Sunday, 19 April 2015

Tottenham's best restaurants N17 N15

I've spent the last month living in Tottenham, cat-sitting for friends while my flat is a building site. It's been a great opportunity to get in tune with a part of North East London that's often over-looked for its foodie offerings.

At the start of the year I predicted that the foodie scenes in places like Tottenham, Leyton and Forest Gate would hotten up as more people came looking for somewhere reasonably affordable to live. Already small producers are basing themselves in Tottenham - and there's a festival on 3 May showcasing some of their produce.

It turns out that Tottenham has a lot of interesting options already. That's not surprising, considering it's quite possibly the most diverse place in the country, home to people from all over the world who've come to London in search of work and found Tottenham a welcoming, well-connected place, with affordable accommodation.

It's also a pretty huge area, which has quite a few different 'centres' with different identities. In the south there are two separate light industrial area with warehouses and studios that have vibes not dissimilar to Hackney Wick a decade ago, the area around Seven Sisters has a Latin American market, a road of predominantly West African shops and take-aways; Bruce Grove to the north feels more like a high street with chains and small shops each specialising in food from a different country.

Gentrification seems likely. With more streets of Victorian housing than you can imagine, and it still being possible (just) to snap up a terraced house for less than £500,000, people priced out of Hackney and Harringay and even Walthamstow are deciding to settle here. There are also huge regeneration plans for White Hart Lane and Tottenham Hale, where large numbers of new flats will be built, along with lots of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities. Its future could well be a mix of more organic hipster-led change, and big shiny corporate top-down regeneration.

For now there is much to love and try.

Cafe Marina
A small Portuguese cafe-deli-offlicense at 159 Lordship Road N17, just near Bruce Castle Park. I'm half Portuguese and know how the staples are supposed to taste. Everything here is as you'd get in Portugal. Pick up savoury goodies like rissois (crumbed pastries with prawn or beef fillings) or a salt cod croquette. Order a delicious bifana sandwhich, where the thin cut beef is dripping in a moreish paprika butter in soft white bread.

The pasties de nata were good, and there's decent deli selection of cured meats, olive oils, pulses, grains and bacalhao. The selection of wines and spirits is also impressive and fairly priced. We picked up a really decent bottle of red wine from Alentejo for £10, but most options are £6 - £8.

Also worth trying Bom Pecado on West Green Road - a similar set up, but with lots more sweet treats baked in house. Bom Pecado also has a bakery in Leyton, where you'll get pasteis de nata for less than half their hipster price. And fresher too.

Craving Coffee
The first – and possibly only - sign of hipsterfication in Tottenham is Craving Coffee, located on a light industrial site between Tottenham Hale and Markouse Park. It's a bright open space, with a warehousey DIY  interior. The coffee is first rate – expertly brewed espresso based coffees using Climpson & Sons beans, tasty little cakes and loafs bakes locally (absolutely loved the salted caramel brownies).

Brunch is served all day over the weekend, and it's a cut above – with chorizo and potato hash, top quality bacon with rocket and avocado in a bap, and a decent muesli too.

It's open at least a couple of evenings a month for special events – including pop up restaurants and film

Ok, so it's not really Tottenham, but it's just a few minutes from where the N15 postcode starts. The middle part of Green Lanes where it hits Harringay is The Place for The Best kebabs in London. I say this as an ex-Dalstonite. There are many options to navigate – from the glossy Antepliler (which has now expanded to Upper Street) to its big rival Gökyüzü, and many others inbetween. My favourite is Diyarbakir, a totally halal, no booze joint, which is heaving on the Sunday evening we visit. Families and groups of friends from more backgrounds than you can imagine are hear, tucking into big heaped plates of grilled meat, generous mezze portions and delicious pide.

We eat so much, take back tonnes, and share two massive rose-tinged rice puddings between four and the bill comes to less than £15 per person. Complimentary teas seal the deal: this is the best kebab I've had in London.

San Marco
San Marco is a proper neighbourhood Italian. It's been on its prominent corner site on Bruce Grove for almost 45 years, and is brimming with locals most nights. It's a classic Italian menu of pizzas, pastas and secondi dishes, a simple selection of starters, desserts and some specials. Prices are very reasonable, with most mains and pizzas below £8. We had grilled, dressed sardines to start, and shared two pizzas baked as a half metre of pizza (same surface area as two 12" wheels) - half topped with smoked cheese and bacon (ohhh yeah), and half as capricciosa, which had really nice ham and artichokes on it along with the olives and mushroom.

We had a little space for pudding, which was more than filled by a special of banoffee pie - retro classic, and perfectly made.

Restaurant Cornelius
Cornelius is a large Romanian restaurant on an island in the River Lea, just east of Tottenham Hale. Romanian cuisine has some similarities with Turkish, Greek and Hungarian cuisines. Expect judicious use of paprika, stuffed cabbage leaves, and lots of meat.

The food is not delicate or dainty, and the cured meat certainly ain't hand-reared, hand-cured and fed a diet of organic acorns. But the hearty food is homely and authentic and goes great with the Romanian beers and wines. Cornelius is best enjoyed as a window into a culture – enjoy the loud Romanian dancey pop music, the singer crooning over some of the tracks, and multi-generational family parties having a dance over a big celebration.

