The place: Mosob
The food: Eritrean
Original article: The Beaver
London is a food-lovers’ haven by anyone’s standards, but it’s particularly exciting if, like me, you grew up in the English countryside. In these dark backwaters, the only restaurant serving ‘foreign’ cuisine is a Pizza Express or an occasional Ask—unless you count the obligatory Chinese and Indian take-aways. Such a background means that London presents itself as a gourmet gauntlet, where each cuisine must be sampled and the best restaurant found.
It was with this mission in mind that I found myself trusting the Circle Line and heading out to the distinctly suburban Westbourne Park for some Eritrean cuisine. This was guaranteed to be different.
Unassuming from the outside, Mosob is tastefully furnished with wood and basket lampshades, invoking an Eritrean theme. The term ‘mosob’ refers to the traditional, circular, handwoven table, on which Eritrean food is served and communally enjoyed. Sadly, while there were examples of Eritrean serving plates with their basket lids dotted around the restaurant, diners do not actually enjoy a meal from one of these beauties, but must accept a plain old table.
On arrival, we were initially worried by the absence of other customers, but we were early and the restaurant soon started to fill with diners and their discussions of which dishes to share. We were greeted warmly and were talked through our dining options, settling on the Massawa two-course set menu (£33.95). This is especially designed for novices, or to get diners to eat more than they would normally, or perhaps both.
For those who are new to Eritrean cuisine, an integral part of any meal is injera, a flat, round bread that essentially looks like the love-child of a crumpet and a pancake. Spongy and sour, it is used as both cutlery and a plate. Dishes are served on top of the injera plate, and separate rolls of injera are used to scoop up the food, with the base being saved until last. A spoon should only be used for applying sauces, but may be appropriated for eating if you’re sneaky and realise that the scooping method is a lot harder than it looks.
Our starters proved that injera really does come with everything. We had spinach injera rolls, timtimo (red lentil) injera rolls, and some falafel. Though tasty in their own right, these were enhanced by the accompanying spiced yoghurt and awaze, a fermented chilli paste that is similar to kimchi in its tanginess. On instructions to mix the two, we quickly discovered that our preferences were divided, much to the amusement of our waitress: “That is how it always works out. One person loves the chilli, the other loves the yoghurt.”
Having polished off the starters, we were promptly served a giant plate of four dishes and salad, smothering an injera base. Before tucking in, we were given further etiquette instructions. You must eat only with the right hand and you should never lick your fingers. Within 5 minutes, however, it was too late: food dribbled over our hands, as we scooped and gorged our way through a meal of spectacular tastes.
The meat dishes consisted of derho quluwa—cubed chicken sautéed with peppers and onions—and the smoke-inducing zigni. Listed on the menu as a “richly spiced lamb stew”, this description did not even go half way to encapsulating the depth of flavours that erupted and evolved with every mouthful. Those who struggle with spice should avoid this dish. I must confess that I required an extra pot of yoghurt but our waitress approved: ‘I always eat it with yoghurt,’ she explained, ‘not because the spice is too much for me, but because the yoghurt brings out the flavours better’. My hardened, spice-loving friend suddenly began spooning copious amounts of yoghurt onto his plate.
The show-stealer of the evening, however, was not the zigni, although it was a very close call. It was not even a meat dish. Surprisingly, the timtimo crept up on us and won. It simply consisted of red lentils cooked with onions, garlic and spices, but its flavour went beyond the straight heat of chillies to a warm spiciness that was infused with a faint hint of sweetness.
The Massawa set defeated us: ‘the best bit’—the base of the injera soaked with all the sauces was left shamefully unfinished. The meal ended with some rather weak tea, but this could not detract from the overall happiness from satisfied bellies, friendly service and a pleasant atmosphere.
For a reasonably-priced, superb set meal, and with plenty of other options on the menu, a trip to Mosob should be an imperative. Gather a group and go and gorge. The weather may be cold and Westbourne Park may be a trek, but Mosob has enough spice to warm you up for weeks.