared were they towards over-the-counter service they even managed to 'take away' two of the menu options we wanted to order. We persevered and managed to order the decent mezze Gourmand has described to you above. For me, the only weak dish was the sambousek, which looked and tasted like a Birds Eye rendition of the Lebanese favourite. Our host was knowledgeable and personable, and happily gave us a big jug of tap water.

The moral of this review? Next time someone boasts to you about their gay art house/Lebanese restaurant 'experiences', remember that the reality often fails to live up to the billing. Good service, discretion and efficient transactions are all you can really expect from either.

Overall score 13.5/20
Mango Grills cruises into the bronze medal position

Thursday, 8 January 2009

07. The Windmill Gastropub

The Windmill Gastropub
57 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 8450 4270

Gourmand writes: "You're more likely to find a synagogue in Gaza City," I wisecracked when I first heard rumours of a gastropub in Cricklewood. And, naturally enough, The Windmill is about as much of a gastropub as Gormless is a gourmand.

To be fair, we didn't eat from the gastropub menu, although this wasn't our fault. We presented my Taste London card, which is meant to get me half-price food, but it was rejected by the (very pleasant) woman behind the bar after she called her boss to check, and five minutes after she told us it would be fine. Not her fault at all, but by glancing into the open kitchen and listening to the whirr of the deep-fryer we got a strong feeling that ordering the pork belly would be a mistake.

There are two rooms at The Windmill - a quiet dining room totally lacking in atmosphere and a pub with football on big screens you can't see from most of the seats. We sat in front of an Everton game and ordered from the bar food menu. The food was poor and crazily overpriced. The nachos were puny tortilla chips with bargain basement salsa and a tiny portion of melted cheese; criminally guacamole was nowhere to be seen. My sausage sandwich was even worse. A single sliced sausage was presented in limply toasted rye bread with a few scraps of salad. We'll go back and eat from the main menu when they decide to accept my card, but after such pathetic pub grub our expectations are very low.

Gormless writes: If The Windmill had a description of their perfect customer, he would probably resemble me. For I am proud I choose FHM over Nuts, I tend to dress 'smart-casual' and not in sports gear and I look down on Wetherspoon's as a populist snare. I am also the kind of gormless twat who is content to sit in a low-concept gastropub and order overpriced food to accompany a neck-craning football 'experience'. Truly The Windmill and other pubs of its ilk have me stitched up: flatter my good taste and then present me with a weighty bill.
I had a plate of nachos while Gourmand suffered a sausage sandwich. The chef was more interested in flirting with the waitress then in preparing our food and both dishes - hard to get either that wrong - suffered. My nachos lacked the guacamole that's their birthright while Gourmand received a single sliced sausage for his outlay. We may return for full meals, but these items on the pub menu were very poor.

Overall score: 6/20
A rubbish effort by The Windmill