Can Cook, Must Cook

The food adventures of Franka P, a Trinidadian journalist living in London, UK. I'll write about my forays into all types of food and cooking, particularly Caribbean food. I'll also review books and recipes by the leading food writers and talk about the issues making headlines in the gastronomic world.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Not only about the food

What constitutes a good culinary experience? It's hard to describe but I know it's not all about the food.
If you go to someone's house and all they could offer you is Crix biscuits and butter with some juice, you'd enjoy it because you know they offered it with a lot of love.
At that point, it doesn't matter if the house are a lil untidy or things not perfect, but if I go to a restaurant, I certainly expect everything to be perfect, because I'm paying, I don't want love, I want a good all round culinary experience.
My recent visit to the
Hummingbird Restaurant in north London was less than satisfying.
Even though the food was extremely tasty, there were too many other things that didn't sit well with me.
Click
here to see photos of my visit to the Hummingbird.
The service was a bit too leisurely. Waitress No. 1 was so laid back she seemed uninterested. Waitress No. 2 who took over, was under pressure because she was the only person on the floor so the service got slower as the night went on.
Untidiness doesn't cut it in a restaurant.
The Hummingbird could do with a visit from my mother in full clearing up mode. Don't get me wrong, the place wasn't unclean, it was just untidy.
The bar area was in a mess with menus all over the counter top, behind the bar looked like a storage area and the amount of half-empty bottles on the shelf didn't help either.
On the décor front, I could appreciate what they were trying to do with a minimalist approach, white walls, metal chairs and a coconut tree motif. They didn't go down the colourful 'cartoon Caribbean' look that I hate.
However, the place looks tired. The walls could do with a lick of paint, because the signs of wear – scrub marks from chairs – were clearly visible.
The toilet was clean but on the way to the toilet, there were broken floor tiles and an untidy back yard with a broken down car. It was just too shoddy.
On the food front, the place is extremely popular. There was a steady stream of customers and their takeaway business appears to be going guns.
I'll give them high marks for their menu because it's one of the most diverse Caribbean menus I've seen among the restaurants I've visited.
The range of dishes would find favour with even the harshest Caribbean foodies. Bajans will be glad that coo coo and stewed fish is prominent on the menu. In fact that was my choice for main course. It was sumptuous.
The chef got the cornmeal, okro and coconut milk to a perfect texture and the red fish cooked in a rich tomato, pepper and red herb stew was a wonderful accompaniment.
When I saw fried sprats - or what we call 'fry dry' in the Caribbean - as one of the appetisers, I couldn't resist. My mom used to do these when I was a child and I hadn’t had them since. Cherise’s saltfish fritters (accra) were light and moreish but EJ thought the potatoes in his sweet potato cheese bake were overcooked and Lisa felt her callaloo was a tad spicy.

Click here to see the photos of my visit to the Hummingbird.
I loved the ginger and tamarind sauce that accompanied EJ's grilled lamb but he said the lamb was a bit too well done. That's something I find about Caribbean restaurants, they tend to cook the meat too much. Lisa also thought her St Lucian lobster was a tad overcooked but tasty nonetheless. Cherise said her jerk chicken, was just right.
If The Hummingbird could get the food right, why don't they pay attention to everything else?
I think some people might feel I'm a bit harsh, but I really feel that Caribbean cuisine is as good as any other and I don't understand why more restaurateurs aren't making the effort to hit the heights that some other 'ethnic' restaurants are doing in this country.


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