Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Greek Tragedy

The sight of a new restaurant popping up always brings a certain amount of excitement to our house. Finsbury Park is already a culinary melting pot with cuisine from various parts of the globe; Caribbean, Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Columbian, Thai, good ol' fish and chips and even an Ethiopian which we're yet to try. As yesterday was pay day, I thought I'd treat us to a takeaway from the new Greek place down the road. We spent ages poring over the menu, in stitches over the ridiculous typos and descriptions. Some of the menu gaffes were as follows:

Green Olives Special crack, tsakkistes
Lamb Kleftiko Slow cooked beef in the oven
Dolmades Vine leaves staffed with mince pork
Tavas Traditional Cyprus dish consisted of meat cubes, chopped potatoes, onionomatoes, and onions

We thought we'd phone ahead and order but after finding the number constantly engaged for more than fifteen minutes (I joked that one of the chefs would be on the phone to one of their relatives in Greece), I decided to walk down there myself. The first thing I noticed as I walked into the restaurant was that it was empty, bar one table which I realised was occupied by the staff. When I mentioned the phone being engaged, guilty looks were exchanged - turns out I was right after all. I ordered Lamb Kleftiko with roast potatoes for Mike and Lamb Souvla for me which they didn't have, so I had to settle for Lamb Cutlets instead. They told me it would take half an hour which made me wonder who long it would take if the restaurant was busy.

I went back half an hour later to find the restarant still empty of customers, while all five staff attended to our food. I got home and left Mike to open the boxes of food while I washed my hands. I heard a loud gasp coming from the kitchen so I shouted "what's it like?" Silence. I shouted the same question again to which Mike replied "Oh my God". I hurried to the kitchen where two polystyrene boxes lay open containing something which was supposed to be food. Mine was three scraggy bits of lamb with a few soggy chips and Mike's was two scraggy bits of lamb with four boiled potatoes. I'd paid £14.50 for this!? I immediately put my coat back on and trudged back to the restaurant a third time while Mike went to get pizza. I refused to let him come with me, my track record of receiving refunds about 100% so I was feeling confident.

What happened next was a bit of a blur. To put it mildly, my request for a refund did not go down well. When I told them that the potatoes were not roasted but boiled, it went down even less well. Arguments ensued, insults exchanged. "Are you a chef?" one of them asked me. "Are you Greek?". I certainly am neither, but could give their overpriced tat a run for it's money. At one point, the 'chef' threatened to call the police and screamed "I been a chef for twelve years" as she hysterically punched random numbers into the phone. I phoned Mike to tell him what was going on and when I'd finished speaking to him one of them asked me "Who sent you?". I didn't know what to say to this ridiculous question. I told them I wasn't surprised that their restaurant was empty on a Friday night and that this was no way to treat a customer. I left with a bruised ego and an empty wallet. Mike spotted the steam coming out of my ears down the end of road before he saw me. I threatened to take the 'roast potato' to Trading Standards.

Do those potatoes look roasted to you?

The next day is a different story - I've learnt my lesson. I should have recognised that the poor attention to detail on the menu would extend itself to the food. If a restaurant can't be bothered to make an effort with the minor details then they just can't be bothered. I've realised that their hysterical reaction was because they knew they were a sinking ship. Looking back, the whole episode was actually quite funny and I can console myself with the fact that in a few months time, the "Greek Restaurant" sign will probably be replaced with a "To Let".

Romios Magirion - 21 Crouch Hill, London N4 4AP
Rating: 0/10

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What's Cookin'?

Head on over to the Beggar's Banquet to find out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tales from Lisbon # 1 - Back in the Saddle

Welcome to part one of three in my short series of holiday tales.
After my fishbone nightmare, I couldn't even look at a fish the same way for about a month - I felt betrayed. I'd always considered myself a foodie; experimental and daring in my quest for the ultimate food hit. So to be put off by a mere fishbone stuck in the throat was more than I could take. If only I could have said I'd had a near death experience after eating Fogu, the notorious Japanese Blowfish. Instead, I forlornly had to explain to friends and colleagues that it had resulted from eating boring old fish and chips in a mediocre pub. So I wasn't going to let it beat me.
As soon as we arrived in Lisbon, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and began the first of many searches to find a good restaurant. We had decided to try a recommended local neighbourhood restaurant and I was really looking forward to my first foray with fish again. The menu was in Portuguese so we struggled to work out what everything was and eventually beaten by hunger, decided to take our chances and order the famous baccalaut. My plate arrived with a piece of salt cod swimming in a sauce adorned with rings of onions and slices of egg. I smiled politely at the waitress. I wasn't going to be put off. After all, looks aren't everything are they? I cut off a piece and put it in my mouth. "What's it like?" Mike asked me. "A bit salty" I replied. A bit salty!! I felt as though I'd just swallowed a bucket of seawater. I didn't want to put a dampner on our first day so I played it down. Afterwards we both admitted it was pretty grim.
So my first experience with fish in Portugal wasn't the best, although it did get better. Over the next seven days we tried prawns, lobster, cockles, mussels, sardines. Boar, rabbit, prawns, pork, spit roasted chicken and chips, chips, chips, chips and chips. On some evenings we had rice on the plate with chips. That made a nice change.
The Sardines were delicious but a bit of an ordeal.
We ordered them overlooking the sea in the lovely coastal town of Estorill. They arrived whole and we had to chop the heads off and remove the bones and guts of twelve of them. At this point I was feeling very nervous......It took lots of chewing and lots of beer to wash it down but we got there in the end.



Our favourite area of Lisbon was the Barrio Alto. Packed full of restaurants and cool bars, it's far the best area to go out in the evening. We went there in the daytime and only had a few scrawny cats for company. But in the evening it was completely unrecognisable. It looked as though the residents had their doors wide open, until we looked inside and saw yet another funky little bar. We sipped Caipirinhas and wandered through the packed streets listening to soulful Portuguese Fado music drift through the windows.

Caipirinha, the traditional Brazilian drink prepared with cachaça our favourite cocktail. We never paid more than €5 and we even found a bar that did it for €2, so we drank as much as we could knowing how much it costs back home. If you can get hold of a bottle of cachaça, it's worth making at home.

1 lime quartered
1 tablespoon of sugar
A liberal slug of cachaça
1 Cup of ice cubes

Place the lime and sugar in the bottom of a glass.
Using a rolling pin , crush and mash the limes until all the juice has been extracted.
If you have an ice-crushing machine, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise, put the ice cubes in a plastic bag and bash with a hammer until crushed. Pour the cachaça over the ice. Stir well.