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