Saturday, 2 June 2012

Everyone's a little bit racist, sometimes... June 2012

 Despite being a left of centre soft socialist - as a foodie, I can be as xenophobic as P W Botha. There are some cuisines I seem to viscerally object to. Weirdly, this is often diametrically opposed to how much I like the people and the drink. Take the Poles for example - great beers, really friendly people, and a cuisine of bland boiled meat and dumplings. Or the Germans; sure, they gave us the noble wurst but the history of Teutonic fine dining could be written on the back of a David Hasselhoff CD inlay. As I was reminded recently on a trip to Amsterdam, the Dutch don't do nuffin' if it ain't fried within an inch of its life and capable of being covered in satay sauce. And don't get me started on the Australians and their pub 'meat' pies...

So what makes me genetically incapable of avoiding these cuisines? Dear reader, it was the beer... All of the cuisines mentioned, in their dirty nasty greasy glory, seem so right after, or with, a strong pint of cold, tasty beer.

The Lowlander is a case in point. A phenomenal, if pricy, beer bar with a monstrously good list of continental brews and a monstrously bad selection of pointlessly fried, at the bar at least. There's a sub-gastro menu covering the 'highlights' of Belgium and the Netherlands, so that's moules, moules, various deep fried things and, um, burgers. Not that the Covent Garden clientelle care - there aren't many places round here you can get a Trappist ale, let alone a selection, and the food is seemingly no more than fuel.
De Hems, the incongruous Chinatown Dutch pub, isn't much better but at least they don't make much of their food menu. Here it's downplayed as the Dutch would do, greasy little treats to keep you stuck to the bar for longer. The bitterballen are certainly authentic, they remind me of the fat dripping vomit gobstoppers I (drunkenly) yummed up in Amsterdam. Half an hour after eating and you've got a slight curry afternote and the occasional gaseous hit of grease mingling with your exotic pint. As beery snacking goes this isn't just dated, it's practically medieval. Don't get me wrong, fried is after all one of my favourite food groups, but if you're going to go down that route, for God's sake try harder. Imagine how good your excellent beer would be if you could soak it up with a decent snack.

A beer and food based piece wouldn't be complete without the goddaddy of pissed eating. And in my life, I've had many, many great nights out that were predestined to finish with doner. Camberwell seems to have more of it's fair share including one I'm happy to declare to be up there with the finest in London, FM Mangal. Named after the mangal barbecue pit the delicious meat is laid over, the smell of happily sizzling spiced flesh hits you hard as you walk through the door. It's cheap, filling and spicy. Worth the oft scoffed decision to have a 'sit down' for their complimentary breads and dips, the former dusted with a spicy sumac style rub and the latter an addictive little bowl of pomegranate molasses and vinegar. Trust me, it tastes so much better than it reads.

Despite obvious Middle Eastern roots, the popular greasy parcel was invented, as recently as the 70's, in the large Turkish expat community of Berlin as a way of wrapping your grilled meat for the walk home. How that translated into processed nasty pitta grease traps we have in the UK I don't know, but try one in Berlin and understand how the Germans can justifiably claim to have given something great to world cuisine after all...


Lowlander on Urbanspoon

De Hems on Urbanspoon

FM Mangal on Urbanspoon


  1. Aah, a foodie stroll down Avenue Q, love it, clever way to write it! :-D

  2. @Kavey - ah thanks for that! and well spotted on the reference!