Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Bavarian Beerhouse
190 City Road
0844 330 2005

Maybe it's my notorious omnivorism. Perhaps it's my lapsed Judaism. Or is my inner Neanderthal swinging a wooden club, trying to get out?

It could be something to do with the daunting fact that on Sunday morning I'm flying to Riyadh, where they'd chop off my foodhole if I attempted to smuggle in a doggy bag from my meal at the Bavarian Beerhouse. Whatever the reason, there's no denying that one of my favourite hobbies is grappling with huge lumps of pork.

When it comes to dining table dissection, I'm far happier tearing to chunks a fuck-off hulk of pig than wrestling with smaller, sillier species. The fiddling to feeding ratio on overhyped delicacies such as partridge, pigeon or crab doesn't favour the hungry - too much work is required for very little reward. Luckily, pork shanks are big and (after you've detached the roof of crackling) they don't put up much of a fight.

I've been to Germany twice in the past 18 months, and the second trip was solely to eat pork. On Berlin and Munich I hoovered up Schweinshaxe, roasted pork shank with sauerkraut and potato dumplings. And on both occasions - and I'm ashamed to admit this - the pork defeated me. As I previously mentioned, German food is big. So big, in fact, that we waited two weeks between our starter and our main courses at Bavarian Beerhouse.

On our first visit, we shared a starter platter and agreed afterwards it was all we could intestinally handle. We had obatzda, Camembert mixed with cream cheese, butter, beer and onions, as well as a sausage salad, a potato salad, a selection of Bavarian sliced meats and two pretzels. Welcome to Stodge City, Hoxton.

Our return visit, two weeks later, was more rewarding. My friend declared himself pleased with his roast pork with red cabbage, beer sauce and potato dumplings, while my Schweinshaxe, while not as perfectly cooked as the schwein I devoured in Germany, was better than I had hoped for. It was absolutely massive. I ate, ate, ate and ate, and didn't get close to finishing the thing.

To be honest, I had expected the Bavarian Beerhouse to be terrible. The cartoon on the website of a bosomy, pigtailed fräulein carrying impossible amounts of Maßkrüge had me fearing a lethal combination of leder-slapping Deutschiness and British binge drinking, all to a soundtrack of the kind of abject Schlager you see advertised at 3am on ZDF. To our surprise, it was very quiet and the service was friendly. Perhaps going at lunch was a good idea.


Bavarian Beerhouse on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 January 2010


Abu Zaad
29 Uxbridge Road
020 8749 5107

"I'll tell you about Syrian food..."

My taxi driver paused, slowed down as he approached the red light, and turned to face me in the back seat, revelations ready to leap from his lips.

"Syrian food is much better than Lebanese food."

In 2006, there was nothing unusual about a Syrian taxi driver in Dubai having a dig at Lebanon. But this was a display of some pluckiness, to refute the perceived wisdom that Lebanese food is the champion of Arabic cuisines. I had to fly to Syria and see for myself.

With the exception of Singapore, where tears formed in my eyes every time I walked into a hawker centre, Syria was the most satisfying holiday I've ever had when it came to eating. It wasn't just the muhammara (a dip made from red peppers, walnuts, cumin and pomegranate molasses), the beetroot moutabal, the spicy breakfast foul and the awesome cherry kebabs in Aleppo. It was also the only time I've had complete strangers buy me my meals, and this happened on two separate occasions. The warmth and friendliness I experienced in Syria was inspiring. The taxi driver had been correct.

Abu Zaad lacks the warmth and friendliness of Syria, but then so does everywhere else. Less acceptably, it also lacks all four dishes mentioned above. But it's a great place for indulging my aubergine obsession, and, who knows, if I visit often enough perhaps a complete stranger will buy my meal. We ordered a mezze platter (a bargain £5) of baba ghanoush (mashed aubergine), makdous (picked baby aubergines stuffed with red peppers, walnuts and garlic) and fattoush salad. We also ordered fried kibbeh and maklouba (pictured), a dish I'd always associated with Palestine; a baked aubergine stuffed with rice, lamb, pine nuts and yoghurt. Two of us feasted for £15.

One day I'd love to see a restaurant in London serving Aleppine cuisine, so I can once again eat a cherry kebab. Until then, I'll make do with this recipe from London's only Syrian food blog.

Abu Zaad on Urbanspoon