Where (in South Africa): England v Algeria, Green Point, Fri June 15 Where (in London): As proudly pointed out by our host tonight, there is only one authentically Algerian restaurant in London, Khamsa. The more established Numidie in Crystal Palace is actually French-Algerian. With who: Nico Polo How much: £25 each (including BYO wine) for two massive courses, mint tea and pastries to finish
I realised tonight why I started this project. Sitting down with Nico Polo in the small friendly dining room of Brixton restaurant Khamsa I reflected that this was somewhere I'd never have even thought about coming to if it hadn't been for my desire to 'eat' all of England's World Cup opponents. Acre Lane will never be the prettiest street in London, an ill-tempered traffic snarl cutting between the uglier bits of Brixton and Clapham. Every other shop is a bottle shop or a cheap fast food store and the few spots of slowly emerging gentrification poke like grass out of concrete. Khamsa was set up in October 09 by the owner and his wife. Listening to them talk passionately about the importance of freshly prepared, locally sourced food you wish them every success. It's evident their neighbours do, five or six passersby greet, and are greeted, warmly. Cooked to order, with the minimum of prep, the food is simple, authentic and delicious. While much more subtly spiced than Turkish or Middle Eastern equivalents, the flavours and dishes of Algeria are familiar. We start with a selection of cold dishes to share. A familiar sounding Baba Ghanouch is creamy and light, like a delicately flavoured hummus rather than the more familiar smoky mix. A personal favourite is the Loubia Be Dressa, a spicy mix of black eyed beans and slow cooked onions in a piquant tomato sauce. Our smiling and modest host advises that we only go for two if we're really, really hungry. We are, so we do. Nico went for a Tajine Djadj, a creamy chicken, spinach and sultana pot served with a sprinkle of freshly toasted almonds. I go for Couscous Modern, topped with perfectly cooked skewers of succulent lamb and chicken, a too subtle merguez sausage (the only duff note for me) and a wonderful lamb stock based sauce, so thick it's almost a stew, so much it's a separate dish. The courgette, peas and green beans soaking up the juices are all sourced from nearby Brixton market and cooked fresh each day. The owner trained as a pastry chef and it shows. His pastries are served with a digestif mint tea are sweetened with (local) honey only. A standout is the brittle baklava flavoured with cinnamon and orange water notes.