Wednesday, 10 December 2008

05. D'Den

47 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 8830 5000

Gourmand writes: I've often wondered what's behind those tinted windows. There's a clue in D'Den's charmingly home-cooked videos on YouTube, in which owner, head chef and all-round Cricklewood micro-celebrity Balo talks enthusiastically about the "governors, senators, footballers - all walks of life" that make up his restaurant's clientele. Tonight, I hoped, we'd spy on top-ranking Abuja officialdom - and maybe even Efan Ekoku - mired in a D'Den of sleaze.

I've had Nigerian food before and it wasn't great. Ferocious spicing annihilated any subtleties of flavouring, the meat was chewy and the sauces glooped weirdly like hot mozzarella. We avoided gloop on this occasion due to D'Den's confusing menu. Every dish appears to be a soup; these cost around £6, but don't include meat (£5 extra for goat, for example). We're hardly Nigerian oligarchs, so we asked our server if she could give us a selection of the country's cuisine for £25. Baffled, she nudged us in the direction of grilled fish, fried plantain and jollof rice - what everyone else there was eating.

The croaker was char-grilled to perfection, with either a hint or a hurricane or spiciness depending on how much of the accompanying, debilitating salsa ended up on the fork. The jollof rice (with spices and tomatoes) and fried plantain were both tasty, but unexciting. We watched TV ads promoting seatbelts and condoms in Lagos, and, disorientatingly, D'Den on Cricklewood Broadway; drank Star Beer, brewed in Lagos; and eventually met Balo, who was as nice as he appears on the internet. It was an evening without sleaze, though, until a prostitute introduced herself to us on the street just outside Mr Chan's.

Gormless writes: D’Den promised the kind of dining experience this blog was made for. Not only is the Nigerian cuisine exotic, but the premises are strikingly unfamiliar. Blacked out windows, a lion logo, blood red lettering, goat stew; these features combined to raise it above its competitors in my imagination. My expectations built D’Den into something it could not live up to. For these days any food outside of the Sainsbury’s Basics range is strange to me; any venue other than my poorly-lit room a blessed relief. Lo! How the gormless have fallen.

Upon entering D’Den, most of my illusions were undermined. It was a restaurant like any other; albeit one in love with its own on-screen advertisements and raucous enough to be a social club. The menu was so confusing we asked our waitress to pick for us and, when she declined, we fell into copying our neighbours in ordering a big, dirty-looking fish. They appeared to eat the whole thing, including the head, bones and plate, and after a long wait we were primed to do the same. The grilled choaker was served with jollof rice, plantain and some chilli sauce that certainly made it a memorable meal (masking its dubious quality). I drank some Nigerian Star beer and enjoyed pulling the requisite poses with the complementary toothpick.

This is my first Gullets review to take the ‘longer view’. The morning after I woke up sick and suspect the fish may have been to blame. A mark off for that - the one that was added mid-meal when D’Den honcho Balo entered and demonstrated his extreme affability.

Overall score: 12/20
Nigeria lies second out of two in Cricklewood's African Cup of Nations

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