Saturday, 22 May 2010


BB's (aka Fredor)
Forest Gate, call 07947 106 429 for address

The lights were on and the sign in the window said open, but the door was firmly shut. Auntie Dorothy, who'd we read so much about on the Zambia UK message boards, was nowhere to be seen so we retreated to a Pakistani kebab shop to kill time.

An hour later, Fredor was showing signs of life. Just. Two elderly gentlemen were seated, one of them cheerfully gnawing on a lump of meat. We walked in, sat down, and glanced at the unfamiliar words on the menu. The man not holding meat handed me a phone. It was Auntie Dorothy! She was in a nearby house, she explained. And if we headed over right away she'd cook us Zambian food.

We entered the building gingerly, ambling down the hallway towards a Tardis-like surprise, a venue with a bar, dancefloor, DJ and kitchen. After chatting to Dottie, who was every bit as delightful as billed, we ordered Kenyan beer and what she said was 'Zambian Fanta' (in a retro glass bottle). She went off to cook. We never saw a menu.

At the weekends, we're told, some serious house partying goes down here. But on our visit, when we were the only customers, the atmosphere wasn't exactly electric. The Nine O'Clock News played silently on a wall-affixed screen and the DJ eschewed Zambian pop to play some of the worst music we've ever heard. Unbreak My Heart, the Muzak version, was a lowlight.

The staple of Zambian cuisine is
nshima, a solid porridge-like substance made with maize flour. In Zambia they eat it three times a day. Since it's almost entirely tasteless, I'll eat it once. We also had what Auntie Dorothy called "tiny fish from a lake that's half in Zambia and half in Tanzania", which I've since worked out is whitebait from Lake Tanganyika in a spicy tomato sauce.

There was grilled beef brisket, refried beans and - how's this for a revelation? - a bowl of tasty sweet potato leaves. The most delicious dish, we agreed, was the
boerewors, a spicy South African sausage that's made its way north. The only dish we didn't like was the dried fish, a bowl of bones, skin and guts, as if the fish had been filleted and the wrong pile had been thrown in the bin.

It turns out that Fredor, where we originally went, is a Zambian restaurant by day and a Barbadian restaurant by night, which means Dorothy swaps kitchens in the evening, working non-stop to give Zambians in the UK a taste of home. And at ten quid a head for a huge amount of food, she can't exactly be raking it in. Before we left, she invited me to her birthday party in early June. I'd love to go.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

United States of America (Southern)

The Spot Soul Food
58 Willesden Lane
020 7372 1972

Rumours of this blog's demise are greatly exaggerated. I went to Georgia and Armenia, ate cartoonish quantities of khachapuri, and became utterly stuck in Yerevan (thanks, Eyjafjallajökull). I turned 30, went to Berlin, got the flu and spent a week feeling like crap. I took on two full-time jobs and a load of freelancing. But in between the coughing, ageing, toiling and cursing Iceland I managed to take my hungry little Norwegian brother to The Spot.

The Spot claims to be London's first soul food joint. I have little doubt that it's London's first Islamic soul food place - the menu is Halal. By opening on Willesden Lane earlier this year, it bolsters my claim that Kilburn is the centre of the universe. This place is great.

It's as no frills as can be; five tables, a few stools and a TV tuned to MTV Base. The walls are covered in colourful cartoons of a matronly mama carrying pots of gumbo and plates piled high with steaming cornbread. When the door to the kitchen opened, we saw a woman who didn't look unlike her. According to the man at the counter, she's a bona fide American from the southern states. The lady knows her mash from her mac 'n' cheese.

After a wait of nearly 20 minutes - The Spot could do with some extra help in the kitchen - our food arrived. The chicken in my gumbo had a browned, caramelised glaze and the sweet, honeyed sauce was densely packed with okra, chorizo and cornbread that crumbled at the touch of a plastic fork. I didn't have room to finish the Cajun fritters, made with saltfish in a spicy batter. The Norwegian plumped for the beef gumbo, which wasn't quite as delicious. Both portions were huge.

I can't wait to return to try their fried chicken and sweet waffles, a dish I've only had once before. My meal here, back in the heady days of summer 2001, was one I'll never forget.