Every now and then one stumbles across one of London's hidden gems; unique, quirky little eating places which most people never knew even existed. Here are some I've found:
Geeta's - Indian Restaurant in a Living Room
Entering Geeta's feels like walking into your grandmother's 1970's living room; the decor is awful and it was pretty cold last time I was there. However its lack in stylish interior design is more than made up for in good, home-cooked South Indian cuisine. This is a family business, with mother and son front of house and father beavering away in the kitchen. Go for specialities such as masala dosai (ginger and spicy potato in a deliciously light crispy pancake) and a deliciously rich yellow dahl. Service is always charming and with good-sized dishes going for just £2.20 and a bottle of house wine for £6.50, it’s exceptionally good value.
57-59 Willesden Lane, Kilburn Tube
Tobia Restaurant - Ethiopian in a Living Room of Community Centre!
This is an interesting find. Tucked away down a residential street off the Finchley Road you enter what looks like a concrete office building and somehow find yourself on the 3rd floor in a slightly spartan living room-cum-restaurant. You have to start off with the mead - an Ethiopian specialty, and once you've had a polite sip of that, order a bottle of wine. The mute, but very sweet, waitress will then place a large circular platter in front of you based with injera (a curious sour pancake) and then tip out the squidgy contents of your order onto it. You dip and scrape ungracefully into your various curries with a handful of injera and try not to get food all down your front. The fact that you use your hands to eat and that the dishes are all completley alien, makes this place rather special!
Check out their very good website at www.tobiarestaurant.co.uk
Brick Lane Beigel Bakery - Late Night Bagels and Carrot Cake
Brick Lane is famous for its cheap Indian restaurants where you can bring your own alcohol, but at the top of the lane (no. 159) is a remarkable relic of the past, a Jewish bagel shop. It's so old that my mother used to flee here when she was a rebellious teenager and at the back of the shop you can see are huge couldrons of boiling water where over 7000 bagels are made overnight. A plain bagel costs a massive 12p and you can get a salt beef or a cream cheese and smoked salmon one for around £1. A slice of divine moist and creamy carrot cake costs 70p.
The India Club - 143 Strand, Charing Cross Tube
Coming from clean and sophisticated Scandinavia you may have to brace yourself before entering this relic of a restaurant. Hidden up a narrow flight of stairs on the Strand you would never know this place existed unless your friends had warned you about it. The India Club was opened in the 1950's and since then nothing has changed. Bright yellow walls, old tables, wooden benches to sit on, cheap plates, bedraggled but friendly staff - you get the picture. This is what London restaurants used to look like. So what is the appeal? Well, the Southern Indian food is simple and delicious, and rather cheap. Most main dishes on the sheet of paper 'menu' are around 5 pounds with sides costing just a couple of pounds. You can even bring your own alcohol or buy a beer on the bar on the first floor and take it up with you. English retro tattyness with a dash of Indian eccentricity - a winning combination!