Monday, 21 May 2012

London - Hala

Hala on Urbanspoon
29 Green Lanes 
London N4 1LG

Pide: £6.50
Kebabs: £8-11

One of my favourite things about the Green Lanes' Turkish restaurants is the amount of extra food that you get without asking for it.  No matter that the portions are already big enough to put giants into food comas, the numerous plates piled with bread, sauces, salad and dessert will keep coming.  The bread - pillowy and basted in meaty flavours - is most likely unsuitable for vegetarians.  The sauces - sour yoghurt and cucumber and a fruity and fiery chilli - pep or or cool down dishes as required.  The salad, a barely surmountable hill of chopped, shredded, chiffonaded and sliced vegetables interspersed with olives and chunks of creamy feta, makes the meal feel healthier, which is important when the plates arrive heavy with grilled meats or pide.

My friend Claire's lamb kebab was a hefty portion of chargrilled lamb that retained its sweetness when it fell apart.  It came slathered in a stewey and well-herbed tomato sauce topped with Hala's homemade yoghurt (their churn is by the counter and accounts for how fresh and thick their yoghurt tastes).  My pide (Turkish pizza) was a thin base covered in tomato sauce and strips of grilled lamb and then half-folded over. Unfortunately, Hala's pide selection is more limited than many neighbouring restaurants', and many of them come with cheddar cheese rather than anything Turkish, which is disappointing.  The free dessert, semolina gulab jamuns, provided a welcomed break from all that savoury meat.

Hala is homey and well-priced, popular with Turks and non, locals and non-Haringeyites. Their hospitality is above and beyond even the usual friendliness of Green Lanes' eateries.  For under a tenner each on food, we got what amounted to three courses thanks to the extensive freebies.  Chinese restaurants give you prawn crackers, at Indian restaurants it's poppadoms and dips, but the Turkish restaurants on Green Lanes ply you with as many extras as can be fit on the table.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Sen Viet, London

Dishes between £4 and £10
Sen Viet on Urbanspoon
119 King's Cross Road, 
London WC1X 9NH

Yes, I know, all the Vietnamese chatter is about Dalston and Deptford, but for easily accessible food that is moreish enough to make dining with others awkward ("you can have some of my beansprouts in return for just one more slice of your char-grilled beef"), Sen Viet near Kings Cross is the place to go. Its menu is fairly comprehensive, they offer a 10% student discount, and a good meal can be had for £6. What's more, it isn't Dalston-officious, where waiters swoop in with the bill the second you take a breather.

The mains are the key at Sen Viet. The summer rolls are fairly disappointing - mostly coriander, and poky-small.  But the pho, the bun, the non-soupy noodle dishes, the banh mi, all of these are delicious.  Anything that says it's char-grilled is particularly worth having.  I'm not sure how they do it (possibly a hefty chunk of MSG), but just one taste will cause you to lick your chopsticks, your fingers, the bowl, maybe another person, in the hope of some residual sweet-and-smoky goodness.  The pho stock is meaty, with the beef sliced not too thinly, but rare enough for the blood to flavour the broth.  The bun contains other flavours than just heat, but will sort your sinuses out.  The banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) come on French bread and are a good 6" long, with hefty portions of lightly pickled carrots, mandolined mooli, and your meat of choice.  The bun thit nuong (rice vermicelli with pickled carrots and mooli, chilli sauce and meat) comes slathered in peanuts and crunchy bits - the gentle nudge of the chillies ties together all the components.

Sen Viet is in exactly the right place at the right time. It it popular with office workers, Vietnamese couples, students and German backpackers.  Despite the MSG-provoked thirst that arrives after every meal, I keep returning because the food is worth it every time.