Trying to review pizza seems like a pretty futile exercise; like Woody Allen says, “Pizza is a lot like sex – when it’s good it’s really good, when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good” (he stops short of mentioning the merits of “eating pizza” with your own step-daughter) and a lot of places seem happy to operate using that as their unspoken mantra.
Rather than stifling my feelings towards My Thai until making a grand reveal, I’m going to say right off the bat that I love it. Claiming “OMG I could eat there every day and not get bored” could probably be dismissed as hyperbole, but after my first visit I actually did just that. Fair enough it was technically only every day for three days, but that’s enough to make it a statement rather than a coincidence.
Until fairly recently The Grand Arcade wasn’t much more than empty lots and curiosities; a shortcut between Vicar Lane and North Street if it was a bit drizzly; a place where you could smoke cigarettes indoors, having spent about £12 at Santiago’s Whiskey Wednesdays and feeling like the fourth Beastie Boy, circa 1988. It had its attractions; beloved vegan restaurant Roots and Fruits, a vintage clothes shop that sold actual vintage clothes – rather than dirty Kappa sweatshirts and ill-fitting Wrangler jeans – but it was for the most part a very big, very beautiful, very under-utilised area of town.
For starters we had chorizo – plump little oval sausages, like bullies’ fingers in a Roald Dahl story – which are made in-house. They’re warmly spiced, with a texture more similar black pudding than the overgrown pepperami version from supermarkets, present in around 90% of my home-cooking. The plantain fritters would have worked for me as a dessert; thick ribbons of the stuff wrapped around chunks of Queso Fresco, skewered, and deep-fried; salty-sweet little mouthfuls tasting equally of halloumi, sweet potato and slightly underripe mango.
The Albondigas were great – well seasoned balls of coarse-ground beef, roughly the size of an angry toddler’s clenched fist, covered (not swimming) in a thick, picante tomato sauce. They’re served with white rice and potato wedges – just in case starch is going out of fashion – but neither of them add anything to the dish, the rice just sits there, being rice, and the big daft potato wedges would benefit from a couple more minutes in the deep frier, to avoid comparison with oven chips.
That’s not to say they can’t get carbs right. I ate the Llapingacho special – the eponymous focus of the dish was potato cakes, stuffed with cheese that was just the right side of stringy without turning into cartoon bubblegum. The meal as a whole resembled a Food Pyramid poster hung upside down; flank steak cooked enough to make it tender, one of those fat little chorizos (I was thrilled to have one all to myself), fried egg, avocado, a moreish Aji salsa and a token salad – a hearty combination which captures Casa Colombiana’s ethos perfectly – casual, home-style comfort cooking done really well.
Two starters, two mains, a cocktails, Desperados and service came to around £50. I wish I’d had longer so I could try the Ceviche and Arroz con Pollo, but I humbly admitted defeat – those strong mojitos put us in the mood to go a few doors down to Santiagos, and the food had given us plenty of reason to come back again.
If you’re unfamiliar with the place, Escobar wasn’t awful – you could get a pint of Heineken and a Tuaca for exactly five pounds – but thanks to its 7am license its default role was a last-chance saloon for staff from other bars and post-club stragglers, as well as being Disneyland for opportunistic middle-aged guys trying their luck for a one early-morning stand. In hindsight, it was quite a sad place.
With all of its gorilla statues and pick & mix sweets on tables and walls covered in affable, jovial slogans straight off of Innocent Smoothie: the teenage years labels, Almost Famous yearns to be seen as anything but sad; it’s totally cool! Not like those boffin restaurants with their booking policies and table service and menus that contain punctuation! The name above the door might have changed, but the sense of desperation still lingers. From the American Psycho monologue repeated on the walls of the Men’s bathroom to the sub-Banksy “political satire” on the walls which would have been frowned upon by Nathan Barley (Cigarette packet warnings with cleverly subverted slogans like “Government Kills”, “Poverty can seriously damage your wealth”) – just looking around the place made me cringe so hard I almost shit out a diamond. Read more
If both of the people who read my blog were paying special attention last month, they would have noticed that I neglected to review Belgrave’s March Street Feast. This wasn’t because I forgot about it, or due to a lack of dedication to the cause – rather I had become a victim of its success.