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