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...