I rarely eat Chinese food. Do you know why? Because I have never eaten any Chinese food which has knocked the socks off me. Sure, I should probably go to China and experience it first hand, but do you have £614 (that’s the first value that came up on an unnamed flight price comparison website, which might be spelled Kayak backwards…er). Admittedly I could go to Soho, but I wouldn’t know the first place to start in among the hanging Peking duck and sex stores (they really should have hygiene laws for that sort of thing). Why then, is ‘a Chinese’ the nation’s favourite dish? This I will not comprehend, just as I will not comprehend those who think Staffordshire bull terriers are cute. ‘An Indian’ however, I can understand.
North African food is something I have experienced, and I will admit, was not something that I’d write home about – apart from perhaps their moreish breakfast pancakes – which themselves are not that dissimilar from an Indian paratha. And, despite living in Nigeria for a small percentage of my youth, west African cuisine has also passed me by. I want to say I’ve tried Ethiopian cooking, and I have, but only in Brick Lane and it was very very salty. Enter Adulis, an Eritrean on St John’s Hill, Battersea. The gateway to my African palate.
St John’s Hill is a street fast becoming something of a hub for those looking for casual, great food done well. Only last week did the Fabulous Feast take place and no doubt you’ll all have heard of Ben’s Canteen’s whose social media following accurately reflects the tastiness of their offerings.
Unfamiliarity means sometimes we neglect to see great things which lie right under our noses. But not me! No! I am not a sheep (a tendency which might not ultimately win me any Darwin awards). That aside, Eritrean food was on my radar.
Appearance wise, Adulis is a really, really nice restaurant. And I can’t say fairer than that. Extremely tastefully decorated – there are no gimics – it is spilt over two levels and last Wednesday night the place had a buzz which sounded like it could have been a Friday.
I enjoyed the £15 two-course meal which was put on as a result of the Fabulous Feast festival. With it came honey wine…given the choice between your average blanc de blanc I would always go for something drier, but on this occasion the sweeter version of the Miès was far more palatable (the Welshman and I were given both samples to choose from). Not sure if it is really my thing, but blimey, that stuff could get you seriously pissed. I was assured that being organic, a hangover could be swiftily avoided. Where was this valuable information when I was drinking neon bottled drinks in the student union circa 2005?
Eritrean food is eaten with the hands, which the Welshman’s relished; his Neanderthal eating habits are only marginally more refined than a dog. But rolling up the injera and grabbing morsels of the tasting dishes was almost like biting into temporary samosas. Injera is a traditional bread which is flat, made with yeast and has a vinegary-sour taste – it soaks up all the juices. Think of a sour crumpet with a similar texture to boot, and you’re not far off. Eaten plain, they’re not all that, but the acidity is neutralised and compliments the robust, mealy flavours and textures of the accompanying pulse dishes. These pulse dishes (the vegetarian beb’ainetu) included spiced lentils which were plainer (less spicy) than the more familiar dahl; cooked spinach was quite garlicky and had a sweeter than expected taste. There was a much spicier dish which stood out, but for the life of me I can’t remember its name (or indeed how one might pronounce it). It was fiery and delicious.
The meat beb’ainetu
The Welshman had the meat version of the platter, and in general the dishes looked and were flavoured in a similar manner to that of the vegetarian – save for the addition of either lamb or chicken. He mentioned that the chicken in one of the dishes was a little dry for his liking, but then you’ll have to take his word for that. The dishes which were presented to us were all a type of ‘stew’ and I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in the textures. I think choosing one’s own dish off the menu would probably give a more representative impression of what Eritrean food can offer in terms of texture. So I guess that means I will have to return to Adulis at some point. Life could be a lot worse!
Service was awesome. I refuse to believe you can get service like that in London. Apparently you can. At Adulis. Plus you can also be part of a coffee ceremony which was similar to what I’ve experienced on Brixton Station Road.
Eritrean coffee ceremony
Should I sum up what I’ve written in some corny, cliché-ridden paragraph? Probably. I’ve done it before. However, just try Adulis. But if you do – make sure you’re hungry. You’ll know what I mean after a couple of pieces of injera!
I was a guest at Adulis restaurant as part of St John’s Hill’s Fabulous Feast.