A month isn't long enough to get through Tottenham's eating options. I still intend to try some of the canteen-style Latin American caffs down in the Pueblito Paisa market. There's Kata - a pub serving Japanese food on West Green Road, a tapas restaurant on the High Road, and the Beehive pub just off the High Road - a CAMRA winning pub with a barbecue menu. and once you start talking Green Lanes and Wood Green, you have so many more kebab joints to try, Polish, Bulgarian, Greek restaurants. Wood Green even has a bistro now. Coming in September to Tottenham is a "healthy" fried chicken restaurant, which will cross-subsidise meals for school kids from the takings of their evening sales. Back the Kickstarter to make it happen. There's also Chestnuts Market in South Tottenham, which runs 11 - 3 every Sunday, and has a good range of street food and producer stalls.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Eat 17 restaurant, Brooksbys Walk, Clapton Hackney

A whirlwind few months in the run up to an election leaves this political campaigner/food blogger and over-commiter with little time and energy to write about interesting local restaurants.

There has also been a bit of a lull in new openings in North East London. Cold weather is bad for business, and especially bad for launching a business when cashflow is everything. A couple of recent mid-week, mid-evening cycles up Kingsland Road shows up some pretty empty restaurants. Even a Monday night dinner at Rotorino sees this popular, well-regarded restaurant near empty.

I take the lull as an opportunity to finally try Eat 17's Clapton restaurant, above their supermarket-cum-deli-cum-burger-bar. I have long been meaning to try it, but also not being quite motivated enough. Its lack of visibility from the street put me off - is it a pig in a poke? How can I know if anyone is in there and enjoying it? A few press shots of its swanky interior make me wince a little too – is it a bit too alien to the Clapton I know?

It is terribly plush. Tables are spaciously arranged in four rows, with leather banquettes, marble circular tables, Art Deco style lamps for mood lighting and cripplingly nowish decorative palm tree lamps on the bar. It's so plush. I almost feel a bit scruffy and dirty, and more so for the fact that it's relatively quiet on this wintery Thursday evening - the space between the rows of tables left me feeling quite exposed.

The menu includes a number of dishes from their downstairs burger bar, but served on plates rather than branded greaseproof paper. The maitre'd is wired up to a radio mic, so that he can communicate with both kitchens. The co-ordination is impressive, even if the downside is looking like your in a 90s five-piece.

We share scallops on celariac puree to start. The scallops are plump and perfectly cooked, the puree adds a lovely creamy earthiness. Crispy pancetta is served with it in a classic combination, and crispy sage lifts it to the next level.

The mains menu is a crowd-pleasing whistlestop of classic bistro dishes. There's duck and red cabbage with dauphinoise potatoes, a pork and bean stew, a creamy smoked haddock dish, a steak, and a lamb dish. Something for everyone. But each has a bit of a twist to take us into 2015 – pepper ketchup, crispy cabbage, buttermilk, blue cheese in your mac'n'cheese.

I order lamb rump with cumin spinach, yoghurt sauce, fried aubergine and, yes, pepper ketchup. The lamb is juicy and pink, perfectly cooked and generous in portion size. All the accompaniments are pretty generous too – it's a big, filling plate, and the flavours work well together. My only complaints would be the spinach being slightly over-cooked, and the aubergine slightly under-cooked.

A rib-eye steak is also large, well-cooked and seasoned. It comes with that blue cheese mac'n'cheese, crispy onion rings (there's quite a lot of tempura frying going on in the downstairs burger bar kitchen) and a handful of chanterelle mushrooms. Like my lamb, there's a strong savouriness to the dish, with no shortage of juices sloshing around to make every mouthful count.

Sweets continue the crowd-pleasing theme, with more twists on classics that push the boundaries of sweet, gooiness. We enjoyed a bourbon tinged croissant bread and butter pudding, and a banana and toffee pudding served with chocolate ice cream. which were both on the edge of being too sweet.

The wine list is similarly eclectic and on-trend. There is a selection of English wines, including two Bloomsbury sparkling wines. Vinho Verde also makes it on to the list. Thumbs up.

I enjoy the meal and would heartily recommend the food to others.

But I'm left with a niggling feeling: there's something slightly uncomfortable about realising you are a target market, you are focus-groupable, a concept can be designed to attract you (the plush on-trend interiors, all these modern twists on classic bistro fare) and that it bloody works. Pretty much everyone in the room was a white, middle class professional, trendy-ish but monied and stable enough that at least three couples in the room were discussing home renovation plans.

I'm not naïve enough to doubt the importance of understanding your market and developing your offer accordingly. Too many loving businesses fail at this hurdle. But the magic is in the customer not realising the (legitimately) cynical considerations that any business makes in attracting their custom. I feel that Eat 17 leaves the careful workings, the mechanics, a little too visible; or perhaps there isn't quite enough soul and buzz to distract from them. And it jars a little, even when the food and service is good and generous.