I'm tempted to say that it's all in the somewhat overpriced rice but that would hardly be fair to its rather decent meat dishes. The modest setup is located just across Essex Road opposite Islington Green. Interestingly, despite its prominent location, you could walk straight past it without realizing. It could be due to its understated façade (the restaurant’s name appears not on its front but on a column inside the restaurant), simple furniture or even the plain food counter. If you have not guessed it already, it's Afghan Kitchen I am talking about.
Despite hearing good reviews (both online and offline) about Afghan Kitchen, I have never stepped foot into the restaurant. Beside the reasons above, I am not exactly a fan of large communal tables - there are two large ones on Afghan Kitchen's ground floor. The last thing I need is having a stranger spit into my plate and elbow me with his wild gestures. Not saying that someone would but just in case.
It so happened that Wife met up with L the other day and L suggested having lunch at Afghan Kitchen. The meal must have been fabulous because Wife called me up at my mobile immediately after the meal and went on and on about how good the 'curry' at Afghan Kitchen was. I would not have given it much thought if not for Wife finishing the call with,"You must try it."
Since LO's arrival, the number of times we eat out has decreased drastically. I recall a time when I actually had a backlog of restaurant reviews and tons of photos just queuing to be posted on London Chow. No more. I think American in London understands exactly what I'm saying (read her first paragraph of Delaying the Inevitable). But after awhile, things got a bit better and I actually compiled a list of 6 tips on bringing your baby to restaurants. Regardless, we tend not to stray too far when we eat out these days. Thank gawd I'm in Angel; imagine if I were to be in, I don't know, Canada Waters for example.
Forgive me, I digressed. So there we were standing outside Afghan Kitchen at precisely 11.30am on Saturday morning. A "Closed" sign was hanging jovially on the restaurant's door. Peering through the glass door, I saw that Afghan Kitchen would only be opened at 12pm so we went to have a stroll at the Tesco Metro just beside it in the meantime. Well, Tesco Metro isn't exactly Asda. After making three rounds of the entire store and memorising half the prices, we stumbled out exactly thirty minutes later.
As we made our way into Afghan Kitchen, a staff greeted Wife warmly, "Are you here for the lamb spinach again?" Well, lamb spinach it should be then. Not that we had much choices anyway; if memory serves me right, there were only three meat and three vegetarian main dishes to choose from on the menu. And we were to have that with rice only (bread is served only in the evenings).
Afghan Kitchen makes no pretence that it uses a microwave to heat up your food. In fact, all the food has been preprepared and dished out onto huge ceramic tubs placed unceremoniously behind an unadorned glass counter. In that respect, it reminds me of the manner Food Lab, which is just down Essex Road, serves its pasta.
Afghan Kitchen's food isn't exactly pretty either as you can see from the photo of the qurma suhzi gosht or lamb in spinach (£6.95) above. It was essentially chunks of lamb dunked in gooey spinach topped with oil. This traditional Afghan dish (I did a search online) actually tasted much better than it looked. But I couldn't help but think that it was the rice (£3.50 per serving) that did the trick. I could have sworn that there was coconut milk involved in the cooking as it tasted faintly like the nasi lemak (fragrant rice) that I grew up eating. Afghan Kitchen's lamb in spinach could very well be a lamb kambing, only less pungent and healthier.
Its lavand-e-murgh or chicken in yoghurt (£6.95) wasn't too much of a looker as well. The only way to differentiate this and lamb in spinach is perhaps the colour and the slice of lemon floating on its surface. I thought that the chicken was a bit dry but nothing a huge spoonful of oily yoghurt couldn't solve.
A pity on the tea though. We would have thought that with the list of seemingly authentic Afghan dishes, there would be some traditional Afghan beverages as well. Nope, regular breakfast tea at 80p a pop. No fruits or sweets were served at the end of the meal. Instead, we were handed a wad of chewing gum each. As I was chewing my heart out, I relished the thought that the gum is still officially banned back home.
I still dislike dining on canteen styled tables. The meal at Afghan Kitchen didn't change that a bit. It helped that we were the only customers during the entire meal so I survived unscathed. Given how near Afghan Kitchen is to our home, we would probably return again. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit sore for forking out £7 (exclusive of 12.5% service charge) just for plain rice. That's a tad dear even for rice cooked in coconut milk.
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