Saturday, 7 July 2012

The food of life is... food

One of my favourite things about London is the food. One of my favourite things about life is the food.

This evening I went out for dinner with one of my closest friends. We headed to St. Christopher's Place off Oxford Street, an area so full of places to eat that deciding where to go is like being a child faced with a Pick and Mix stall and being told you can only have one sweet.

Like moths (hungry ones) we were drawn to the glowing lamps of Grand Bazaar, a Turkish restaurant that looks like a cosy cave strung with colourful stalactites. We were presented with menus and both decided on the set menu that for £20 a head offered us a meze starter, a main, coffee and a selection of desserts.

By the end of the meal I felt as though I needed to be pushed home in a wheelbarrow.

First came the olives and a special 'balloon bread', so named for obvious reasons: it is essentially a balloon of crispy bread. When it arrived my dinner date (my friend Angel) and I got the giggles and couldn't stop. The Grand Bazaar had served up what seemed the most bizarre bread. After pondering how we were supposed to eat it (we opted for a poke-in-the-middle-and-tear method) it turned out to be delicious. Especially when used as a scoop for the hummus that arrived next on a meze plate piled high with crumbly falafel, gooey roasted vegetables, samosas, bean salads, tzatziki and couscous.

Oh the hummus! I love hummus, and this was good hummus. Smooth and creamy (I didn't realise hummus could be creamy) and so delicious that I spent five minutes excitedly describing it to my housemate when I arrived home. One sign of madness is talking to yourself. Another sign is talking to people at length about hummus.

This starter should really have been called an 'ender' as when we had cleared the plate of nibbles (too delicious to leave) we were nearly beaten.

Of course, that was only until the main course arrived.

Angel is a vegetarian so ordered a salmon casserole that arrived wrapped in tin foil like a blanket that the waiter lovingly unwrapped, presenting a steaming plate of fish and vegetables.

I am very much not a vegetarian. I ordered lamb knuckles. My first experience of Turkish food was in a restaurant in Islington called Iznick which my Dad took us to when I was much younger. My sister and I still talk about the lamb knuckles we ate there, and how you only had to stroke the meat to make it fall from the bone.

I haven't eaten lamb knuckles since but the memory of my favourite Iznick meal made me order them again. They arrived in a huge bowl, served with potatoes, roasted peppers and a simple sauce. What more do you need when the meat is so tender you could eat it with a spoon and so delicious that it reminds you why you could never, ever be a vegetarian?

After the main course we really were done for.

Of course, that was until dessert arrived.

Between the main and dessert we were offered a brief musical interlude. It was somebody's birthday, and this was announced to us by the dimming of the lights and 'Happy Birthday' playing loudly overhead. A waiter brought in a sparkling candle and everyone in the intimate space of the restaurant clapped and cheered. Little did the birthday-girl know that the celebrations were far from over. After 'Happy Birthday' came Turkish music as she was taken onto a stage where she was made to dance. 'Made to dance' sounds rather scary, but it was also kind of true. It certainly wasn't an experience for the easily-embarrassed. I suddenly wished that it was my birthday.

But back to pudding...

When the plate arrived I knew we were in trouble. A large milk pudding, two baklavas and apricots bursting with cream and pistachios were accompanied by aromatic coffee and two spoons.

I have a serious weakness for baklava. The crunch and crumble and stickiness of the sweet and buttery pastry is like a present for the mouth.

After indulging my sweet tooth, I really was finished. Over the course of the meal my dress had got smaller, but I didn't even care.

Not much makes me happier than sharing a good meal with a good friend. You don't just share food, but a feast of conversation. I love discovering new tastes and new places and seeing people out and about enjoying life and their dinner.

I also find that after meals together I end up associating different people with different foods - memories that you can taste I suppose. Parma ham makes me think of my mum, sweet potato is my friend Lucy, calzone pizzas are my sister.

Enjoying food is enjoying life. And I have a healthy appetite for both.


Grand Bazaar - 42 James Street, W1U 1EX

Iznik - 19 Highbury Park, N5 1QJ

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