Saturday, 28 November 2009

Trinidad & Tobago

Roti Joupa
12 Clapham High StreetAdd Image
020 7627 8637

I'd long assumed the only reason I'd ever feel a compulsion to visit Clapham Common would be if I went all Ron Davies and had a moment of madness. But that was before I visited Roti Joupa.

Worldly as I may be, I'd never been to Clapham. I'd never met anybody from Clapham and I'd barely heard anybody talk about Clapham. My dining companion found this most unusual, although she seemed to find most of my utterances strange and wrote several of them down in a notepad to print as slogans on T-shirts in the future. (We never got round to discussing royalties.) "Loads of my friends live in Clapham," she insisted unconvincingly.

If I lived in Clapham, which won't happen as long as I'm in control of my own brain, I'd eat the pumpkin roti at Joupa every day. £3.50 isn't expensive, but I'd spend enough money here to put the Joupa kids through college. The roti is a flatbread that originates in India, although it's fluffier and lighter here than I've seen it at Indian restaurants. The pumpkin option was spicier and altogether livelier than the king fish roti. Both were stuffed to squirming point with curried potato.

We started our meal with doubles, Trini's most popular street food, a sandwich of chick pea curry in flatbreads. We adored the deep-fried green pea and flour balls known as poulourie (pictured) and our drinks were like nothing else we've tasted before. Mauby tastes like a cross between root beer and liqourice and sorrel is closer to hibiscus.

Clapham? Can't wait to go back.

Roti Joupa on Urbanspoon

India (Tamil Nadu)

Chennai Dosa
3 Ealing Road
020 8782 8822

I'll be straight with you. We were in Wembley for drugs. The drug we were looking for is perfectly legal. It's called qat, a leaf containing an amphetamine-like substance called cathinone. People chew it in failed states such as Somalia and Yemen.

We asked every Somali we could find where we could buy it, and were lucky not to get beaten up for racial profiling. A shopkeeper told us the address of a butcher that sold cat meat (meow!), the second sent us up a stairwell into a scary man's living room, and the third sent us to the far end of a back alley where we got sensibly nervous and ran away.

But I was more interested in the dosas than the drugs. I'd combed Wembley on Street View to find a dealer, and when I spotted Chennai Dosa on the corner of the street I went to its website, downloaded the PDF of its menu, printed it when everybody had left the office, and clogged the printer up with drool. As befits a place with a £4.99 dinner buffet, the decor is pretty much non-existent, although we did find seats under a poster celebrating the restaurant's family dosa - all six insane feet of it.

We started with vadai (£0.30 each!), the wonderfully spicy lentil and potato doughnuts eaten on Indian railways. Four puffy parcels of idly (rice and lentil cakes) came with sambar (lentil dal) and coconut chutney, while my friend's masala dosa, with its spicy symphony of potatoes and onion, was a stunner. My green chilli coriander dosa was so disappointing - no stuffing, just a sprinkling of coriander and a few chillies. I started craving drugs again.

We found our qat, by the way. A fiver a bunch. From a little shop in the Edgware Road underpass you'd never find unless you knew to look for it. The stuff tastes hideous. But give it three hours and it'll work. It'll work wonders.

Chennai Dosa Pure Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 22 November 2009


42 Crawford Street
020 7262 6582

I've been to Sweden once, in 1998. I was at my most penniless, but having only eaten Tesco's least finest canned fish and Value crackers for the first three days of the trip, I had £30 in my pocket for an authentic Stockholm smörgåsbord (gotta love those accents). The problem was that I couldn't find one anywhere. I was 18, supposedly at my physical peak, and I couldn't even track down a smörgåsbord in Sweden. I spent the money on a ticket for the ABBA Museum, a falafel from an Iraqi bean-hawker and a proposterously expensive pint of beer. It's a winning combo.

As I walked through the door at Garbo's, the average age of the clientele fell by 30 years, and I'm not very young any more. My grandparents, who had started their meal without me, pointed towards the smörgåsbord. At last, an authentic Swedish smörgåsbord. My first ever. I loaded pickled herring, gravadlax (cured salmon) with mustard sauce, and potato salad on to my plate with such zeal I barely noticed the 30 or so photos of Greta Garbo and, rather incongrously, a giant stuffed moose's head on the wall. A giant stuffed moose's head, a dead Swedish actress and lots of elderly Scandinavians, all as quiet as each other; the only noise to be heard the waitress screaming to her chef: "You forgot the hollandaise sauce!"

The tardy sauce perked up a lifeless piece of grilled salmon, while my grandparents didn't seemed particularly thrilled by their mains. Their kåldolmar is like a northern European answer to the Meditterranean dolma, cabbage rolls stuffed with lamb. It wasn't brilliant, but £14.95 for a smörgy, a main and a dessert (went for a boring fruit salad) is good value. The less said about the signed Fabba (the 4th best Abba tribute band, if we're being generous) poster, the better.

Garbo's on Urbanspoon