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11 July 2012
44-46 Brixton Road
020 7587 0055
I am a man who likes to experiment. Years of doing the S&M circuit have left me fifty shades of red (geddit?) but it has not stopped me from trying out something new from time to time.
A little eatery near the Oval had intrigued me for a while, having been in the area since 1996, as it claimed to serve an authentic Eritrean eating experience.
For those in the know, or those who haven't visited the restaurant website, Eritrea is a county in north east Africa. It is a former Italian colony and until 1991 was part of Ethiopia. The above does not do service to the struggle for independence those living there battled for, but history is not what we are talking about here.
The Buffet King accompanied me on my latest sojourn and I think we knew before we stepped in the doors we were in for something different and completely out of our comfort zone. The night killed two birds with one stone as BK agreed to be godfather to my little sh*t machine, and thankfully BK didn't launch into a myriad of Marlon Brando impressions – as I had very much feared.
The menu was a complete mystery to the pair of us and it would have been something of a lottery to pick dishes, so we opted for the sharing platter for two – a concept that is alien to us both. BK is a man of order. He stands in his queue, likes a paper plate and plastic cutlery and picks a huge selection of grub from what is on offer. All that is on his plate is his, and his alone.
The last time I ventured to a tapas bar I held a fellow eater at knife point over the final spicy sausage and cheese tortilla. I was only talked down after an hour and a half of negotiations by an off duty SWAT team officer at a neighbouring table.
We are men of boundaries and the circumference of our plate is one of them. After munching down a sambusa each, which were pretty bland and required more spice or a sauce, we were presented with our platter. Eight dishes, both of a meat and vegetable variety, were sprinkled across a large tray all sitting on top of a large base of injera, a type of flat-bread, which we were to fill with one of the many choices on offer.
We looked at each other in bemusement. No knives and forks here, it’s authentic, just rip off some injera and get stuck in. We dutifully did so and after some assurances we were doing the right thing we demolished as much as we could.
The injera itself was quite thick, much more so than a pancake or a wrap, and was sponge like in quality. It was almost like a crumpet and was incredibly filling. BK was in trouble at this point as he did not like the texture of the bread at all, and although I found it more favourable I felt something lighter would have complimented the dishes sitting on top of it. But that is not the Eritrean way.
The dishes on offer were a smörgåsbord of meals and they were variable in quality too. In fact the better dishes were the vegetarian ones, such as lentils or alicha, as the meat dishes were either a bit tough or slimy.
But after a while I got used to tucking into the food and helping myself and although I expected, and would have welcomed, more spicy food on my platter, I thought it was passable and different. Something I like on a night out.
I think it is fair to say BK did not agree with this. This is a man who likes his grub and he halted pretty quickly during the main meal.
Even allowing for the fact that he, and I, were not that comfortable with the new method of eating we were presented with, he felt that the fare on offer could have been of a higher standard – a fair argument in some cases. Adulis is not a conventional restaurant and you need to buy into the way they do things; you are going for an Eritrean experience not a European one, so you need to bring that mentality with you.
While the food was hit and miss, the honey wine I had was tasty. Neither thick nor too sweet, as I feared it may be, it was refreshing and would have complimented an overly spiced dish that was too hefty for my palette.
I was told to drink it straight from the beaker it came in, which rather made me look like a crazed scientist sampling the fare in the lab, including any urine samples that may have been left around. Thinking about it I wonder now if this was some kind of prank the staff played on me.
The highlight of the evening was the coffee making experience, an Eritrean tradition we both enjoyed.
Fresh coffee beans are first roasted at your table, creating the most wonderful aroma, before being crushed and placed in a traditional clay vessel, called a Jebena, then being boiled. Served with popcorn, somewhat bizarrely, and with frankincense being burnt at the same time, this was an experience for the eyes, nose and taste buds and is highly recommended.
I don't regret going to Adulis as I got what I wanted, that being a new experience. I do regret not being more adventurous and opting for a couple of dishes rather than the platter as the Tsebhi (a stew) caught my eye in particular.
The eatery is not one for the light hearted amongst us and is a delightful experience you will talk about afterwards. Enjoy the ambience as much as the food. I know I did.
Meat Sambusa x 2 £3.95
Mini Kirchat for two: £25.95
includes eight dishes and injera
Eritrean Honey Wine £3.75
Bottle of Heineken x 2 £6.00
Coffee Ceremony £9.00
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