Sunday, 10 January 2010

18. Broadway Cafe Restaurant

126 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 xxxx xxxx

Gourmand writes: In Cricklewood, it isn't hard to find examples of businesses getting it all wrong. There's Lihiniya, the restaurant that's scared of customers, and Cafe Nur, where we weren't even allowed to sit down.

But for me, the Broadway's leading purveyor of inadequacy is the hotel without a name (pictured, just for fun). It's impossible to find it on the internet and if you've got a room there (thanks to some psychic miracle or badly-timed auto breakdown), you can't tell anybody where you're staying. Perhaps it was the first hotel in the world ever, and the name "Hotel" was completely original at the time. Or perhaps it's just rubbish.

Broadway Cafe Restaurant, or to give it its full name displayed on its sign, Broadway Cafe Restaurant Breakfast Lunch Dinner All Day Breakfast (sometimes just called BCRBLDADB by syllable-shy Cricklewodians), is of similar ilk. It's utterly featureless.

I could thumb through a thesaurus all day trying to find words to describe it, but I'd fail because thesauri only contain words with meanings. How could anything be so dull? Was it designed by blind communists? The funeral directors next door looks more exciting. I'm going to give up now because it's simply beneath description.

Inside, a few old codgers were drinking milky tea and listening to the football on the radio. "I've had it up to here with you," they must have screamed at their sagging, nagging wives before truddling out of their Cricklewood griefholes. "I'm going to BCRBLDADB so I can listen to Alan Green on Radio 5 Live in peace!"

As Gormless keenly observed, there are three things almost worth noting: a couple of plastic duck heads kicking around, the worryingly young age of the staff, and a picture of broccoli on the menu when there's no broccoli available to order. Nice try, Gormless, but in my book (although evidently not yours) child labour doesn't win a restaurant bonus points.

Oh yeah, the food. Gormless ate a totally average jacket potato with cheese and I had a distinctly average tuna sandwich. God, this Gullets Over Broadway lark's starting to get depressing.
Gormless writes: Gullets is a nocturnal pursuit. For this cafe we had to break with protocol. It is only open during daylight hours, perhaps because the staff appear to be schoolchildren. The Broadway is a different proposition when lit by the sun. The passers-by, the dirty streets and ugly signage are all too illuminated; no longer can it be imagined as a backdrop to some Suede-style urban romance. It is Cricklewood, it is a bit of a mess.

The cafe has had its interior designed by a surrealist: plastic duck heads pop up from pot plants, incongruous objects are nailed to the wall, and the menu is illustrated with a picture of broccoli you cannot order. If one can orientate oneself after these shocks then a pleasant time can be had. The Sunday afternoon radio was plying football and local aged lads turned up to listen, despite the game being shown on screens nearby. Perhaps they suffered humiliation at Cafe Nur beforehand.

I ordered a jacket potato with cheese. It was similar to the one I enjoyed at Four Seasons, with a more substantial salad. I ate it without incident and it was fine, although, in retrospect, it would have been more interesting if a sprite jumped out and danced across my face. Maybe next time.

Overall score: 10/20
BCRBLDADB is average.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

17. Chicken Cottage

105 Cricklewood Broadway, 020 8969 5996

Gourmand writes: A foal gallops past my window towards its mother. The aromas of fresh mint and thyme linger in the air. The sun sets behind the mountains.

I'm in a caravan in the hills of northern Tuscany, and I've spent the past hour picking dates and grapes from the trees. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find a cute little abode called Chicken Cottage down one of these country lanes, or whatever Chicken Cottage is in Italian. Il Cottago Pollo? Who knows.

Unfortunately, this review of Chicken Cottage isn't a cute-as-feathers, cluck-happy idyll because Chicken Cottage is the gateway to the arse-end of Cricklewood, a selection of crappy shops by a crossroads where the only feathers are tarred and the only thing nature has to offer is Friday night's tramp's piss.

Nevertheless, Chicken Cottage, with its charming thatched roof made of drumsticks, possesses a magnetic attraction to Cricklewodians. Sure, the food's lousy, the smell's repugnant and the atmosphere's slightly foreboding, but it's often hard to get a table at this chicken-twisting fryhouse. The local lads sit in there day and night, soaking up the oily badness.

To be fair, it's not that shit for what it is. My chicken burger tasted something like chicken, although Gormless' fried plop de poulet thingy scared me. Perhaps it was reconstituted, or reimagined, or regressive, or whatever they do to it in the warehouse, but it seemed so unshapely. Gormless didn't enjoy it much, and remember, this is a man with fewer working taste buds than a vole, so that's some harsh criticism right there, folks.

It's cheap, though. And as Gormless no doubt will mention, they give you the option of Ribena instead of Coke. We love you, Chicken Cottage!

Gormless writes:
In the course of our Gullets adventure Chicken Cottage has become a symbol. It represents the transition between the two Cricklewoods, a division only the most on-message of Cricklewood unity preachers would deny. On one side of this crud cottage are restaurants, sometimes struggling, but with character and heart. On the other there is a steep decline into the tasteless gaud of McDonalds, Burger King and KFC .

After visiting Chicken Cottage, I have had to revised its symbol status. It is not so much the transition point between the two Cricklewoods as one of the lowest points brought forward; it is an abrupt descent into shit, especially following Zeytoon.

I ordered two pieces of chicken, two hot wings and a drink. The chicken tasted as though they had subjected the Colonel's special recipe to another secret stage involving grease injections and lead lining. The place was quite busy, with an exclusively gurning, grinning male cast. Once again, I would like to thank my patron, Gourmand, for taking me to nice places and making me feel out of sorts among 'my people'.

The best I can say for it is that they offer Ribena as an alternative to Coke and Tango.

Overall score: 6/20
Better than we expected. Honestly.

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...

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