Sunday, 28 July 2013

A lovely little bit of Greek

OK, so may be not a little bit. A whole lot of Greek, with some satin drapes and an attentive, friendly waiter thrown in.

Let's be honest, you think of Greek food: olives, hummous, halloumi... and you think healthy right? But the fact of the matter is, Greek food was made for sharing, but sharing in the sense that you order as many different types of dishes as possible to have a taste of everything and then once it's all in front of you, no matter how much you say to yourself that you're only going to try a little bit of everything you end up stuffing it all in your face. And I definitely did.

And where did I feast? At a Greek restaurant less than 5 minutes walk from Camden Town tube station called Andy's Taverna. The outside decor of this little Greek restaurant is a pleasant white wash of walls with blue shutters encased by decorative railings. In fact on the day that I visited the weather was so hot you could be mistaken for actually being in Greece.

Walking into the restaurant we were greeted by our very friendly waiter, who escorted us to a table just inside where the big doors opened on to the front terrace. The waiter was obviously keen to please and with such a charming and warming character you instantly felt welcome.

Inside the decor is heavy on blue and white with photos of past guests lining the walls, one of which I am told by my boyfriend was the Greek football team - obviously a good sign! The white satin "wedding chairs" may not be to everyone's taste and may seem slightly garish, but this to me only added to it's charm and they have obviously been doing something right given they have been open since 1967!

Whilst we looked over the menu, our friendly waiter brought over some olives and pickles with some soft, warm sesame bread. To be honest, I could have left the olives and pickles as they were fairly bitter, but the sesame bread was scrumptiously soft and served warm, delish!

There was so much to choose from on the menu that we decided to opt for the chef's mixed grill: loucanika, pastourma, lountza and halloumi. This was basically varying types of Greek sausage (spicy, garlic and smoked respectively) served with possibly one of my favourite cheeses, halloumi. The portions were perfect size and good value for £7.25, but of course being the perfect portion meant that of course we ordered more including some tasty Tzatziki and kalamari. At which point I was definitely full.

But then came our mains, so I had to put my full stomach aside and tackle my Lamb Kleftiko, a traditional Greek dish of slowly cooked lamb with vegetables, basically a Greek stew, served with a Greek salad. The lamb was a hefty piece of beautifully cooked meat which even by the touch of my knife slid easily off the bone. So tender and flavoursome with every mouthful that I'm ashamed to say that I could not finish my plate, I was just too full!

To end an already wonderful meal (and an equally wonderful price at £31 for two including beers - thanks to a Tastecard discount), the waiter came over with an on the house dessert of Galaktoboureko, a semolina based custard in filo pastry, simply gorgeous. And yes I finished it all.

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x 


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Perils of Groupon

The invention of the various discount dining websites means that now more people are able to dine in restaurants that otherwise they may have drooled at from the window outside (I swear I don't do this).

I have used many of these discount websites with varying degrees of success. Top Table I think is perfect for the "on the night choice", Tastecard for planned meet-ups with friends and then there's Groupon where you often buy months in advance and sometimes forget about your voucher, or as someone I knew once did, fail to read the small print and realise that the voucher is for one person only... ahem, you know who you are.

So where has Groupon taken me? I think before I spiel into the less than satisfactory experiences of Groupon, I should at least start with a positive. That positive is Kyashii, a Japanese restaurant placed in the centre of a fish bowl in Covent Garden. OK, so not actually in a fish bowl, but you are surrounded by fish tanks whilst you feasted on seven courses of sushi and the surrounding fish thanking their lucky fins it's not them.

The portions were healthy, varied and were served at just the right intervals to allow us to enjoy each and every delicious dish. The pre-dinner cocktails (not included in the voucher) were served in a funky bar upstairs, before being led down into the brightly lit blue and white dining rooms.

The voucher itself of course was very appealing at around £23 per person, obviously a steal right? Wrong. I know I said I would start positive, but this is probably a recurrent theme with all Groupon vouchers, once they get you there that's when they make their money with the drinks and service charge to the value the meal should have been! And some, Kyashii an exception, do not really deserve the charge for the service they provided.

I'll give you an example here, and this is my second experience of Groupon at the Malaysian restaurant Awana in Chelsea. You arrive, you're ushered to a busy section of the restaurant, a poor excuse of a menu is put in front of you, and you are left to yourself. You then look around you and see you have been grouped with couples and friends clasping the green voucher with a barcode on. You're in discount corner, and while you receive your chosen courses (choice being limited), you look over to the other side of the restaurant where the waiters are tending to their full price customers and really earning their service charge. So why should you then pay service charge to the amount the meal would have cost if the waiters don't give you the same level of attention?

So you can imagine that having these bad experiences I would learn from my mistakes? No. Well at least I did for a while as it was some time ago I visited the above two restaurants. But I thought, you know what I'll give it another shot, and when a local seafood restaurant that I had wanted to try came up I thought why not?

Bad idea. Mar Azul the Portuguese seafood restaurant on Clapham road definitely did not deliver. Firstly when I called to book they wouldn't accept bookings on a Saturday... there was no mention of this on the voucher. Secondly the dish that we chose was originally worth £50 for two, well the one we received certainly wasn't. It was a "fresh" seafood platter of lobster, crab claws, king prawns, oysters, mussels, clams and potted crab.

Quantity yes, quality no.

The mussels and clams were far from fresh and were basically non-existent in the flesh department. The lobster looked and tasted like it had been sat waiting to be eaten for a while, and possibly even prepared days before. Granted I enjoyed the crab claws but that's about it. So we wondered whether perhaps because they knew we were Groupon customers that they didn't go the full hog with it, and if this is the case how is this ever going to bring in more customers I ask?! Especially with corked wine served by a waiter who could hardly crack a smile in an empty lifeless restaurant. I'm being honest and brutal but no one is ever going to tell their friends to visit a restaurant which serves overpriced, tasteless fish in a location that lets be honest isn't great so they're hardly going to pick up passing trade either.

So, will I do it again? Probably. But more to prove myself wrong (and maybe a teeny bit because I will always give the benefit of the doubt, I'm a sucker).

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x